Open Adoption: Adoptee Feedback

281VoicesIt’s become a bit of a habit for me to use my post on the third Monday of the month to discuss research. Up until now I’ve been focusing on my own research, but today that changes. Recently I was forwarded results from a survey Julie Drew, BA, and Katie Prigel Sharp, LMSW, conducted regarding “Adult Adoptees’ Views of Open Adoption”.  While the importance of this research should go without saying, I’ll say it anyway: since open adoption is supposed to be about the adoptee, it is wonderful that people are asking adoptees what they think of openness.

While the survey was only collecting responses for a short period and this was an online survey (so those who were not able to access the internet did not respond), they received 281 responses from adoptees over the age of 18. Drew and Prigel Sharp did recruit respondents beyond adoption-centric online venues, recognizing that, “Their views and experiences might differ from other adult adoptees who have a need or desire to participate in support groups, adoptee activism or other adoption related groups.”

Each participant was asked to define open adoption–reinforcing the fact that everyone defines open adoption differently–although all definitions included, at minimum, access to information and the potential for interaction. Approximately 213 (76%) of their respondents identified as having been adopted either through domestic infant adoption (52%) or foster care adoption (24%). Twenty-three percent classified their adoptions as having always been open, 21% felt their adoptions began as closed but became open over time, and 4% were in adoptions that began as open but closed over time.

Of those who considered themselves to have been in adoptions that were always open, 37% reported visiting with birth family less than once a year, 19.5% reported that the frequency of their visits varied, 13% reported more than six visits a year, and 6.5% reported having between one and six visits per year. A vast majority (96%) reported being fine with the amount of visits that occurred in their childhood or wishing there had been more. While some would assume that those with more frequent visits would make up the 4%  who  felt their visits were too frequent, only half of those in the “too frequent” category had visits more than six times a year; the other half had only one visit a year.  The breakdown of those who said their number of visits were not enough was also surprising, with 11% of those respondents having had more than six visits annually.

The words used most often by those who had adoptions that were always open  to describe their visits were: Interesting (32%), Enjoyable (30%), and Loving (29%), with words like safe, sporadic, informative, uncomfortable, healthy, fun, pleasure, difficult, unpredictable, normal, and respectful also being chosen by at least 20% of respondents  Comparatively, those who went from closed to open relationships still found visits Interesting (59%), Enjoyable (57%), and Loving (49%), but they were more likely to  use words like Difficult (43%), Uncomfortable (35%), and Stressful (32%).  Drew and Prigel Sharp remind us that, “It is also important to note that very few respondents reported all positive or all negative experiences with contact with birth family. In fact, the vast majority of respondents (64%) used a mix of positive, negative, and neutral feeling words to describe their contact with birth family members.”

While I understand why the survey was limited to those over the age of 18, I hope research like this continues as open adoption has evolved and expanded so recently that I am sure those who are younger at the present will have much to say on the subject. The research nerd part of me also wishes I had access to their raw data to run other crosstabs which are currently running through my mind. However, their results reinforce some of my understandings of open adoption:

  • Open adoption can be different for every person who experiences it.
  • As with anything in life, it is not all good nor all bad and its benefits come with challenges.
  • Contact tends to be less challenging for adoptees if it is always a part of their life rather than something introduced later on.
  • The amount of contact that the adoptee will deem right varies from person to person.

What do you think of these results? Do any of them surprise you?

About the author:

Kat Cooley, MSW is a social worker providing comprehensive all options counseling to those experiencing unplanned pregnancy.  She is also a birth mom over a decade into an open adoption.  She writes here at Open Adoption Bloggers on the first and third Monday of the month and is always open to suggestions for topics; you can leave them in the comments, at the OAB Facebook page, or tweet her @KMCooleyMSW.

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3 thoughts on “Open Adoption: Adoptee Feedback

  1. I read this research report too. I was very pleased to find information out there from adoptees who grew up in open adoptions, sinse there is very little out there. I hope to see more open adoptees speaking out in the years to come, I believe so much can be learned from them, even though every person and experience is unique.

  2. Hmmmm….. doesn’t really lead to any strong conclusions I suppose (a bit like life – ahem). I think as openness becomes the baseline standard, it will be interesting to redo these kinds of surveys on an annual basis … just riffing… I’d like to hear actual stories from adult adoptees raised in open adoption situations.

  3. The more stories I hear about closed adoption, the more I think it is the harder road to travel for adult adoptees and for birth parents. However, I was scared to even consider an open adoption a few years ago. We adopted from the foster care system, our son’s bio-mom had real issues and wasn’t able to care for him. It is my hope that will somehow help him when he is older, becuase I have read so much about adoptees thinking their mother ‘didn’t love them’ or ‘rejected’ them when they were born because the adoption was closed. Lately I have been re-examining my beliefs and fear on open adoption; if a child has the oportunity to meet with and share information and experiences with a bio parent it seems they would not be so likely to feel rejected. This research report does seem a little inconclusive, but there are no easy answers. Just open minds, right?
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