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Journal Issue: Adoption Volume 3 Number 1 Spring 1993

Risks and Benefits of Open Adoption
Marianne Berry

Postulated Risks of Open Adoption

Open Adoption May Aggravate Adoptive Parents' Insecurity

Many childless adoptive parents begin adoption with doubts about their ability to parent, to which is added concern about the permanence of adoption. Berman and Bufferd state that adoptive parents, as a normal part of family development, face the question of their entitlement to the adopted child during the first stages of an adoptive placement.29 Open adoption may exacerbate uncertainty. Hajal and Rosenberg characterize the early stages of adoption as a time of "uncertainty and insecurity . . . mourning the loss of their wish for a biological family."30 Wondering whether the biological parents will change their mind can inhibit healthy bonding with the newly adopted child.35

Open Adoption May Prolong Separation Grief and Lead to Overdependence in Birthparents

Cocozzelli warns that the potential benefits of open adoption may persuade some adolescent mothers who would not otherwise have done so to relinquish a child.36 Those mothers who relinquish in the expectation of continued contact may risk prolonged uncertainty and grief. Indeed, adoption professionals who work with biological mothers caution that open adoptions which include continued contact prevent closure on the biological mother's loss in having given up the child and may interfere with the developmental task of grieving for the relinquished child.37 The attachment between a biological mother and the adopted child as a result of ongoing contact may create ambivalence and confusion for the biological mother instead of easing her guilty feelings. This possibility led to language in a Connecticut statute distinguishing between visitation and custody and warning that the visiting party (the biological parents) should not perceive themselves as replacing the adoptive parents, either temporarily or permanently.38

Open adoption may also carry the additional burden of dependency of the biological parent. Silber and Dorner equate the biological parents to extended family members in that they are relatives of the child.34 Many biological parents are young adolescents who may look to the adoptive parents as surrogate parents, putting an added strain on them.39

Open Adoption May Confuse Adoptees

The biggest risk of open adoption postulated by most adoption professionals is that it will interfere with the process of bonding between adoptive parents and child, which in turn will interfere with the adopted child's healthy development and adjustment.35,37,40,41

Adoptees in confidential adoptions wrestle with the fantasy of "ghost" parents,42 but shared information or direct contact with these parents may exacerbate rather than eliminate these fantasies. Furthermore, Byrd postulates that a young child is not equipped to deal with the differing value systems of two sets of parents and may reject both value systems, increasing the risk of psychopathology.40 Thus, instead of helping to resolve identity conflicts in adolescence, contact with birthparents may increase an adoptee's confusion.43

In the few court cases discussing visitation between adopted children and biological parents, courts have usually assumed that visiting would "confuse the child and result in harm rather than good" (In re Catala, 1977, cited in Nathan, 1984, p. 649).38 Adoption professionals generally agree that the child will be least confused about loyalties to either parents when the open relationship between the adoptive and biological parents is clear and positive.32