As of 2005, there were 1.6 million adopted children under the age of eighteen living in the U.S. households- 2.5%  of all children (under eighteen years old) living in American households (U.S. Census Bureau). In 2005, 51,000 children were placed in adoptive homes.

These statistics demonstrate the changing face of adoption: A decline in the number of newborns relinquished by their birth parent(s) for adoption, as well as increased reliance on adoption as a solution for children in foster care who cannot be reunited with family, and children in out-of-home care in other countries.

Relinquishment of newborn infants has become relatively rare, declining almost nine-fold since the early 1970s, with an estimated 14,000-15,000 infants voluntarily relinquished for adoption in the U.S. each year. International adoptions into the U.S. more then tripled from 7,093 to a peak of 22,884 in 2004, but declined in recent years, to 17,433 in 2008.

The most common type of adoption today, other than step parent adoptions, are children placed from the child welfare system- a number which has soared, particularly since the passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act in 1997. Adoption with public child welfare agency involvement increased from approximately 15,000 in 1988 to a peak of 52,881 in 2002. Currently, over 50,000 children are adopted from foster care each year; and the number of children adopted from social services are, since national statistics were standardized 1995, is approximately 600,000.

I cite these statistics to emphasize the importance of finding ways, when open adoption isnt possible, to provide adopted children with the truth, support, and reassurance they need to understand and integrate the adoption experience. We dont want to barrow trouble, but facts are facts; and it is a safe assumption based on experince that adopted children will deal with grief and loss issues as do birth parents who surrender their child for adoption and adoptive parents who must relinquish any dream of having biological children. Those affected the most, adoptees, have little or no information about their birth parents and their birth history, because they were adopted through a closed system or adopted internationally where information was not available. This makes their grief and loss issues even more pronounced.

Unfortunately, in many cases, adoptive parents have little or no education about or awareness of the multiple conflicting emotions experienced by birthmothers as they go through the process of making the decision regarding what is best for their baby and themselves. As a result, birthmothers are often the subject of stereotypical judgments and incorrect assumptions regarding their motivations for choosing adoption as the best option for the child.  Such misunderstandings can, and often does, lead to unspoken negative feelings toward the biological parents, especially the birthmother, which are frequently, consciously or unconsciously, transmitted to the child.

It is important that adoptive parents are cognizant of these realities as they explain the adoption process to their child. Additionally, it is of paramount importance that  the adopted child fully comprehends the sacrifice and emotional trauma experienced by the birthmother as she made this very difficult decision.

Many adopting parents are not aware of the importance of information regarding family of origin to the adopted child. Children need to know that their birth families cared about them and that the adoption doesnt represent rejection.

Currently, there are fifteen states with open adoption statutes, Under open adoption, the adopted child, the adoptive parents, and the birthmother or birth parents have the right to establish and maintain contact should they so desire. This can occur with a great deal of counseling and education for both the birth parents and the adoptive family. Mutual respect, appropriate boundaries, and the best interest of the child are taken into consideration when negotiating how the contact will look. In such cases,

  • The adoptee acquires a better understanding of the circumstances of her/his birthmother, and the emotions and internal conflicts she experienced as she mad e the decisions surrounding the adoption plan. It helps answer the one question that is so often in their minds: ” Why did my birthmother GIVE ME AWAY?” An adoptee wants and needs to hear their adoption story (it belongs to them) as much as any child likes to hear the story of their birth and all that goes with it. in most of the histories, there is reference to the birthfather, which is valuable information for the adoptee as well.
  • Birth parents are validated for their feelings and actions. They are able to relate to stories of other birth parents that may be similar to their own. They feel less alone; and it can be healing for them to recount the details of what they have endured. Sometimes when one experiences feelings of grief and loss — feelings which can surface when least expected – reading or hearing another birth parents story can help normalize the feelings of anxiety and bring more peace about the adoption decision.
  • Adoptive parents who have not been educated regarding the depth of feelings their child will experience about adoption during each stage of his or her emotional development, are at a loss for how to deal with questions and issues that may come up. This information impowers the family to provide children with information about their orgins that can help form a personal identity, as well as shine light on unresolved grief and loss issues experienced by adoptees. It is better for children to deal with reality, even harsh reality, than a variety of fantasies.

Types of adoption

  • Confidential adoption means birth parents do not meet or communicate with adoptive families. Although the parties have an intimate connection to each other through the child, there is no opportunity for a relationship to develop in any way.
  • Semi-open adoption allows the birth and adoptive families to communicate directly in a meeting at the agency, with social workers present; though no identifying information is shared. Birth parents can request photographs for designated period of time and even another meeting within a year, held in a neutral place. Most of the time these meetings are supervised by the social worker assigned to their case. Further development of their relationship is not possible, as they are refused direct access to each other. Communication takes place through a 3rd party and offers some of the same advantages as open adoption, without the potential risks involved when the parties form a personal relationships.
  • Open adoption allows communication between birth parents and adoptive parents. It places choices and control in the hands of the adopting parents and birth parents, rather then the agency. Relationships can develop and grow, when this is agreed to by both parties; and there are many differing scenarios and levels of relationships. Typically, parties emerge from the experience having forged a deep bond, though they may have different backgrounds or values. When open adoption works, it can work beautifully.

From Jeanne Reisig book “Unbroken Ties”

-Jeanne Reisg-