By the late 1970’s and into the 1980’s, adoption agencies began to experiment with open adoption. The days when adoption was kept a secret began to dissolve and people began to embrace the idea of adoption. As adopted children and biological parents began to show an increased desire to have a relationship, that brought on a desire to have a relationship from the very beginning of the child’s life. Having an open adoption from the very beginning made it possible to avoid the disappointment and difficulty of trying to find one another later on in life.
Relationships between adopted children and their biological parents were still very uncommon in the early 1980’s since the practice was viewed as radical, risky, and experimental. Gradually, throughout the decade, seeing that there were a lot of benefits to the relationship for all parties involved, the number of open adoptions increased. By the time the early 1990’s rolled around, although the percentage of open adoptions were still small, the practice wasn’t considered so experimental or risky.
Still, the number of open adoptions hadn’t risen very high. This was largely due to the fact that adoption agencies preferred to have the control over where babies were placed, and giving that power over to the birth parents meant that the system they had been working with for decades wouldn’t work anymore. During that period of time, most agencies still didn’t even offer open adoption as an option. Through the mid 1990’s and into the later half of the decade, though, birth parents began to grow more aware and knowledgeable about the possibilities of open adoption. With this knowledge, they chose to place with agencies that offered open adoption. Those agencies that didn’t offer open adoption began to be compelled to offer it or suffer from lack of interested birth parents. And, of course, if birth parents had no interest in their agency, they would quickly go out of business.
Around the turn of the century almost all adoption agencies now offered open adoption, and throughout the next decade that change lead to the majority of adoptions choosing that option. At first, adoptions started out open with very little information passed between parties. Birth parents were able to choose the adoptive couple and received pictures once in a while, but the relationships were usually not very intimate. A large percentage of the open adoptions were mediated by a caseworker who would serve as a middleman to pass information between the adoptive parents and birth parents. Once correspondence became more common and more comfortable, though, the different sides began to sidestep the mediators. Open and personal relationships began to be more common, leading to where we are today.
The experiment that was open adoption was considered a big success. No results are ever universal, but children of open adoptions tend to have a more favorable view of their adoptive history. Children also have an easier time accepting who they are when they know their biological parents because they are able to see the choices made were done out of love rather than abandonment or shame.
A recent study showed that only about 5% of adoptions now have no contact between the adoptive parents and biological parents after placement has occurred. Of the 95% open adoptions, there is an estimated 55% that have a direct and ongoing line of communication between the different parties. 40% of the open adoptions are still kept open with a mediator between the different sides. Even as recent as 5 years ago, that wasn’t the case.