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Family Structural Openness and Communication Openness as Predictors in the Adjustmentof Adopted Children


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The current study examined the relative contribution of family structural openness versus communication openness in the adjustment of adopted children. Seventy-three adopted children, placed predominately in inracial families within 18 months of their birth, were the focus of the study. Parental ratings of family structural openness and children's ratings of communication openness served as the primary predictor variables and children's ratings of their self-esteem and parental ratings of children's behavior problems were the outcome measures. Although family structural openness and communication openness were positively correlated, only communication openness independently predicted children's adjustment. The findings are consistent with research suggesting that family process variables generally are more predictive of children's psychological adjustment than family structural variables. Implications for social casework and clinical practice in adoption are discussed.
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Family Structural Openness
and Communication Openness
as Predictors in the Adjustment
of Adopted Children
David Brodzinsky, PhD
study examined the relative contribution of
family structural openness versus communication openness in the ad-
justment of adopted children. Seventy-three adopted children, placed
predominately in inracial families within 18 months of their birth, were
the focus of the study. Parental ratings of family structural openness and
children's ratings of communication openness served as the primary pre-
dictor variables and children's ratings of their self-esteem and parental
ratings of children's behavior problems were the outcome measures. Al-
though family structural openness and communication openness were
positively correlated, only communication openness independently pre-
dicted children's adjustment. The findings are consistent with research
suggesting that family process variables generally are more predictive of
children's psychological adjustment than family structural variables. Im-
David Brodzinsky is affiliated with Department of Psychology, Rutgers University,
53 Avenue E, Piscataway, NJ 08854 (E-mail:
Portions of this article were presented at the annual conference of the International
Society for the Study of Behavioral Development in Ghent, Belgium in July 2004.
Adoption Quarterly, Vol. 9(4) 2006
Available online at hup.z/
© 2006
The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.
doi: 10.1300/1 145 v9n04_0 1
plications for social casework and clinical practice in adoption are dis-
cussed. doi:l0.1300/JI45v9n04_01 {Article copies available for a fee from
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All rights
KEYWORDS. Adopted children, open adoption, adoption communica-
tion, children's adjustment
Of all the changes that have taken place in the field of adoption over
the past few decades, perhaps none has altered the face of adoption or
changed the nature of adoptive family life as much as the emergence of
open adoption. Researchers and practitioners have conceptualized open-
ness in adoption in two different, but related, ways (Brodzinsky, 2005).
The first, and most common, way of defining open adoption focuses on
a specific type of family structural arrangement existing between the
adopti ve and birth families, involving mutual sharing of identifying in-
formation, plus some degree of contact between the parties, which may
or may not involve the child. Grotevant and McRoy (1998) refer
type of placement as a fully disclosed adoption. A second way in which
openness in adoption has been discussed is in terms of a communication
continuum involving the exploration of adoption issues, both within and
between adoption triad members (Brodzinsky, 2005; Wrobel, Kohler,
Grotevant, & McRoy, 1998,2003).
A growing body of research has examined the relationship between
open adoption, as a family structural arrangement, and the adjustment
of adoptive parents, birth parents, and adopted children. Contrary to the
clitics of open adoption who have postulated significant adverse con-
sequences associated with this type of family kinship system (Byrd,
1988; Cocozzelli, 1989; Kraft, Palumbo, Mitchell, Woods,
1985a,b; Kraft, Palumbo, Woods, Schmidt,
Tucker, 1985), the data
suggest that adoptive parents who choose an open placement generally
are quite satisfied with the arrangement and have positive and empathic
relationships with their child's birth relatives (Belbas, 1987; Gross,
1993; Grotevant
McRoy, 1998; Silverstein
Demick, 1994). In ad-
dition, they experience a greater sense of entitlement to their child
Grotevant, 1988; Siegel 1993), worry less about birth par-
ents reclaiming their youngster (Belbas, 1987) and feel more secure
about the attachment to their child compared with parents in more con-
fidential placement arrangements (Silverstein & Demick, 1994). Re-
David Brodzinsky
search also suggests that adoptive parents in structurally open adoptions
communicate more with their child about adoption and are more em-
pathic regarding their child's feelings and curiosity about his or her
gin (Grotevant
McRoy, 1998). On the other hand, Siegel (1993)
points out that adoptive parents in open placements tend to worry about
the impact of contact with birth family on their children.
Structurally open adoptions also appear to be quite satisfying to most
birth parents and to benefit them by increasing their sense of control, re-
ducing unresolved grief issues, and diminishing depression and other
postplacement adjustment difficulties (A. Brodzinsky, 1992; Grotevant
McRoy, 1998; Henney, Ayers-Lopez, McRoy,
Grotevant, 2004).
Even when. the adoption involves a non voluntary placement, there is
reason to believe that birth relatives may find contact with the adoptive
family to be helpful, comforting, and supportive of healthier emotional
adjustment (Young
Neil, 2004).
In contrast to the predictions of negati ve outcomes for children asso-
ciated with open adoptions as opposed to confidential placements (Kraft
et a1., 1985), researchers have found either few adjustment differences
between the two groups of children (Berry, Cavazo, Dylla, Barth, &
Needell, 1998; Grotevant
McRoy, 1998; Kohler, Grotevant,
Roy, 2002), or benefits associated with open adoption. For example,
compared with children with little or no contact with birth family, those
living in open placements have a better understanding of adoption
(Wrobel, Ayers-Lopez, Grotevant,
Friedrick, 1996), display more
curiosity about their origins and ask more adoption-related questions
(Wrobel, Kohler, Grotevant,
McRoy, 1998), and are more likely to
be actively involved in a search for birth family members (Wrobel,
McRoy, 2004). In addition, one study of adopted children
coming out of the foster care system indicated that children who had
more contact with birth family were rated by parents as having fewer
behavioral problems (Berry, 1991). Although the latter finding is en-
couraging, Neil and Howe (2004) point out that contact between adopted
children and their birth family can be detrimental to these youngsters
when they have experienced trauma at the hands of birth family mem-
bers (see also Beek
Shofield, 2004; Selwyn, 2004; and Thoburn,
2004 for differing findings regarding contact between later-placed
adopted children and foster children and their biological families).
