- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2012

An estimated 95 percent of U.S. infant adoptions now have some level of openness between birth parents and adoptive parents, unlike earlier decades, when such contact was routinely denied, says a report released Wednesday..

“The era of truly closed adoptions is probably coming to a quick end,” said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

According to data on 4,400 recent adoptions from 100 agencies, 55 percent of domestic infant adoptions are “fully disclosed.” This means birth and adoptive families know each other and typically have ongoing, direct contact, Donaldson Institute researchers wrote in “Openness in Adoption: From Secrecy and Stigma to Knowledge and Connections.”

Another 40 percent of infant adoptions are “mediated,” which means families exchange letters and pictures through intermediaries, but they do not know each other. The remaining 5 percent of infant adoptions are “closed” or “confidential,” which means adoptive parents have medical information about biological parents, but not names or identifying information.

The Donaldson report applauded the trend toward open adoption as beneficial, saying that when information is shared and some level of contact is welcomed and maintained, people’s fears, distress and anxiety is often greatly reduced.

There’s still “a lot of work” to do, as expectant and adoptive parents should be educated about the process as well as post-placement issues, said Mr. Pertman, who is the adoptive father of two children with open adoptions, and author of “Adoption Nation.”

But the legacies of closed adoption persist: Forty-three states still make it hard for adoptees to see their original birth certificates, leading untold thousands to search for family members. And although closed adoptions have become unpopular, they have not disappeared.

“‘Open’ adoption is qualified - it has quotes around it - because it doesn’t open the birth records,” said Marri Jo Rillera, a board member of the International Soundex Reunion Registry (ISRR) in Las Vegas.

Since 1975, ISRR has compiled birth information from people in the adoption triad. When documents reveal a match, ISRR volunteers inform the searchers. An estimated 228,000 people are now in the ISRR, and hundreds more come in each week, said Ms. Rillera, who is both an adoptee and a birth mother.

Most ISRR registrations involve people born in the 1960s and 1970s, she said. “But there will not be a week when we don’t get stuff for the ‘30s, ‘40s, lots from the ‘50s and now ‘80s and ‘90s.”

“And, as always happens,” many of the registrations come from people who just turned 18 or 21 and now “feel they have permission” to search, Ms. Rillera said.

The American Pregnancy Association, an advocacy group for healthy pregnancies, offers a list of reasons people still seek closed adoptions: A birth mother may want privacy about her pregnancy or the adoption, or adoptive parents may want to protect their family from intrusive or unstable birth parents.

If a birth parent is engaging in destructive or risky illegal behaviors, “An open adoption can be detrimental,” said Brad Imler, president of the association.

“But apart from that, if you have healthy individuals on the birth-family side, and healthy adoptive parents, which you assume you do since they’ve gone through background checks and home studies … an open adoption can be a wonderful thing,” he said.

Mr. Imler has personal experiences with adoption: In 1964, he was placed at birth into a closed adoption. He later found both his birth mother and father.

Years later, when he and his wife found they were infertile, they adopted two children, both in open adoptions.

“My kids have eight grandparents that all love on them,” he said.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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