open adoption
A Brief History of Open Adoption
Adoption in The United States?

The origin of statutory requirements in the early 20th century, that adoption be confidential and that birth certificates and adoption records be sealed, began with early laws such as the Minnesota Act of 1917. By the early 1950s almost every state had amended its adoption statues to create complete anonymity for the birth parents. Beginning in 1974, research demonstrates that some of the psychological problems observed in adolescent and adult adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents appeared to be directly related to the secrecy, anonymity, and sealed records of adoption. Open adoption became increasingly common in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s as research and practice began to promote the principles of open adoption. (Baran and Pannor, 1993)

1851: Massachusetts becomes the first state to pass a law regulating the adoption of children. Institutions for parentless children are organized by religious and other charitable groups.

Late 1800s: Orphan trains travel westward to find homes for children in towns and farming communities of the Midwest. Adopted children are still mostly older. Adoption agencies, many of which exist today, are established as a result of the orphan train process. They develop more professional adoption procedures and work for state adoption laws.

Early 1900s: Maternity homes emerge as safe places for young, unwed mothers as they nurse their babies and make plans for themselves. As introduction and use of formulas increase, these mothers could choose adoption earlier and sometimes immediately after birth. The adoption process becomes a more formal, legal and confidential procedure.

1950s: The adoption of "war orphans" sets the stage for today's international adoption activities. Adoption begins to be an option for children previously in long-term foster care; children with "special needs," children of minority backgrounds and sibling groups.

1970s: Abortion is legalized. This leads to a decline of maternity homes and a decline of adoption being presented as an option. Two Supreme Court cases increase legal rights of birth fathers in adoption.  Some states enact laws requiring birthmothers to name the father of the baby

1980s: Federal funds increasingly support special needs adoptions and the number of international adoptions doubles. Traditional confidential adoptions are formally joined by experimental open adoptions. Agencies begin offering varying degrees of participation in adoption planning by birthmothers. Legislatures deal with the question of access to adoption records, as organized groups of adopted persons and birthmothers seek access to records and provide self-help support for searching for biological roots. Some state laws are amended to provide for state level registries for mutual consent so that identifying information can be shared between birthparents and adopted adult-aged persons who register their willingness to meet.

2004: Today more than half of all adoptions have some form of openess.
Read more about the History of Adoption at...The Adoption History Project web site!

Adoption Timeline

Myth About Open Records

Perhaps the most compelling argument against open records is that birth parents do not want to be contacted by the children they gave up for adoption.  One court has even... story continues

© 2008 Debbie Weeks
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