The concept of adoption communication openness derives from the
work of Kirk (1964) who was the first researcher to emphasize the
portance of open communication within the adoptive family system.
Specifically, he suggested that adoptive parents who are better able to
acknowledge the inherent differences associated with adoptive family
life would be more likely to facilitate healthier adjustment in their chil-
dren, and the family as a whole, than parents who tended to deny or re-
ject these differences. The construct of communication openness has
been supported by other recent theoretical trends in the adoption field,
most notably adoptive family life cycle theory (Brodzinsky, 1987;
Pinderhughes, 2002; Hajal
Rosenberg, 1991) and the
multisysternic, developmentally based work of Brodzinsky (2005) and
Grotevant, McRoy, Wrobel and their colleagues (Grotevant, PelTY,
McRoy, 2005; Wrobel et al., ]998,2003).
Communication openness is assumed to occur on three separate lev-
els (Brodzinsky, 2005). The first level is intrapersonal, reflecting the
individual's self-exploration of their thoughts and feelings about adop-
tion. For the adopted child, this process is assumed to emerge after they
have been informed about their adoption status and begin
its implications; for the adoptive parent, the process begins when they
first consider adoption as an option for achieving parenthood; and for
the birth parents, the process is assumed to begin when they are con-
fronted with an unexpected and unwanted pregnancy and first consider
adoption as a solution for their dilemma. As Brodzinsky, Schechter, and
Henig (1992) suggest, the exploration of the personal meaning of adop-
tion for each of these groups of individuals is likely to be a lifelong
process. The second level of adoption communication is intrafamilial, re-
flecting the exploration of adoption issues among adoptive family
members, as well as among birth family members. The importance of
maintaining an open, active, and emotionally attuned dialogue between
adoptive parents and their children has been a reoccurring theme in the
writings of many adoption experts (Brodzinsky, 2005; Brodzinsky
Pinderhughes, 2002; Kirk, 1964; Nickman, 1985; Wrobel etal., 2003).
The third level of adoption communication openness is interfatnilial, re-
flecting the exploration of adoption issues between adoptive and birth
family members. Grotevant, Ross, Marchel, and McRoy (1999), in par-
ticular, have pointed out the importance of collaborative involvement
between these two famiJy systems as a basis for the emotional well-be-
ing of the adopted child. Finally, adoptive communication theory em-
phasizes not only the mutual sharing of adoption information within the
adoption kinship system, but also the expression and support of adop-
tion-related emotions. For example, the ability of children to express
their feelings about being adopted, and the empathic sensitivity of par-
ents to those feelings, is viewed as a critical process in healthy adoption
adaptation (Kirk,
964; Brodzinsky, 2005; Brodzinsky
David Brodzinski'
2002). For a more in-depth analysis of adoption communication theory,
the reader should consult Brodzinsky (2005) and Wrobel et a1. (2003).
Although relatively little research has been conducted on the impact
of communication openness in adoption ori adoption triad members, the
data gathered, to date, generally support the notion that adopted individ-
uals who experience more open, direct, and nondefensive communica-
tion about adoption with their parents show more positive adjustment,
not just in the childhood years, but even into adulthood. For example,
Stein and Hoopes (1985) found that adoptive families with a more open
communication style had adolescents who manifested fewer identity
problems. Furthermore, Kohler, Grotevant, and McRoy (2002) found
that adolescent adoptees, who perceived greater communication open-
ness in the family, reported more trust of their parents, less alienation
from them, and better overall family functioning. On the other hand,
communication openness was not related to the extent to which the teen-
agers had contact with birth family or the degree to which these young-
sters were preoccupied with adoption issues. Still other research has
found that adult adoptees who grew up in families in which there was
greater openness in adoption communication reported being more satis-
fied with their adoption experience (Howe & Feast, 2000). Further-
more, open adoption communication has been related to adult adoptees
feeling closer to their adoptive parents (Sobol, Delaney,
Earn, 1994).
To date, research on structural openness and communication open-
ness in adoptive families has followed parallel paths. No study has di-
rectly examined the relationship between these two aspects of adoption
openness or compared their relative contribution with the adjustment of
adopted children. Because of the growing trend toward increased open-
ness in the adoption field (Brodzinsky, 2005; Grotevant et al., 2005) and
the continued controversy that surrounds this construct, it was consid-
ered important to examine both of these issues. Specifically, there were
two goals in the current study. The first was to examine the relationship
between the extent of structural openness characterizing adopti ve fami-
lies and the extent to which these families supported open, direct, and
emotionally attuned communication about adoption. It was hypothe-
sized that adoptive parents who choose an open adoption placement
also would be more likely to facilitate greater communication openness
with their children. The second goal was to compare the relative influ-
ence of family structural openness versus communication openness as
predictors of adjustment of adopted children. It was hypothesized that
both aspects of openness would be related to positi ve adjustment in chil-
dren, but that,communicative openness would carry greater predictive
power than structural openness. This hypothesis was based on family
research suggesting that family process variables such as parental
warmth, emotional sensitivity, extent of parental involvement disci-
plinary style, quality of marital relations, and family communication
style generally are more predictive of children's adjustment than the
specific type of family structure within which the child lives; for
example, single versus two-parent family, intact versus nonintact family,
mother-headed versus father-headed household, heterosexual-headed
versus homosexual-head household, and so forth (Hetherington
ley-Hagan, 2002; Parke, 2002; Patterson, 2002; Weinrub, Horvath,
Seventy-three children (38 boys and 35 girls) between the ages of 8
and 13 years (M
11.1 years; SD
1.41) and their parents were in-
cluded in the study. With the exception of six children, all subjects lived
in intact, two-parent families. Three of the children were from divorced
families and lived primarily with their mothers; the other three children
were adopted by single women and lived in families with only one
parenting figure. The mean age of the adoptive mothers was 43.4 years;
for adoptive fathers, it was 47.6 years. Seventy-five percent of the chil-
dren were adopted within the United States and 25 percent from other
countries-primarily from Southeast Asia and Russia. Of the domesti-
cally born children, 85 percent were placed inracially and 15 percent
transracially. For those youngsters adopted from other countries, 39
percent were placed inracially and6
percent transracially. All children
were placed in their family prior to 18 months of age, with a mean
age of placement of 3.8 months (SD
3.65). Subjects were recruited
from adoption agencies, adoptive parents organizations, and by word of
Procedure and Assessment Instruments
Data were collected during home visits as part of a larger study on
adoption adjustment. Initially, parents and children were seen together
during which time the goals of the study were explained, and consent
and assent forms were signed by the parents and children respectively.
