Trends Toward Increasing Openness

This information has been taken directly from Child Welfare Information Gateway

For the past several generations, adoption was kept secret. The trend reflected common attitudes that children and birth mothers should be protected from the “stigma of illegitimacy.” Most adopted children did not know their birth parents and often were not even told they were adopted until later in life. Some were never told. It was commonly believed that a lack of openness would make it easier for the birth parents, the adoptive parents, and the children to adapt. The sense of secrecy, however, left many children and youth, as well as their birth families, with unanswered questions and unable to resolve feelings of loss. It also left young people without access to valuable information about their genetic background and the medical history of their birth relatives. The surrounding secrecy often created a sense of shame.

Today, most adopted children and youth know that they are adopted, and many adoptive families have had some contact with birth families. A national study of adoptive families in the United States found that in approximately one-third of all adoptive families, the adoptive parents or the adopted child or youth had some contact with the birth family after the adoption. Postadoption contact occurred more often in private domestic adoption (68 percent) as compared with adoption from foster care (39 percent) and international adoption (6 percent). 3 A more recent study among U.S. adoption agencies reported that almost all (95 percent) of their domestic infant adoptions were open. 4 Several factors have contributed to the increasing openness of adoption.

Foremost, there is the growing awareness of the negative effects of secrecy and the benefits of openness for many adopted children and youth, birth parents, and adoptive parents (see below.) In recent years, more and more birth mothers have asked for openness and the ability to receive and share information as a condition of an adoption. Additionally, responding to large numbers of adult adopted persons and birth parents who returned to adoption agencies to seek information about each other, States have changed their adoption laws, and agencies have added programs and services that support open adoption. Today, another factor plays a part in pushing the trend toward openness—the Internet and social media. Increasing numbers of adopted persons and birth parents are finding each other with relative speed and little emotional preparation through social networking sites, such as Facebook. As a result, some adoptive and birth parents who initially chose a closed adoption are encountering experiences in which the adoption is later opened, but not always in ways that are agreeable to all parties or developmentally appropriate for the child. Choosing openness at the time of adoption may provide greater control over and preparation for the communication process as compared with more impromptu social media contacts.

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Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013). Openness in adoption: Building relationships between adoptive and birth families. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.


3 Vandivere, S., Malm, K., & Radel, L. (2009). Adoption USA: A Chartbook Based on the 2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Retrieved from

4 Siegel, D., & Smith, S. L. (2012). Openness in Adoption. From Secrecy and Stigma to Knowledge and Connections. New York, NY: Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. Retrieved from