Adoption Transparency Helps Children

Historically, adoptions have been largely “closed,” with little to no communication among biological and adoptive parents. Times are changing, however, with “open” adoptions becoming more of the norm.

In a new study, University of Missouri communication researchers review the benefits and challenges of open adoption finding that the practice is beneficial to the child and adoptive parents.

Investigators explain that for most of the 20th century, adoptions were largely “closed”. This meant birth parents placed their child with an adoption agency and had no further contact unless the child sought them out later in life.

However, this practice began to change in the 1990s when adoption practitioners started to recognize the benefits of “open” adoptions, or adoptions in which adoptive families have ongoing interactions with the birth family.

“In the past, closed adoptions severely cut off any communication between biological parents and the children they placed for adoption,” said Haley Horstman, assistant professor of interpersonal and family communication in the Department of Communication in the University of Missouri College of Arts and Science.

“Biological parents in open adoption relationships often feel more secure knowing more about the parents who adopted their children. We found that the best outcome for an adopted child is for adoptive parents and birth parents to jointly tell the story of adoption, when appropriate.

This open communication between birth parents and adoptive parents has changed the nature of adoptions; birth parents have appreciated this new movement toward openness.”

Two years ago, Colleen Colaner, who also is an assistant professor of communication at University of Missouri, traveled throughout Missouri making connections with adoption agencies and building a network of adoptive parents interested in participating in research on open adoption.

The list became crucial to Colaner and Horstman’s research into adoption entrance narratives, or the stories adoptive parents tell their adopted children about who they are and how they fit into their new families.

Horstman said analyzing the adoption entrance narratives of 165 adoptive parents (mostly mothers) revealed themes that help shape the ways in which adoptive and biological parents communicate with their children.

“It’s important to get a sense of what the adoptive parents are saying to birth parents and what they are saying to the adopted child about their biological parents,” Colaner said.

“These conversations are really shaping what open adoption relationships look like.”

“The themes we discovered are about the process of storytelling,” Horstman said.

“As we analyzed the process of communication, we found that adoptive parents are the ‘gatekeepers’ to the relationships their adoptive kids have with their birth parents.

That is, the information shared by the adoptive parent provides the fodder from which the child attempts to make sense of their personal history, and it helps to formulate the relationship with their birth parents.

Adoptive parents and birth parents don’t have to be the best of friends, but they can try to have a good relationship, even though it can be challenging,” explains Colander.

The study, “She chose us to be your parents — exploring the content and process of adoption entrance narratives told in families formed through open adoption,” will appear in a future issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

Source: University of Missouri