David Brodzinsky
After this meeting, each party was interviewed separately and was
asked to respond to the following assessment instruments:
. Family Structural Openness Inventory. Family structural openness
was assessed with a newly developed 20-item, true-false, parent-report
instrument measuring the extent to which adoptive family members had
information about and contact with the child's birth motherand/or birth
father. Higher scores reflect a greater degree of structural openness
between the adoptive and birth family. Examples of items include: "I
know the name of my child's birth mother; I know where my child's
birth mother lives; I have met my cbild's birth mother; I have communi-
cated with my child's birth mother through the adoption agency or an-
other intermediary; I have communicated directly with my child's birth
mother by telephone, e-mail, or letter; I have visited with my child's
birth mother on one or more occasions within the past year." Compara-
ble items were included in relation to the bilth father, as well as items re-
lated to the child's knowledge and contact with birth family members.
Pilot testing revealed a high degree of test-retest reliability for the in-
strument over a one-week time period, r
.82. Furthermore, for those
families in which both mother and fatber were available to fill out the
questionnaire (n
43), a moderately high degree of interparental agree-
ment was achieved using this measure,
.63. For purposes of this
study, only the mothers' ratings of structural openness were used since
they reported more often being in contact with the birth family than did
Although for data analytic purposes, structural openness was defined
numerically as the parent's total number of affirmative responses on
this scale, to provide a categorical description of the families, and thus a
basis for comparison with other research on open adoption, these scores
were translated into the openness categories defined by Grotevant and
McRoy (1998). Adoptive families who had never met their child's birth
mother or birth father and who had never been in contact with them fol-
lowing the placement, either directly or through an intermediary such as
the adoption agency, were considered to be involved in a confidential
adoption-even if they knew the birth parents names and where they
lived. Forty-five percent of the families fell into this category. Adoptive
families who had some type of contact witb the birth mother or birth fa-
ther following the placement, either ongoing or not, through the adop-
tion agency or another intermediary, were considered to be involved in
a mediated adoption. Approximately 27 percent of the families fell into
this category. It may be noted that in some cases of mediated adoption,
the adoptive parents had met one or both birth parents prior to the place-
ment, but none of these families maintained ongoing direct contact with
birth farnily members. Finally, adoptive parents who had met one or
both birth parents and maintained direct contact with these individuals,
either through the mail, by e-rnail, and/or in person, were considered to
be involved in a fully disclosed adoption. In most cases, but not all, the
children also were in contact with their birth parents. Approximately 27
percent of the families fell into this category.
One hundred percent of the fully disclosed adoptions, 85 percent of
the mediated adoptions, and 55 percent of the confidential adoptions in-
volved placements from within this country. As would be expected, the
vast majority of intercountry adoptions (94%) involved confidential
placements, although adoptive parents and/or their children often knew
the birth parents' names, but seldom where they lived. Only one family
with a foreign born child had been in touch with birth family members,
with the aid of the adoption agency.
Adoption Communication Openness Scale. Adoption communication
openness was assessed with a newly developed lA-item, child-report
instrument, adapted from the Parent-Adolescent Communication Scale
developed by Barnes and Olsen (1984) [see Lanz, Iafrate, Rosnati,
Scabini, 1999, for additional validity data on this scale in relation to
adoptive families]. Using a 5-point Likert-type scale, the instrument
measured the extent to which children experience their parents as being
open and sensitive in adoption communication, as well as the extent to
which children felt comfortable discussing adoption with their parents.
Children's mean ratings across the 14-item scale represented their per-
ception of communication openness in the family, with higher ratings
reflecting a greater degree of openness. Examples of scale items in-
clude: "My parents are good listeners when it comes to my thoughts and
feelings about being adopted; My parents have difficulty understanding
adoption from my point of view; If there is something I need to know
about my adoption, my parents are always there for me, trying to answer
my questions." Pilot testing revealed moderately high test-retest reli-
ability for children over a one week time period,
.70. Cronbach's al-
pha for the scale was .79.
Child Adjustment Measures. Two measures of children's adjustment
were used in the study. The first was a child, self-report measure, the
Self-Perception Profile for Children (Harter, 1985). The SPPC is a
well-regarded, reliable, and valid instrument frequently used by re-
searchers investigating children's self-perception and consists of 36
items that yield scores for six domains of perceived self-adequacy:
scholastic competence, social acceptance, athletic competence, physical
David Brodzinsky
appearance, behavioral conduct, and global self-worth. For each item,
two types of children are described and subjects must indicate which
type of child they most resemble and then decide whether they are "sort
of' or "really" like that child. Items are scored from I to 4, with higher
scores reflecting greater levels of perceived self-competence. Items
within each subscale are averaged to yield six separate subscale scores.
