November is National Adoption Month – an initiative with the goal of increasing national awareness and bringing attention to the need for permanent families for children in the U.S. foster care system.
For most of the 20th century, adoptions were largely “closed,” meaning birth parents placed their child with an adoption agency and had no further contact unless the child sought them out later in life. However, statistics show that a shift occurred in the 1990s when agencies started to recognize the benefits of “open” adoptions, or adoptions in which adoptive families have ongoing interactions with the birth family.
University of Missouri communication researchers are studying the benefits and challenges of open adoptions and the ways in which adoptive and biological parents navigate the complex relationships that can result from these new arrangements. Their recent study shows that open adoption relationships in which communication is encouraged, can benefit the child and their adoptive parents.
“Most research on open adoptions has examined the outcomes, but we haven’t – as a research community – studied how adoptive families manage the ongoing relationships with the biological families,” said Haley Horstman, an assistant professor of interpersonal and family communication at MU.
“It truly is a ‘brave new world,’” Colleen Colaner, an MU assistant professor of communication adds. “Families are now navigating new communication tools, like social media or texting. There are many factors that adoptive and biological parents have to consider to put the child at the center of this triangular relationship.”
“These social pioneers are forging their ways into new communication territory and we’re very interested in analyzing how these relationships are affected,” said Alexie Hays, first author on the study.