Young Adults: Openness, Searching, and Access to Family History

This article has been taken directly from Child Welfare Information Gateway.

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Being placed for adoption does not necessarily mean an adopted person will never be able to contact his or her birth parents again. Adoptions may have some degree of openness, meaning that there is some communication between the birth and adoptive families—possibly including the adopted person.1 Additionally, the birth family or the adopted person may attempt a search and reunion later in life. The number of open adoptions (in which the birth and adoptive families know each other’s identities and have direct contact with the adopted child) and mediated adoptions (in which contacts between the birth and adoptive families are made indirectly through a mediator) are on the rise. In a 2012 survey of adoption agencies with infant adoption programs, the agencies reported that only 5 percent of their placements during the previous 2 years were confidential, with 55 percent of the adoptions being fully disclosed and 40 percent being mediated (Siegel & Livingston Smith, 2012).

There are myriad reasons adopted persons may seek information about or contact with their birth families, such as a desire to establish or reestablish a relationship, help further develop their own identity, or to obtain genetic or medical information. The desire to search may be prompted by specific life events, such as marriage or having children (Corder, 2012). Studies have shown that adopted persons rarely search for their birth parents because of a negative relationship with their adoptive parents (Muller & Perry, 2001). Perhaps half of all adopted adults search for identifying information or try to make contact with their birth parents (Curtis & Pearson, 2010; Evan B. Donaldson, 2010; Muller & Perry, 2001). Adopted persons in an open adoption or who otherwise have contact with their birth parents generally have positive feelings about the relationships (Grotevant et al., 2007; Siegel, 2012) and are glad they searched (Penny et al., 2007). Some earlier studies, however, found that adopted persons who search for their parents may exhibit lower self-esteem, have lower family and friend support, have higher incidences of anger and depression, and more frequently use mental health services (Borders et al., 2000; Cubito & Obremski Brandon, 2000).

For additional information about open adoption and birth family contact, visit Child Welfare Information Gateway

For additional information about obtaining birth and/or adoption records, including State laws that govern this access, visit Child Welfare Information Gateway


Return to Adoption Parenting

Young Adults: Postadoption Issues

Young Adults: Managing Adoption Issues

Young Adults: Additional Resources


References

Baden, A. L., & O’Leary Wiley, M. (2007). Counseling adopted persons in adulthood: Integrating research and practice. The Counseling Psychologist, 35, 868–901.

Borders, L. D., Penny, J. M., & Portnoy, F. (2000). Adult adoptees and their friends: Current functioning and psychosocial well-being. Family Relations, 49, 407–418.

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013a). Openness in adoption: Building relationships between adoptive and birth families. Retrieved from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f_openadopt.cfm.

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013b). Working with birth and adoptive families to support open adoption. Retrieved from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f_openadoptbulletin.cfm.

Corder, K. (2012). Counseling adult adoptees. The Family Journal, 20, 448–452.

Cubito, D. S., & Obremski Brandon, K. (2000). Psychological adjustment in adult adoptees: Assessment of distress, depression, and anger. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 70, 408–413.

Curtis, R., & Pearson, F. (2010). Contact with birth parents: Differential psychological adjustment for adults adopted as infants. Journal of Social Work, 10, 347–367.

Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. (2009). Beyond culture camp: Promoting health identity formation in adoption. Retrieved from http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/research/2009_11_culture_camp.php.

Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. (2010). For the records II: An examination of the history and impact of adult adoptee access to original birth certificates. Retrieved from http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/publications/7_14_2010_ForTheRecordsII. pdf.

Feigelman, W. (2005). Are adoptees at increased risk for attempting suicide? Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 32, 206–216.

Grotevant, H. D. (1997). Coming to terms with adoption: The construction of identity from adolescence into adulthood. Adoption Quarterly, 1, 3–27.

Grotevant, H. D., Miller Wrobel, G., Von Korff, L., Skinner, B., Newell, J., Friese, S., & McRoy, R. G. (2007). Many faces of openness in adoption: Perspectives of adopted adolescents and their parents. Adoption Quarterly, 10, 79–101.

Grotevant, H. D., van Dulmen, M. H. M., Dunbar, N., Nelson-Christinedaughter, J., Christensen, M., Fan, X., & Miller, B. C. (2006). Antisocial behavior of adoptees and nonadoptees: Prediction from early history and adolescent relationships. Journal of Research on Adolescents, 16, 105–131.

Howard, J. A. (2012). Untangling the web: The Internet’s transformative impact on adoption. Retrieved from http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/research/2012_12_UntanglingtheWeb.php.

Kohler, J. K., Grotevant, H. D., & McRoy, R. G. (2002). Adopted adolescents’ preoccupation with adoption: The impact on adoptive family relationships. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 93–104.

Miller, B. C., Fan, X., Grotevant, H. D., Christensen, M., Coyl, D., & van Dulment, M. (2000). Adopted adolescents’ overrepresentation in mental health counseling: Adoptees’ problems or parents’ lower threshold for referral? Journal of American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 39, 1504–1511.

Muller, U., & Perry, B. (2001). Adopted persons’ search for and contact with their birth parents I: Who searches and why? Adoption Quarterly, 4, 5–37.

Penny, J., Borders, L. D., & Portnoy, F. (2007). Reconstruction of adoption issues: Delineation of five phases among adult adoptees. Journal of Counseling & Development, 85(1), 30–41.

Powell, K. A., & Afifi, T. D. (2005). Uncertainty management and adoptees’ ambiguous loss of their birth parents. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 22, 129–151.

Sharma, A. R., McGue, M. K., & Benson, P. L. (1996). The emotional and behavioral adjustment of United States adopted adolescents: Part I. An overview. Children and Youth Services Review, 18(1/2), 83–100.

Siegel, D. H. (2012). Growing up in open adoption: Young adults’ perspectives. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, 93, 133–140.

Siegel, D. H., & Livingston Smith, S. (2012). Openness in adoption: From secrecy and stigma to knowledge and connections. Retrieved from http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/research/2012_03_openness.php.

Yoon, G., Westermeyer, J., Warwick, M., & Kuskowski, M. A. (2012). Substance use disorders and adoption: Findings from a national sample. PLoS ONE, 7. Retrieved from http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0049655.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049655


Resource

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013). Impact of adoption on adopted persons. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.