For this study, only the global self-worth subscale was used.
The second measure of children's adjustment was the parent-report,
Child Behavior Checklist (Achenbach, 1991). The CBCL consists of
113 behavior problem items which convert to a number of
scales, two broad band scales (internalizing and externalizing behav-
iors) and a total behavior problem scale. For this study, only the t scores
for total behavior problems were used. The CBCL is the most widely
used research-based measure of children's behavior problems and is
known to be reliable and to have good content and construct validity
(Achenbach, 1991).
Preliminary Analyses
No differences between boys and girls were found for any of the vari-
ables in the study. Consequently, the data were collapsed across gender.
As might be expected, children adopted from within the United States
were placed at an earlier age (M
2.8 months; SD
2.78) compared
with intercountry adoptees (M
7.9 months; SD
4.75), t(71)
.0001. They also experienced greater structural openness (M
4.51) than intercountry adoptees (M
2.00; SD
4.38, P
.0001, but not communication openness (M
3.95; SD
vs. M
3.58; SD
.66). Given that the majority of intercountry adop-
tions involved transracial placements, it is not surprising that children
adopted tranracially also experienced less structural openness (M
2.89; SD
2.01) compared with those youngsters adopted inracially
6.57; SD
4.57), t(71)
< .002. In addition, they experi-
communication openness (M
3.50; SD
.74 vs. M
.56), t(71)
.002, and lower self-esteem (M
3.13; SD
.39 vs. M
3.34; SD
AI), t(71)
P < .05.
Relationship Among Predictor and Dependent Variables
Pearson Product correlations were computed among the various pre-
dictor and dependent variables. Inspection of Table 1indicates that chil-
dren's age was unrelated to any of the study variables. Age at adoption
placement, however, was negatively associated with structural open-
ness, but not communication openness or the two-child adjustment
measures. Thus, children placed at a younger age lived in families with
a greater degree of contact with birth family members than children
adopted at an older age. Structural openness also was positively COITe-
lated with both communication openness and children's self-esteem. In
short, the more contact children had with birth family, the more open the
communication about adoption within their family and the more posi-
tive they felt about themselves. No relationship was found between
structural openness and parental ratings of children's behavior prob-
lems. In contrast, communication openness was significantly correlated
with both-child adjustment measures. SpecificaIIy, children experienc-
ing more open adoption communication in their family not only rated
themselves higher in self-esteem, but were rated by their parents as
manifesting fewer adjustment difficulties. Finally, as would be expec-
ted, a significant negative con-elation was found between children's
self-esteem and behavior problems.
Predicting Self-Esteem ana Behavior Problems
Two separate hierarchical regression analyses were conducted to test
the relati ve contribution of structural openness and communication open-
TABLE 1. Pearson Correlations Among Demographic Data, Adoption Open-
ness Measures and Child Adjustment Measures
Child's age
Placement age
-.20 -.02
Structural openness
.25* .24' -.16
Communication openness
- .40***
Placement age; so
Structural openness; CO
Communication openness; SE
Self-esteem; BP
Behavior problems.
David Brodzinskv
ness as predictors of children's self-esteem and behavior problems. To
control for the influence of children's age, gender, placement age, type
of adoption (domestic versus intercountry), and family racial status
(inracial vs. transracial), these variables were entered first as a single
block in each regression analysis (labeled demographics), followed by a
second block which included structural openness and communication
openness. Communication openness, but not structural openness, sig-
nificantly predicted children's ratings of their self-esteem, as well as pa-
rental ratings of children's behavior problems (see Table 2).
To the best of my knowledge, this is the first study to directly exam-
ine the relationship between family structural openness and communi-
cation openness in adoptive families, as well as the relative contribution
of these two variables for adopted children's adjustment. As expected,
structural openness and communication openness were positively cor-
related, although the degree of the relationship was quite modest. What
might contribute to this positive relationship? On the one hand, it makes
sense that adoptive parents involved in open placements would find
themselves more often confronting adoption issues than parents in con-
TABLE 2. Adoption Openness as a Predictor of Children's Self-Esteem and
Behavior Problems
Predictor Variables
.20 .04 .04 2.05 (5,67)a
Adoption openness
.17 .13 6.92 (2,65)'"
Structural openness
Communication Openness
Behavior problems
.15 .02 .02
.89 (5,67)
Adoption openness
.18 .16 6.94 (2,65)***
Structural openness
Communication Openness
Note: Demographic variables (children's age, gender. placement age, type
adoption and tamily racial
status) were entered first as a single block 10control
Iheir effects in predicting adjustment outcome mea-
sures, followed by a second block which included the Iwo measures of adoption openness;
fidential placements. For one thing, open placements, by definition, in-
volve direct communication between adoptive parents and birth family
members, which in turn is likely to facilitate greater adoption-related
communication within the family, especially as adoptive parents makes
plans for contact with the birth family, prepare their child for such con-
tact, and respond to the child's inevitable questions resulting from con-
short, structurally open adoptions are simply more likely to
require a greater level of openness in communication about adoption
issues than are more traditional, closed adoptions.
is also possible that the relationship between structural openness
and communication openness derives, in part, from a common associa-
tion with parental characteristics that leads one to choose and embrace
openness in adoption. For example, Brodzinsky (2005) speculated that
adoptive parents with a more "open, empathic, and secure personality
style" may be more likely to choose an adoption arrangement that is
structurally open, as well as be more prone to explore adoption issues
within themselves and with others, including their children.
individuals with a more "closed, cautious, and self-protective personal-
ity style" might be expected, on average, to"choose a more confidential
placement arrangement that minimizes contact between adoptive and
birth family members, and to display more resistance to exploring adop-
tion issues or discussing them with their children. This speculation, of
course, requires empirical verification.
