Can the Closure of Open Adoptions Be Prevented?

Kat column topper
Twenty percent. One in five. According to a conference presentation by Susan Smith, that is the number of open adoptions that eventually close (meaning either the adoptive parents or first parents cease communication) based on the research she’s aware of.

ID-10036274When I first heard that number back in April, I immediately thought it was wrong.  From my view so many adoptions seem to be closing that it couldn’t possibly only be twenty percent.  Taking a step back I’ve decided that logically I trust research to provide us with reasonably accurate numbers.  Still, some days I see the number while looking back at my notes and think it’s a horribly high number.  That two of every ten open adoptions close is too high. Other days I’d look at that statistic and think, well, that means 80% of open adoptions that are successful. Eight of ten where openness remains. But even on my most optimistic days I see that even one adoption closing is too many.

Research also shows that when an adoption closes the parties are most likely to have conflicting understandings as to why it closed. Often the adoptive parents will believe it was either what the birth parents wanted or is the birth parents’ “fault” and the birth parents will believe it was what the adoptive parents wanted or is their “fault”.

So what is really happening that has all these adoptions closing?

It seems to me to be mostly about expectations:

  • unclear expectations
  • conflicting expectations
  • impractical expectations

When deciding how much openness you’d like in a future adoption, both expectant parents and potential adoptive parents should avoid generalities like “a lot” or “frequent”–even terms like “extended family” can be tricky. Try to define what those terms mean to you and then use those definitions when talking with professionals and potential matches to be as clear as possible.  If “frequent” to you means monthly, say monthly. If you see extended family no more than annually and that is the relationship you envision for your open adoption, say that.  Will you lose out on matches? If you do they aren’t the right match for you. Your match is still out there.

I’m sure it feels like if you don’t say the right thing, agree to the right thing, connect with this expectant couple, then you’ll never be chosen.  I know it often feels like if you don’t say the right thing, agree to the right thing, connect with these potential adoptive parents, then you’ll never find parents for your baby.  But finding the RIGHT match is the most important thing.

If less contact is what you want, there are people on the other side also wanting less contact. If more contact is what you want, there are people on the other side wanting that too.

I also like to remind people that the expectations we have when we enter into an adoption are theoretical.  Theoretical in that they’re based on research, the experiences of others, and our experiences in other situations, but not about this one specific situation. This one specific relationship. When expectations become too rigid we get into trouble, but there is also trouble to be found in being too flexible too soon.

Being open to increasing interactions over time as the relationship naturally develops in one thing. Saying you think that by the fourth year you’ll be having vacations together is a step too far. Might it happen? Sure! But should you state something so concrete before you’ve even gotten to know the other parties or started living your new life?

Of course that is all well and good for those about to embark on the open adoption journey, but what about those already on the roller coaster? I’ll address that in my next post.

About the author:
Kat Cooley, MSW writes here at Open Adoption Bloggers twice a month. She previously worked as a social worker providing comprehensive all options counseling to those experiencing unplanned pregnancy and is now pursuing a PhD in Social Work with a focus on adoption related research. She is also a birth mom over a decade into an open adoption. She is always open to suggestions for topics; you can leave them in the comments, at the OAB Facebook page, or tweet her @KMCooleyMSW.

Image credit: nattavut @


5 thoughts on “Can the Closure of Open Adoptions Be Prevented?

  1. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that no can see the future and what it may hold. In open adoption, if the birthfamily is big, there are so many moving parts that fixing anything is unrealistic. I guess that’s where the basic spirit of openness comes in. Our openness relationship(s) are like the bending tree branch that is constantly shifting and moving to meet the current situation of all parties. We’ve all worked to have communication and visits and relationships based on city changes, life changes and so on. The underlying foundation is that we will make all of this happen regardless of location and life circumstances.

    • I love the visual you gave of the bending tree branch! Your commitment to make it work is inspiring!

  2. I’m very active on adoption forums. When I see APs talking about closing adoptions, what it boils down to is, they can’t handle the birth family’s emotions or situation. Sure, if someone is actively using drugs, you may not want that person visiting your child, but it’s no reason to completely close an adoption. All of a woman’s problems aren’t automatically fixed when she places her child for adoption, so it’s completely unrealistic to think that she won’t be in unstable or insecure situations. It seems that, when the slightest thing goes “wrong” new APs instinctively move to close the adoption. It’s fear, plain and simple.

    • It’s human nature to want to avoid situations that make us uneasy. In some cases it’s that the professionals didn’t do their (our) job in preparing the adoptive parents (or the birth parents either for that matter). There also needs to be more support in getting through the complications perhaps if someone were to say “hey bumps in the road will happen but we are here to help you through them and to brainstorm solutions” people wouldn’t see closing the adoption as the only choice…of course then there are those who are always just looking for a reason to close the adoption…

  3. I think adoption agencies need to provide more support to both sets of parents (birth and adoptive) after placement to ensure that openness continues. Parenting is hard work. It is just too easy to make promises before you are sleepless, overwhelmed with dirty diapers (on the adoptive parent side) and dealing with judgment from strangers, grief and alienation (on the birth/first parent side). Both sets of parents need support to manage all the challenges of daily life that hit after placement. Adoption agencies collect SO MUCH money…I think some of that money should go to post-placement support. Our agency did some great follow-up and offers counselors, but the reality is that when are you sleepless and grieving it is hard to ask for help. I think we needed more than we knew to ask for.

Comments are closed.