In the adoption process, “openness” refers to the extent to which all parties (including the adopted child and birth-family members) are informed about past and present relationships, and are able to initiate and maintain contact with each other. To examine adoption openness, this section first identifies whether or not children are aware that they have been adopted. This section also describes whether children’s families have pre-adoption agreements regarding openness, and whether adopted children have had post-adoption contact with members of their birth family. In “closed” adoptions, birth and adoptive parents had no contact with each other; often knowing very little—if anything—about each other. In some cases, adoptive parents did not tell their children that they had been adopted. The 1960s brought a shift toward more openness in adoption.32 Although the effect of continued contact and communication between adopted individuals and birth parents has been difficult to study, its proponents believe it can facilitate the psychological well-being of both groups.33 In many states, agreements about post-adoption contact—both for privately adopted children and for children adopted from foster care - are legally enforceable, providing some assurance to birth parents of the continued openness of an adoption.34 See Appendix Table 18 on page 77 for detailed data on each indicator.
Almost all adopted children ages 5 and older (97 percent) know they were adopted. There are small differences across adoption type, with children adopted from foster care slightly less likely to know they were adopted (94 percent), compared with other adopted children.
Among children adopted by non-relatives,i about one-third have a pre-adoption agreement regarding openness. Roughly one-third have had post-adoption contact with birth family members. Specifically, the parents of 32 percent of adopted children reported pre-adoption agreements regarding contact, such as visits or phone calls with birth family members, or the exchange of photographs. For 36 percent, either the child or the child’s parents have had post-adoption contact with the child’s birth family, either in person, or through letters or email.
Pre-adoption agreements and post-adoption contact are most common among children adopted privately from within the United States. Specifically, 67 percent of privately adopted U.S. children have pre-adoption agreements compared with 32 percent of children adopted from foster care. Respondents who adopted internationally reported pre-adoption agree-ments so rarely that a reliable estimate cannot be generated. Similarly, over two-thirds of privately adopted U.S. children (68 percent) have had contact with their birth families following the adoption, as have almost two-fifths of children adopted from foster care (39 percent). Six percent of children adopted internationally have had post-adoption contact with their birth families; see Figure 38.
Figure 38. Percentage of children adopted by non-relatives who have pre-adoption agreements regarding openness and who have had post-adoption contact with birth family members, by adoption type
Note: Values corresponding to unreliable percentage estimates have been suppressed in this figure.