The current study provides additional support for the benefits of open
adoption for children (see also Grotevant
McRoy, 1998; Grotevant
et al., 2005; Wrobel et a1., 2003). Children living in families with more
information about, and contact with, birth family members, and chil-
dren who experience more open and sensitive communication about
adoption within their family, displayed greater self-esteem and fewer
behavior problems. Of importance, however, is the finding that commu-
nication openness appears to be a stronger and more consistent predic-
tor of children's adjustment than the extent of structural openness that
exists between the adoptive and birth families. In fact, structural open-
ness did not predict children's adjustment independently of communi-
cation openness. This finding supports other research suggesting that
family process variables such as parent-child communication patterns,
parental disciplinary practices, interparental conflict, and quality of pa-
rental emotional attunement generally are more important for children's
long-term adjustment than the type of family in which the child is raised
Stanley-Hagan, 2002; Parke, 2002; Patterson, 2002;
Weinrub et a1., 2002).
David Brodzinskv
There are a number of important implications that follow from the
current findings. First, adoption researchers need to focus more on pa-
rental and family characteristics associated with communication style
and other process variables that are likely to account for the high degree
of variability in psychological adjustment observed among adopted chil-
dren. Although it is well documented that adopted children are more at
risk for adjustment difficulties than their nonadopted agemates (Brodzin-
Pinderhuges, 2002), it is also clear that, as a group, these young-
sters display a wide range of adjustment patterns, with the vast majority
well within the normal range. It is time for researchers to move beyond
questions focusing on the relative risk associated with adoption status
per se and to begin to examine those vulnerability and resilience factors
found within the general population of adoptees and their families that are
linked to varying patterns of psychological adjustment (Palacios
ches-Sandoval, 2005).
The current data also suggest that adoption agency personnel and cli-
nicians should pay more attention to those parental and family charac-
teristics associated with communication style in their work with adoptive
families. Despite concerted efforts by adoption professionals over the
past two decades to better educate adoptive parents about the nature of
adoptive kinship dynamics, many parents continue to have difficulty ac-
knowledging and/or discussing the inherent differences associated with
adoptive family life, as well as the meaning of being adopted for their
children. Too often, children's curiosity about their heritage goes un-
supported and their feelings about being adopted remain suppressed
because of parents' discomfort in addressing these issues. In fostering
greater self-exploration about adoption issues within their clients, as well
as facilitating more open, direct, and empathic communication between
adoptive parents and their children, adoption agency personnel and cli-
nicians are likely to support better long-term adjustment in all adoption
family members (Grotevant et aI., 2005; Wrobel et al., 2003).
Adoption professionals and mental health professionals also need to
ensure that structurally open adoptions are truly communicati vely open
as well. One cannot assume that this will always be the case. In fact, the
current study suggests that these two factors are only modestly posi-
tively correlated. Clinical experience suggests that many families choos-
ing an open placement, although having good intentions regarding fos-
tering ongoing contact and communication about adoption issues, do
not consistently maintain a reasonably high level of openness with the
passage of time. Part of the reason for this shift in openness is that the
needs of adoption triad members change over time and not always in
ways that are consistent with one another (Brodzinsky, 2005; Wrobel
et aI., 2003). Whereas adoptive parents and birth parents may agree on a
certain level of contact and communication at the time of placement,
changes inlife circumstances often result in one of the parties needing
to change their involvement with the other-that is, either seeking to de-
crease contact or perhaps increase it. When confronted with this type of
conflict, adoption professionals need to help families understand the
normality of the changes taking place and, at the same time, help them
negotiate a level of contact and communication that preserves mutual
trust and respect. Similarly, although adoptive parents may begin by be-
ing very open with their children in the initial stages of telling them
about their adoption, especially when there is some degree of contact
between the adoptive and birth families, the child's growing interest in
their origins sometimes is experienced as threatening to adoptive par-
ents, which may lead them to become more defensive and closed in their
communication, and perhaps even reduce the amount of contact with
the birth family. In this case, adoption professionals need to help adop-
tive parents recognize the basis for their discomfort and the importance
of maintaining open communication with their child about adoption is-
sues, as well as contact with birth family members. In short, adoption
professionals need to ensure that structurally open adoptions remain
communicatively open.
It is also important for adoption professionals to ensure that adoptive
parents who choose a confidential placement or an international adop-
tion-both of which usually are associated with limited information
about the child's background-do not fall into the trap of believing that
the lack of information about their child's origin precludes openness in
adoption. Adoptive parents not only need to recognize the fundamental
importance of open adoption communication, but also how to discuss
adoption with their child when there is a lack of information about the
birth family or when the available information is of a highly sensitive
nature (e.g., when the history includes abuse, abandonment, parental
psychopathology, etc.). For example, when there is a lack of verifiable
knowledge about the child's birth history, adoptive parents need to en-
courage their child to share his or her thoughts, beliefs, fantasies, and/or
feelings about the birth parents and the reasons for the adoption place-
ment. Not only does this approach allow adoptive parents access to their
child's mental and emotional life related to adoption, but it also implic-
. itly normalizes the child's curiosity about his or her heritage and facili-
tates greater openness in communication, even in circumstances when
there is limited information about the child's birth history. In short,
David Brodziuskv
adoptive parents must remember that a structurally closed adoption
need not be, and should not be, a communicatively closed adoption. This
is an area in which adoptive parents are likely to need much help from
adoption professionals and clinicians.
All research is characterized by some limitations. This one is no ex-
ception. The sample size, although adequate for meaningful statistical
analyses, was somewhat small and raises the question of the general i-
zability of the findings to the broader population of adoptive families.
