Open adoption is the norm these days, contrasting with the closed adoptions of the Baby Scoop Era, which may have ended in the mid-1970s in the United States but continued far longer in Canada. I knew single moms in the mid-1980s whose babies were still being taken at birth with the mother not being allowed to see or touch her baby. It was done to me in fact in 1980.
So, why did open adoption begin? Frankly, it began because mothers had begun keeping their babies, finding parental support and access to financial assistance that did not exist in the Baby Scoop Era when shamed parents shipped their daughters off to maternity facilities and “wage home” to return as “born again virgins.” Agencies faced the prospect of going out of business unless they found a new way to persuade moms to surrender their newborns. Research was done, and open adoption was found to be the key.
Examples are below, but the data is far more extensive and other articles examine the exact statistical affect of various open adoption practices such as meeting prospective adopters before the birth vs. after the birth, the baby going home with them from the hospital, pre-birth consents signed, etc.
This raises a huge ethical issue that is not being discussed in adoption literature. If a mother’s decision about surrendering her baby is being influenced by practices carefully researched and applied to increase the odds she will surrender increase, is it really a freely-made decision at all? Especially if she is kept unaware of this manipulation? In effect, is any open adoption truly ethical as this practice was designed to obtain babies for the market, to keep agencies in business, and to exploit the vulnerability of poor, single, or young mothers?
This, to me, is a most insidious form of coercion.
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1976 — The Research Begins …
“Recently one of the authors met with a [focus group] of young unwed mothers … the women talked about their struggles, frustration and feelings of bitterness and anger. They regretted their inability to offer their children the kinds of loving care they had expected to give them. Regarding adoption, the women felt that although they were failing to provide adequately, they could not face the possibility of a final and total separation from their infants .. When they were asked about how they would feel about open adoption, thier attititudes were totally different: They thought they could face and even welcome adoption for their children if they could meet the adoptive parents, help in the separation and move ot a new home, and the maintain some contact with the child.” (Baran, Pannor, & Sorosky, 1976, pp. 98-99)
Note: This was the study that started it all: the first research deliberately done to find out how to separate more mothers from their children.” Yngvasson (1997) says about this article:
“[Open adoption] was proposed by Baran and her colleagues as a way of encouraging unmarried women (and specifically unmarried white women) to relinquish their babies for adoption at a time when they were increasingly choosing to raise them alone”
1987 — Studies continue …
“Adoption practices are changing partly in response to the falling relinquishment rate” (Barth, 1987, p. 323). [Note: open adoption being offered to counter-act mothers keeping their babies]
“Taken together, these studies suggest that more vigorous and frequent presentations of adoption options and the possible benefits of relinquishment outweight the possible risks to the practitioner-client relationship.” (Barth, 1987, p. 331)
1990 … a study of 105 white and African-American “keepers” and “releasers” and their mothers, their attitudes toward adoption practices.
“A review of the responses … indicated that the major issue for the adolescent keeper and her mother was the extent to which the birth mother would have information about the baby as it grows up. Thus, there was clear rejection of the idea of not knowing how the baby was doing as it grew up. There was clear support for choosing the actual famiy who gest the baby, for finding out how the baby is doing now and then, for meeting three families and knowng for sure that one of them will get the baby, and for seeing the baby as it grows up …. Movement to a more open procedure, which provides the birth mothers more choice and more information about the fate of her baby might, indeed, increase the consideration of adoption by pregnancy adolescents.” (Kallen et al., 1990, p. 315).
“Of course, the mere availability of open procedures will not be sufficient. Family professionals must take advantage of the opportunity to provide information, guidance, and counselling in support of open adoption.” (Kallen et al., 1990, p. 316).
1991 — Promote it as a way to get more babies to market…
“In a very general way, openness benefits prospective parents because it may increase the pool of adoptable infants. For biological parents to have some continuing knowledge about their relinquished child may help them to choose adoption as an option (Barth, 1987), thus increasing the number of children available and decreasing the wait for an adoptable child.” (Berry, 1991, p. 638)
“Cocozzelli (1989) warns that the potential benefits of open adoption may persuade some adolescent mothers to relinquish a child who would not otherwise have done so. Those mothers who relinquish in the expectation of continued contact may risk prolonged uncertainty and grief.” (Berry, 1991, p. 641)
“A ‘confidential’ adoption … may be a factor in the number of young women who choose to keep their babies. … Rather, we must be concerned to the extent that the cost of losing contact with the infant effects a rejection of adoption as a pregnancy outcome.” (Caragata, 1999, p. 116)
“As many young women who choose to place thier baby change their minds following the birth, factors such as having met with the adoptive parents could affect these decisions.” (Caragata, 1999, p. 117)
And here is the evidence, in practice, a newspaper article quoting an adoption lawyer (a.k.a. baby broker) who finds this to be a successful way to coerce mothers into surrendering their infants:
” The open adoption process often begins with an adoption attorney. Paul Meding, a Columbia attorney who has been taking adoption cases for 12 years, works as a medium to match birth mothers with adoptive parents. For Meding, this process has been successful. “In my opinion, when the birth mother has more input and can see first hand how important the adoption is to the family, it is more difficult for her to back out and disappoint them.” (“Open Doors,” The Columbia Star, April 29, 2005)
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References plus related articles:
Purple indicates actual research studies conducted on whether open adoption would work to get more babies surrendered:
- Baran, A., Pannor, R., & Sorosky, A. (1976). Open adoption. Social Work, 21, 97-100
- Barth, R. (1987). Adolescent Mothers Beliefs about Open Adoption. Social Casework, 68, 323-331
- Berry, M. (1991) “The Effects of Open Adoption on biological and Adoptive Parents and the Children: The Arguments and the Evidence”. Child Welfare, 70, 637-51.
- Berry, M. (1993). Risks and benefits of open adoption. Adoption, 3(1), 125-138.
- Caragata, L. (1999). “The construction of teen parenting and decline of adoption”, in James Wong and David Checkland (eds) Teen Pregnancy and Parenting: Social and Ethical Issues, University of Toronto Press, Ontario: Toronto.
- Cocozelli, C. (1989). Predicting the decision of biological mothers to retain or relinquish their babies for adoption: Implications for open placement. Child Welfare, 68, 33-44.
- Daly, K. (1994). Adolescent perceptions of adoption: Implications for resolving an unplanned pregnancy. Youth and Society, 25(3), 330-350.
- Kallen, D. J., Griffore, R. J., Popovich, S. & Powell, V. (1990). Adolescent mothers and their mothers view adoption. Family Relations, 30, 313-316.
- Sobol, M. & Daly, K. (1992). The adoption alternative for pregnant adolescents: Decision making, consequences, and policy implications. Journal of Social Issues, 48(3), 143-161.
- Yngvesson, B. (1997). “Negotiating motherhood: Identity and difference in “open” adoptions.” Law and Society Review, 31(1), 31-80.
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