Paths to the Facilitation of Open Adoption

AuthorMichael P. Sobol,Kerry J. Daly,E. Kevin Kelloway
Date01 October 2000
Published date01 October 2000
2000, Vol. 49, No. 4 419
Paths to the Facilitation of Open Adoption
Michael P. Sobol,*Kerry J. Daly, and E. Kevin Kelloway
The present study was designed to test a model of the paths leading to the facilitation of open adoption. Professionals used open
facilitation if they held optimistic attitudes about its effects. Belief in the positive effects of openness were in turn associated with
liberal placement boundaries and short list criteria. A second path described older, better educated and employed birth mothers
choosing urban, fee-charging facilitators who were more likely to have incorporated openness into their adoption practice.
*Address correspondence to: Michael Sobol, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Uni-
versity of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, N1G 2W1; e-mail:
Key Words: adoption, facilitation, openness.
(Family Relations, 2000, 49, 419–424)
In two seminal works, Kirk (1964, 1981) introduced the role
of openness in adoptive family life. He argued that the suc-
cess of an adoptive family was primarily dependent upon
two factors: the acknowledgment by adoptive families and the
wider community that adoptive families need to address many
issues that differed from those faced by consanguineous families;
and communication between adoptive family members needed
to be marked by openness around adoptive issues. For Kirk,
openness pertained only to communicative relationships within
the nuclear adoptive family and not to individuals outside of this
family group.
Over the past four decades, there has been an expansion in
the use of the concept of openness in adoption. No longer limited
to communication between adoptive family members, the notion
of openness has been broadened to include accessibility to in-
formation and potential relationships between adoptive and birth
families. Furthermore, rather than referring to one particular kind
of arrangement, openness is currently viewed as a continuum
that ranges from birth parents choosing adoptive parents from
preselected non identifying f‌iles, to meeting potential adoptive
parents without the exchange of identifying information, to the
exchange of letters or information through a mediator after
placement, to frequent unmediated face-to-face contact. Given
the multitude of openness arrangements, it is not surprising that
there is little agreement about the meaning of the concept (Alty
& Cameron, 1995). Furthermore, interpretation and comparabil-
ity of this literature are often plagued by operational inconsis-
tencies (Gross, 1997).
The merits and problems associated with open adoption
have been debated in the adoption literature for some time. As
often the case with conf‌licting evidence, the debate has been
political and often polarized (Byrd, 1988; Churchman, 1986;
Watson, 1988). Those who support open adoption cite evidence
that indicates that openness gives birth parents more control over
the adoption process, enhances adoptive parents’ ability to raise
their adopted children, reduces fear of loss, enhances empathy
toward the birth mother, and assists healthy identity formation
of the child. Advocates who support maintaining conf‌identiality
argue that open adoption interferes with proper grieving for the
birth mother, has negative effects on the child’s development,
leads to adoptive parent insecurity and uncertainty, and is more
likely to result in identity confusion for the adoptee (for good
summaries of these positions, see Alty & Cameron, 1995; Avery,
1998; Berry, 1991).
As a social practice, open adoption has received mixed sup-
port within the public domain. In a study of community attitudes
toward adoption, Miall (1998) found little support for open adop-
tion with only 29% of respondents indicating that birth parents
and adoptive parents should know each other from the earliest
stages of adoption. Concerns were raised about conf‌lict between
birth and adoptive parents, confusion in the child, and the ad-
dition of an unnecessary dimension to adoptive family life. In-
terestingly, in an earlier study, Rompf (1993) reported somewhat
higher support (52% either strongly approved or somewhat ap-
proved) for open adoption. However, this still left almost half of
the cohort indicating that they did not support openness.
In spite of the lack of strong community support, most re-
cent evidence points to the advantages of openness within the
adoption constellation. Although potential adoptive parents tend
to be fearful about open adoption and sceptical about its benef‌its
(Gross, 1997; Sachdev, 1989; Siegel, 1993), once they have ex-
perienced a fully disclosed adoption, they generally became pos-
itive about openness practices (Siegel, 1993) and less fearful that
the birth mother would attempt to regain custody of the child
(Berry, 1993; Grotevant, McRoy, Elde, & Fravel, 1994; Silver-
stein & Demick, 1994). Furthermore, adoptive parents in fully
disclosed adoptions demonstrate higher degrees of empathy
about adoption, talk more openly about adoption with their chil-
dren and have a greater sense of permanence about the adoption
(Grotevant, et al., 1994).
In a study of communication patterns between adoptees and
their parents in different openness relationships, children with
more information about their birth parent are more curious and
have more active communication with both adoptive parents in
comparison to children who have less information (Wrobel,Koh-
ler, Grotevant, & McRoy, 1998). Furthermore, pre-adolescent
adoptees in fully disclosed adoptions are reported to be more
satisf‌ied than those in less open adoptions because they do not
face the same barriers to information that are integral to their
identity formation (Wrobel, Ayers-Lopez, Grotevant, McRoy, &
Friedrick, 1996).
Most recent empirical evidence supports the move toward
openness. Cushman, Kalmuss, and Namerow (1997), Etter
(1993), and Gross (1997) have all reported that birth and adop-
tive parents were very satisf‌ied, for the most part, with an open
adoption. However, a recent comparative study indicated no dif-
ferences in levels of satisfaction between open and conf‌idential
adoptions with a high percentage of both groups being very sat-
isf‌ied (Berry, Dylla, Barth, & Needell, 1998). There were also
no differences reported between open and conf‌idential adoptions
on measures of children’s adjustment (Berry et al., 1998). This
f‌inding has also been replicated by Grotevant and McRoy
While most of the research on openness has been concerned
with the effects upon the interior of the adoptive family, little

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