Another limitation is related to the diversity of the sample. Approxi-
mately 25 percent of the sample were adopted from foreign countries,
with the majority of these youngsters placed transracially. Although
regression analyses controlled for the influence of type of adoption (do-
mestic vs. international) and family racial status (inracial versus trans-
racial), it is possible that the diversity of the sample has influenced the
findings in some unknown way. Furthermore, the sample size is much
too small to adequately examine the question of whether adoption com-
munication differs within inracial adoptive families versus transracial
adoptive families. Our findings also are limited to children placed rela-
tively early in life. Although Neil and Howe (2004) suggest that in older
child placements, contact between adoptive and birth families can be
beneficial for the child, they also warn that when there has been a his-
tory of abuse at the hands of the birth family such contact can be trau-
matic. The CUITentstudy also does not allow for an assessment of the
similarity or difference in parents' and children's perception of struc-
tural and communication openness, as well as the relationship between
perceived differences and children's adjustment. Clinical experience
suggests that parents and their children often have quite different views
on the extent to which adoption issues are discussed in the family. Such
differences may have important implications for family adjustment. Fi-
nally, the current study also employed a limited range of outcome mea-
sures and, consequently, needs to be replicated with a focus on other
measures of adjustment, including those assessing quality of family re-
lationships, as well as parents' and children's adjustment to adoption
per se.
Despite these limitations, the current study provides new and valu-
able information on the relationship between openness in adoption and
children's psychological adjustment. Moreover, it is the first study to
examine the relative contribution of family structural openness versus
communication openness in relation to child outcome measures. Future
research needs to expand on the current findings and examine its rele-
vance for social casework and clinical practice.
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doi: 10.
... Scholars in the field characterized communication about the adoptees' birth family and separation from that family as adoption openness. This means that adoptive parents speak both about the child's past life and birth family (Brodzinsky 2006). As Barbosa-Ducharne and Soares (2016) suggest adoption openness is a part of the adoption communication process and besides the act of information, it entails feelings, joys, frustrations, and doubts about the adoption status. ...
... Helping the children to understand their origins and supporting their curiosity about birth family are key tasks in adoptive parenting (Brodzinsky and Pinderhughes 2002). Previous research findings suggest that adopters' openness (communicative attitudes and behaviors) and the way adoptionrelated issues are discussed in the adoptive family, which may profoundly affect the adoptees' identity and adjustment in the adoptive family (Brodzinsky 2006;Von Korff and Grotevant 2011). According to Brodzinsky (2006), openness in adoption comprises both structural and communication aspects. ...
... Previous research findings suggest that adopters' openness (communicative attitudes and behaviors) and the way adoptionrelated issues are discussed in the adoptive family, which may profoundly affect the adoptees' identity and adjustment in the adoptive family (Brodzinsky 2006;Von Korff and Grotevant 2011). According to Brodzinsky (2006), openness in adoption comprises both structural and communication aspects. Structural openness refers to the contact between adoptive and birth family members whereas communication openness refers to the discussion of the child's birth family and adoption history. ...
Full-text available
This study explored adult adoptees' experiences and challenges concerning their adoption and the extent to which adoption issues were openly discussed within the adoptive family. Listening to the perspective of adoptees is important as their experiences, and expectations can influence their well-being and the success of their placement. Fourteen adult adoptees participated in this study. Qualitative data were gathered using semi-structured interviews. Interviews took place between June 2020 and November 2020. The analysis of transcripts was conducted according to the interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) guidelines. Three themes related to the aims of the current research emerged from the data: (a) adoption secrecy, (b) adoptees' expectations for communication openness, and (c) adoption stigma. This study provides valuable insight into adoption communication openness, recognition of adoption stigma, and adoption microaggressions. Supplementary information: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s43545-022-00339-2.
... A related, growing body of evidence in the adoption literature attests to the importance of the quality of adoption-related communication, particularly with regards to child outcomes (Brodzinsky, 2006;Brodzinsky, 2005;Kohler et al., 2002). However, the challenge of talking to their child about adoption can lead to feelings of discomfort and distress amongst adoptive parents (Barbosa-Ducharne & Soares, 2016), and can be a difficult task to begin, with many parents worrying about how and when to introduce the topic, and about the impact this may have on the parent-child relationship (Brodzinsky, 2011;Pinderhughes & Brodzinsky, 2019). ...
... The concept of Adoption Communicative Openness has been developed over the last two decades and constitutes the process of sharing adoption information with the adopted child and creating a safe, respectful environment in which adoption-related thoughts and feelings can be discussed in a developmentally appropriate manner (Pinderhughes & Brodzinsky, 2019). 6 Communicative openness has been found to be a stronger and more consistent predictor of adopted children's adjustment than the extent of structural openness existing between children and their birth families (Brodzinsky, 2006). Further empirical support for the significance of Adoption Communication Openness in family functioning comes from a longitudinal study designed to examine the dynamics of relationships within adoptive family systems (Grotevant et al., 2013). ...
