Open Adoption: They knew it would work.

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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.

~ ~ ~

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)

1999 …

“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)

2005 …

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)

~ ~ ~

References plus related articles:

Purple indicates actual research studies conducted on whether open adoption would work to get more babies surrendered:

  1. Baran, A., Pannor, R., & Sorosky, A. (1976). Open adoption. Social Work, 21, 97-100
  2. Barth, R. (1987). Adolescent Mothers Beliefs about Open Adoption. Social Casework, 68, 323-331
  3. 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.
  4. Berry, M. (1993). Risks and benefits of open adoption. Adoption, 3(1), 125-138.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Daly, K. (1994). Adolescent perceptions of adoption: Implications for resolving an unplanned pregnancy. Youth and Society, 25(3), 330-350.
  8. Kallen, D. J., Griffore, R. J., Popovich, S. & Powell, V. (1990). Adolescent mothers and their mothers view adoption. Family Relations, 30, 313-316.
  9. 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.
  10. Yngvesson, B. (1997). “Negotiating motherhood: Identity and difference in “open” adoptions.” Law and Society Review, 31(1), 31-80.

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8 thoughts on “Open Adoption: They knew it would work.

    Lapsed Catholic said:
    August 21, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    Thank you for pointing out that babies were being taken for a far longer time in Canada (the Wade vs Roe decision did not have the impact in Canada that it did in the US).

    Many people do not realise nor appreciate that.

    angelle2 said:
    August 22, 2008 at 10:45 am

    As a reunited mother from the BSE I find this painful to read. There are 5 adopted children under the age of 5 within my city block.

    The desire to create a family will perpetuate all sorts of adoption practices forever. Only with legislated open adoption laws, i.e. legally binding contracts will this madness stop. Or as in the case in my neighborhood three of the adopted children are girls form China. No pesky b-mother.

    BTW I am anti adoption I just do not see the practice ending anytime soon.

    Linda Webber said:
    August 23, 2008 at 3:28 am

    I wrote an adoption agency in Calif.asking about the legality of open adoption agreements and it was assumed that I was a PAP wanting to adopt and was asked if I would like some written informatioon sent to me.I said “Yes” to the offer.In the booklet it was stated a good reason to sign with them aka write them a check to begin the process was THEIR counselor becomes friends with the pregnant Mom and this friendship comes in handy if the Mother begins to change her mind and wants to keep her baby.They further stated this is why their agency has such a small number of failed adoptions.I say With friends like this who needs enemys.Let’s face it! Open adoption is a marketting ploy to intice women into adoption. Adoption lawyers have also managed to cut the time to almost nothing in which a mother can reclaim her infant. Call it anything you want but if it looks like baby selling it is baby selling.And non-profit means nothing because the salaries and perks make for a fine living. The adoptive parents can move with no notice along with changing phone numbers.And they also can and often do just tell a young Mom whatever they know will get her to surrender her infant.The only sure way for a Mother to know how her baby is being treated is for her to keep her child with her.Recently,three mothers commited suicide when they realized they had been lied to concerning open adoption promises.Who will be held accountable for their deaths?

    maybe said:
    August 24, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    Cedar, you have presented very important research here. Taking into consideration the ethical implications of the social work profession using the results of their studies to increase the supply of adoptable babies is crucial for critiquing the practice of adoption.

    It also makes one question which party is to be identified as the “client” in the social work profession. Is the mother or the prospective adopter the client? I would agrue these “clients” have competing interests. Whose interests are being served the agency/social worker?

    Regarding Linda’s comments, above, it would be interesting to collect documents, brochures, etc. from agencies for further research. As she stated, “if it looks like baby selling, it is baby selling.”

    Lorraine said:
    July 20, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Thank you for putting all this research in one place.


    Linda Volk said:
    April 15, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    I personally know a young teenage mother who is facing the imminent prospect of her son’s so-called “open” adoption being closed. To add insult to injury the adoptive parents and her own parents (btw, she is also adopted) are recommending this course of action “for her own good” because she gets so upset when she visits her son. She has been brain-washed into buying this load of crap and starting to think they’re right. This girl is suicidal and just generally messed up by the whole situation and, no doubt, the adults are just seeing that as further evidence she isn’t capable of making her own decisions. Breaks my heart.

    […] Critique, (2008), ‘Open Adoption: They knew it would work’, Retrieved 3 December, 2011 from  Adoption Critique, ‘Adoption: Getting more babies to market’ (2009). Retrieved 3 December, […]

    […] Critique, (2008), ‘Open Adoption: They knew it would work’, Retrieved 3 December, 2011 from  Adoption Critique, ‘Adoption: Getting more babies to market’ (2009). Retrieved 3 December, […]

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