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Journal Issue: Adoption Volume 3 Number 1 Spring 1993

Perspectives on Open Adoption
Annette Baran Reuben Pannor


In the opening article of this journal issue, Sokoloff describes the origin of the statutory requirements that adoption be confidential and that the original birth certificate and adoption records be sealed. As he points out, the early laws, beginning with the Minnesota Act of 1917, were designed to shield adoption procedures from public scrutiny, so as to provide privacy for both the birthparents and the adoptive parents, and to remove the stigma of illegitimacy from the child. The intent of these original statutes was not to create anonymity between birthparents and adoptive parents or to keep secret from adopted children any information about their past. During the ensuing 30-year period, ideas about who should be protected and from whom changed. By the early 1950s virtually every state had amended its adoption statutes to create complete anonymity for the birthparents. Even in private adoptions where the law permitted the birthmother to choose the adoptive family, rarely did she meet the adoptive parents face to face or maintain any contact with her birthchild. In effect, both public and private systems for adoption were tightly closed.

This article offers our perspective about secrecy in adoption. We believe that confidentiality and anonymity are harmful and that adoptions should be open. This perspective was developed during more than 40 years of practice as psychotherapists and researchers. We have counseled thousands of birthparents, adoptees, and adoptive parents, following many of them over decades. As we developed our practice, it became evident that little attention had been paid to the psychological needs of adult adoptees and that no studies had been done to examine the feelings and attitudes of birthparents years after they had relinquished their children for adoption. Beginning in 1974 we, with Arthur Sorosky, began to report our observations that some of the psychological problems observed in adolescent and adult adoptees, birthparents, and adoptive parents appeared to be related directly to the secrecy, anonymity, and sealed records aspects of adoption.1-4 These observations were later expanded in our book, The Adoption Triangle.5 This article briefly reviews some of our clinical observations.