Egg donation is an increasingly common form of fertility treatment offered to women who are unable to conceive using their own eggs. Identity-release egg donation is the primary treatment method available to prospective parents seeking treatment with donated eggs in the UK. In families formed through identity-release egg donation, mother and child lack a genetic link. The child is also legally entitled to access the donor’s identity when they reach adulthood. Despite identity-release egg donation being available in the UK since 2005, no studies have yet examined family functioning in families formed this way when children are in early childhood. The aim of this thesis was first, to examine the effect of the absence of a genetic link between mother and child and, second, to examine mothers’ perspectives on identity-release donation and the possibility of future donor-child contact. Data were obtained from a sample of 72 families who had conceived using in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and egg donation and a comparison group of 50 families who had conceived through IVF using their own gametes. Eighty-nine percent of the families were heterosexual, two-parent families and the average age of the children (45% female) at the time of data collection was 5.6 years. Standardised interview, questionnaire and observational measures were used to collect data from mothers, father and children about parents’ psychological wellbeing, the quality of the parent-child relationship and children’s adjustment. Data regarding mothers’ thoughts and feelings about identity-release egg donation and future donor-child contact were obtained via semi-structured interview. Egg donation families were found to be functioning well in terms of parents’ psychological health, the quality of the parent-child relationship and child adjustment, with few differences found between family types. However, egg donation mothers were found to report more parenting stress and less social support than IVF mothers, and egg donation fathers were found to have poorer psychological health compared to IVF fathers. Differences in fathers’ psychological health were generally associated with egg donation fathers’ older age or being a parent of twins rather than family type per se. Egg donation mothers and fathers were found to express more negative representations of the parent- child relationship than IVF parents; however, no group differences were found between observed parent-child interaction quality, with parents and children in both groups demonstrating good relationship functioning at the behavioural level. Egg donation children were found to be rated as higher in externalising problems by their parents than IVF children. Most of the variance in children’s externalising scores was explained by family process variables and was not explained by family type. Egg donation mothers were found to express considerable ambivalence about their use of identity-release egg donation. Thematic analysis of egg donation mothers’ interviews revealed a broad range of perspectives, from viewing the prospect of future donor-child contact as threatening to the security of their position as the child’s mother, to viewing identity-release an opportunity to be embraced for the benefit of the child. Mothers’ narratives revealed complex and often contradictory perspectives, and demonstrated mothers’ use of multiple strategies in order to make sense of and manage their feelings about identity-release egg donation.
... Communicating about adoption has always been considered an essential aspect for adoptive families [1][2][3][4]. ...
... Researchers have defined communication about adoption-related themes as openness in adoption [2]. Communicative openness (CO) involves looking at all adoption issues [1,[5][6][7], and changes over time; it is a dynamic and flexible process. ...
Full-text available
Communicative openness within the adoptive family changes over time and helps the child explore his/her history. We aimed to evaluate whether adoptive families communicate about specific adoption-related themes from the beginning of their lives as a family. We created an instrument to track the communication process during the first year of adoption, involving a sample of 537 internationally adopted children (313 males, 224 females, mean age of adoption: 4.9 years) at two time points: six (T1) and twelve (T2) months after adoption. Our results suggest that in the first year of placement, children express memories about the past but tend to not speak about their birth families. We discovered a significant difference (Wald test = 4.889; p = 0.027) in communication about the biological family between the two points. The presence of adoptive parents who speak about it impacts the child’s questions about the past (exp (B) = 2.452, p = 0.006) and whether the child speaks about his/her biological family (exp (B) = 2.373; p = 0.017). Then, in the first year of adoption, the presence of an adoptive parent who communicates openly helps the child to ask questions and share his/her thoughts.
... In a smaller sample comprising no adoption dyads, the current study shows how the personal attitudes and attributes of long-term carers can influence their ability to form positive relationships with birth mothers and extends understanding of these dyadic relationships beyond adoption and into other long-term care types. Interpersonal skills, such as empathy and conflict resolution, together with genuine care and respect for each other's feelings and maternal roles are just as important for adults navigating relationships in the out-of-home care system as for those forging new relationships after adoption (Brodzinsky, 2006;Grotevant et al.,1999). Results suggest that when carers demonstrate respect for the legitimate role of birth mothers in their children's lives, they create space for mothers to overcome resistance and accept the realities of the situation and be willing to renegotiate boundaries and roles. ...
Birth family contact can be undermined by relationship difficulties between adults from children's two families, especially in relation to role ambiguity for mother figures. Research to understand relationships between birth mothers and female caregivers across all placement types is needed. In Australia, children in long‐term care, guardianship, and open adoption have direct contact with members of their birth families. The extent to which maternal figures work together is critical to children's ability to enjoy ongoing birth family connections, particularly First Nations children, who are overrepresented in out‐of‐home care. Qualitative methods were used to understand the personal attributes that influence relationships between five dyads of birth mothers and their child's female caregivers in New South Wales. Four were foster or kinship carers, two had adoptions underway, and one was a legal guardian. Three birth mothers identified as Aboriginal, and no caregivers did so. Analysis mapped birth mothers' acceptance and carers' communicative openness and interpreted influences of interpersonal skills, contact, and power dynamics on relationship quality. Positive and natural interactions between children’ mother figures can exist irrespective of legal arrangement when both are able to demonstrate emotional competence and learn relationship‐building skills and overcome power imbalances. The complexity of managing relationships in the context of permanent child removal is influenced by how well children's two mother figures renegotiate their roles. Families need support to discuss the goals and purpose of contact and identify relational resources and challenges. Professionals could use visit coaching to support children's two families in navigating contact.
