Open Adoption Research
The University of Minnesota has been on the forefront of adoption research for years, which is one of the reasons I make an annual contribution to them. One of the best research projects is The Minnesota / Texas Adoption Research Project (MTARP).
MTARP is a longitudinal adoption research study that focuses on how open adoption affects adopted children, adoptive parents, and birth mothers. It has followed 720 individuals for over 20 years, starting with Wave 1 when the children in the study were between the ages of 4 – 12 and “Wave 2” when the children were adolescents, ages 12 - 20. This study includes the full range of adoptive openness, including cases in which contact has stopped, in which contact continues, and others in which it has increased or decreased over time.
The findings are not necessarily what I or others would have expected. Here’s a very brief synopsis:
Open Adoption and Adopted Children:
- For adopted children between the ages of 4-12 (Wave 1), self-esteem and socio-emotional adjustment did not differ by level of openness in the children’s adoptions. In general, level of openness did not affect adjustment outcomes.
- Higher degrees of collaboration (mutual respect, empathy, and valuing of the relationship) between adoptive and birth parents were associated with better adjustment during middle childhood for adopted children.
- Adopted adolescents was no different in levels of adjustment from the national norms. Level of openness by itself was not a major predictor of adjustment outcomes at Wave 2. However, relationship qualities such as collaboration in relationships and perceived compatibility were predictive of adjustment across openness levels.
- Differences in adoptive identity or degree of preoccupation with adoption were not related to the level of openness in the adolescent’s adoption.
Open Adoption and Adoptive Parents:
- At Wave 1, when compared to parents in closed adoptions, those adoptive parents in fully open adoptions reported higher levels of acknowledgment of the adoption, more empathy toward the birthparents and child, stronger sense of permanence in the relationship with their child as projected into the future, and less fear that the birthmother might try to reclaim her child. I was unable to find data on adoptive parents during Wave 2.
Open Adoption and First Mothers:
- At both Wave 1 and Wave 2, birthmothers in fully open adoptions had lower adoption-related grief and loss than those in closed adoption.
- There were no significant differences by openness level associated with birthmother regret about the decision to place.
- Birthmother's mental health was not related to level of openness or frequency of contact.
- By Wave 2, birthmothers in fully open adoptions were significantly more satisfied with their role in relationship to the adopted youth than those in closedl and mediated stopped arrangements.
- Birthmothers in stopped mediated adoptions showed the highest degree of unresolved adoption-related grief and loss.