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Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Adoptions Open and Closed

Last Sunday's Modern Love column in the New York Times was a moving account of an adoptive family's decision to maintain contact with their daughter's birth family in Guatemala.  "Open" adoptions, where such post-adoption contact is encouraged or required, have become the norm in private domestic adoptions in recent decades.  Yet international adoptions, and adoptions out of the foster care system in the U.S., continue to rely on the traditional "closed" adoption framework, wherein one family replaces or eradicates another.  

This practice continues despite the data showing that open adoptions are healthier--psychologically and physically--for the children, adoptive families and biological families.  It also ignores the reality that most children adopted out of the foster care system are not infants, and have strong ties to their biological parents and families.  

So why does this paradigm persist?  In the child welfare context, at least, I think the main motivation is a static view of the "normal" American family which I, and others, discussed in my post last week about the CA statute allowing for more than two legal parents.  This attempt to shoehorn families into a mold which most of them will never fit is further complicated by the race and class inequities underlying our child welfare system.  As Naomi Cahn has described the history of adoption, it serves as “a means of socializing culturally disfavored children—of removing them and placing them in middle-class homes[.]”  (See her article Perfect Substitutes or the Real Thing? here).  Encouraging open adoptions, in both the foster care and international contexts, would both recognize children's actual attachments to a network adults and perhaps help to expand our legal concept of family--something that is long overdue.


Posted by Cynthia Godsoe on August 8, 2012 at 10:53 AM | Permalink


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The reason many people favor closed adoptions, and refuse to adopt domestically where closed adoptions are hard to come by, is because they believe, quite correctly in my view, that multiple claims on parenthood are harmful for children. A child needs stability and certainty, which normally entails knowing that they are in this family forever and nothing will change this. When there is some "other" mom out there who demands visits, a child is understandably confused -- am I in my adopted family for good? Will this other woman take me away? Will I be asked to choose? If an adoptive family has biological children, there is an issue of divided loyalties among siblings, as in "why should I invest in a relationship with my adopted sibling if she has a second mom and can switch families at any time?" Or, "My parents are not unique to my adopted sibling -- she can have any parents in the world, whoever signs a piece of paper, and then, she can always go back to her real mom. So, she isn't really my sibling". All of this is simply too disruptive and too confusing for a small child.

If I were to adopt, I would have never chosen an open adoption. Never. I may or may not have tried to hide the fact of adoption itself (as they do in many countries, and which, I believe, is ideal for an adoptee but not often realistically possible), but I would have NEVER permitted another person to interfere with my family. This has nothing to do with the politically-correct and fundamentally anti-adoptive-family bullshit that Naomi Cahn has been spewing.

Posted by: disagree | Aug 17, 2012 2:02:19 PM

I adopted children. They are in my family. Period. Any whiney egg or sperm donor who comes to my front door asking or demanding to see my children will be met with my 30-06 hunting rifle with laser scope. That's the story Jerry.

Posted by: Paul Pasternack | Aug 17, 2012 11:17:52 AM

I adopted children. They are in my family. Period. Any whiney egg or sperm donor who comes to my front door asking or demanding to see my children will be met with my 30-06 hunting rifle with laser scope. That's the story Jerry.

Posted by: Paul Pasternack | Aug 17, 2012 11:17:50 AM

Thanks Glenn! I really enjoyed both your and Naomi's pieces, but lean towards agreeing with you that the differences between adoption and ART may outweigh the similarities and make openness less desirable in the latter context. (And it's not just that I love your article title!) Part of my conclusion rests on the realities of adoption, at least out of foster care, the context with which I am most familiar. In that system, the average age of adopted kids is 7 or 8, so they almost always have memories and/or past contact with biological families. This perhaps falls under your first point, although I also find your other arguments persuasive.

Posted by: Cynthia Godsoe | Aug 8, 2012 3:59:37 PM

Another great post Cynthia! There is a parallel movement regarding sperm donor anonymity (where most of the Western world has required registries for sperm donors where identifying info is available to the child at age 18 if they call in), and Naomi Cahn and others have pressed for adopting similar models in the U.S. Naomi has a wonderful new article on the subject that came out this year in the Georgetown Law Journal, The New Kinship, http://ssrn.com/abstract=2018969, with which I have some (friendly) disagreements in a response piece I wrote for that journal, Rethinking Sperm-Donor Anonymity: Of Changed Selves, Non-Identity, and One-Night Stands, 100 Georgetown L. J. 431 (2012), http://ssrn.com/abstract=1961605.
I am curious whether you think the issues of openness are more parallel between adoption and assisted reproduction (I think roughly Naomi's view) or different enough that one can support one but not the other (my view)?

Posted by: I. Glenn Cohen | Aug 8, 2012 3:41:51 PM

In the Chinese context, I assume there are no "open adoptions" because Chinese law forbid, at least until recently, putting children up for adoption, and therefore it was impossible to find out who the birth parents were.

Posted by: anonprof | Aug 8, 2012 11:04:29 AM

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