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The Civil Rights Movement

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The Civil Rights Movement was the catalyst for shifting the adoption landscape from closed to open adoptions. Over the decades, the number of open adoptions in domestic cases has substantially increased. Although it may present challenges to birth parents and adoptive parents as well as to the adoptee, there are numerous benefits to all parties. An overwhelming number of studies show that open adoption positively impacts the child's self-esteem by increasing their self-awareness of who they are. These studies support a position that at least some form of open adoption is in the best interest of the child.

Adoptions were not always open; therefore birth parents and adoptive parents did not always have a choice. Prior to the 1940's, there were no regulations for adoption (Berge 1011). Most states executed laws against open adoptions and required that the files be closed (Berge 1011) and (Haugaard 89). In response to civil rights challenges that adoptees did not have access to information that agencies and courts had on them, domestic adoptions changed over the decades from 100% closed adoptions to open adoptions becoming more common than not today (Gray 27).

Open adoption allows a "continuum of options" (Berge 1012) for building relationships between birth parents and adopted children (adoptees). On the low end of the continuum, all parties have very little to no contact with each other; however, the birth records are open and available to all parties in open adoption. Therefore, identities are shared which may make it easier to locate birth parents and birth children at a later date. On the high end (or very open end) of the continuum, birth parents and adoptive parents not only share information about each other, but they may stay in contact with each other for a period of time, or forever (Berry 126). Adoptive parents may even be present during the birth of the child. The birth parent may have an active and ongoing presence in the child's life.

Open adoption benefits adoptees in many ways. However, open adoption affords adoptees the opportunity to get answers to questions they have about their adoption, their family background and their family health (Gray 27 and Child Welfare 9). It may reveal answers to questions that adoptees have, such as why they were given up for adoption or whom they look like (Child Welfare 9). Open adoption may also prevent low self-esteem. One study, the Minnesota-Texas Research Project (MTARP), found that adoptees that have contact with their birth mother helped them better understand who they are (Berge 1011).

In the case of closed adoptions, all birth records are sealed (Berry 126) thereby creating a level of secrecy about the adoption. The adoptee "may have fantasies about their biological family" (Berge 1017) coming back to get them. This may cause them to have difficulty bonding or feel a connectedness to the adoptive family. Because of the secrecy surrounding their adoption, the adoptee may feel shamed which may negatively impact a positive self-esteem (Berry 127).

Open adoption has many benefits for birth mothers/parents as well. As opposed to closed adoption where birth parents forfeit all custody and visitation rights (Gray 26), open adoption can help the birth mother heal from the grief and loss of her baby (Berry 127) even if it was by choice. The birth parents' ability to select the adoptive parents (Reamer 12) may be seen as another benefit in open adoption. This can make the decision easier to let the child go once they feel the child is in good hands (Child Welfare 9). Additionally, since the birth mother chose the adoptive parents, the adoptive parents felt more secure in the relationship with the birth mother (Berry 131). In open adoption, birth mothers may choose to have a continuing relationship with their child as they grow. This, too, can relieve the birth mother's anxiety of giving up her child (Child Welfare 9 and Berry 129).

Although many might think that adoptive parents may fear open adoption, they have much to gain. They feel proud to be the "chosen parents" by the birth mother (Child Welfare 9). Adoptive parents usually meet the birth mother and become comfortable with the relationship. As a result, they have less anxiety about the birth mother trying to take the baby back (Berge 1015). The Minnesota-Texas Research Project (MTARP) also confirms

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