Full-text available
The question "who am I?" is an enduring one which invokes a variety of responses depending on a person's social and cultural context. Such a question suggests that there might be a singular, plausible 'answer'. It also conveys the need to know a 'self' in relation to others, and to have an 'identity'. As a key preoccupation in contemporary society, identity is a "blurred but indispensable concept" (Tilly 1996, 7), and a central focus of theorising and research (Howard 2000, 367). Its varied use reflects and generates a diversity of meanings (Côté 2006, 7; Wetherell 2010, 3), however there are concerns about the distance between academic theorising and 'lay' conceptualisations of identity (Brubaker and Cooper 2000, 11). Identity has assumed a central focus in adoption research, and has come to be understood as one of the primary concerns for adoptees (Grotevant 1997, 7). A transition from identity viewed as an internally-generated, continuous, stable and coherent property, to a socially produced, fragmented, dynamic, contradictory and multi-layered construction (Wetherell 2010, 3-4; Woodward 1997b, 11, 13) is evident across the field of adoption studies. However, rather than provide blanket support or challenge to the opposing poles of either extreme (individual, agential, objective and essentialist versus social, structural, subjective and relative), the experiences of transracial adoptees illuminate the 'middle ground' between (Patton 2000, 2, 71, 79; Yngvesson and Mahoney 2000, 83). In Aotearoa New Zealand research relating to transracial adoptees is limited, despite their significant representation within the approximately 80,000 children legally adopted between 1955 and 1985. This inquiry combined critical realism, kaupapa Māori and hermeneutic phenomenology to address two research questions. First, what are Māori adoptees' lived experiences of being adopted and being Māori? Second, how does 'identity' feature in Māori adoptees' understandings and interpretations of these experiences? In-depth interviews were conducted with 15 Māori men and women adopted in closed stranger adoptions between 1960 and 1976. Interview narratives revealed the discursive and extra-discursive dimensions of 'being-adopted-and-Māori', characterised by two central concerns of 'realness' and 'difference' and underpinned by a meta-theme of loss. In a context of dominant, biocentric discourses of family, personhood, race and culture, identity was experienced as paradoxically and simultaneously essential and constructed, with participants in search of a 'comfortable' position not always able to be realised in their 'becoming bio-genealogical'. This study demonstrated Māori adoptee identities as intersectional ontological-level projects that both enrich and unsettle narrow conceptions of ethnic, cultural and adoptive identity. _________________________________________________________________________________ iii Acknowledgements
The prevalence of substance use among transracial and international adoptees is higher than that of non-adopted persons, and yet no specialized treatment modalities exist for this underserved population. Our purpose is to propose a substance use disorder (SUD) prevention program for transracial adoptive families that addresses the specific issues that face this community. There are several pre- and post-adoption factors which position transracial and international adoptees (TRIAs) to be at higher risk to develop SUDs. Some of these factors include adoption identity, trauma, loss, genetics, and racial discrimination. The biopsychosocial (BPS) model (Engel, 1977) is used to conceptualize SUDs in adoptees, and theories that focus on adoption-related development issues such as the Adoptee Stress and Coping Model (Brodzinsky, 1990) are also presented. Our proposed program, Strengthening Transracial Adoptive Families (STAF), utilizes the Guiding Good Choices (GGC) prevention program as its foundation to integrate a culturally responsive adoption-focused curriculum to best serve transracial adoptive families.
Full-text available
Previous research suggests that adopted children are at a greater risk of experiencing psychological and behavioural difficulties or accessing mental health services than non-adopted peers and that post-adoption variables are significant risk and protective factors producing this situation. This review seeks to summarise the post-adoption variables associated with adopted children’s mental health or behavioural difficulties to inform future research and shape interventions. A search for publications that assess associated risk and protective factors using Web of Science, Psychinfo, Medline and Sociological Abstracts identified 52 studies that met rigorous methodological criteria. Children’s and adolescents’ mental health and behavioural outcomes were associated with parent, parent–child and wider family factors and by contextual variables. The findings highlight the importance of focusing on the multitude of systemic factors surrounding a child following adoption. Clinical implications and direction for future research are discussed.
A history of systemic injustices and a lack of transparency have influenced public perceptions of domestic adoption. This book aims to introduce more empirical evidence into the debate by exploring the value of open adoption, as practised in Australia, as a route to permanence for abused and neglected children in out-of-home care who cannot safely return to their birth families. International evidence about the outcomes of adoption and foster care is discussed. The chapter introduces the Barnardos Australia Find-a-Family programme which has been finding adoptive homes since 1986 for non-Aboriginal children in care who are identified as ‘hard to place’. Regular post-adoption face-to-face contact with birth family members is an integral part of the adoption plan. The methodology for evaluating the outcomes for 210 children placed through the programme included case and court file analysis, a follow-up survey and interviews with adoptive parents and adult adoptees.
The 210 children in the full cohort came from 142 families. Their birth parents’ circumstances provide a context for evaluating adoption outcomes. The chapter explores data collected from the children’s case files and records presented to the court at the time the order was made. Parents demonstrated a high incidence of factors known to be associated with recurrent child abuse: 31% of mothers had experienced abuse in their own childhoods; 45% were known to statutory child welfare services before their child’s birth, and 29% had already experienced the permanent removal of a child. Almost all parents struggled with complex factors including mental health problems, substance misuse, unstable relationships and domestic abuse that placed their children at risk of harm; for some parents, cognitive impairment was an exacerbating factor. About 10% of birth parents had died, and 23% of mothers and 60% of fathers had already lost contact with children before the adoption placement.
In all cases of newborn adoption where placement is made directly into the permanent adoptive home, the adoptive parents become the psychological parents for that child. While adoptive parents enter the development phase of parenthood, the task is complicated by the fact that the child they are about to raise is not their biological child. We discuss the biological and psychological foundations of parenthood and examine the tasks that adoptive parents face when confronted with either an open or confidential adoption. We focus on the ways in which either procedure may assist or disrupt the adoptive parents' ability to form and maintain an on-going healthy attachment to the child. There is a new trend in the field of child welfare toward “openness in adoption”, which purports to change traditional confidential adoptions. We discuss the crucial aspects of the intrapsychic difference for an adoptive parent experiencing an open or confidential adoption.
The decision to search for birthparents is one that all adopted persons consider. The focus of this study is to describe, for a group of adopted adolescents, who chooses to search and who does not and to explore how search behavior is related to the functioning of the adolescents’adoptive families and adolescents’psychological adjustment. Participants in the study included 93 adolescents whose contact with birthparents ranged from no contact or information about birthparents to those who had some information but no direct contact with birthparents. Adolescents who indicated no desire to search for their birthparents and those who indicated a desire to search or had searched were included in the study. Older adolescents who experienced some openness in their adoption, were the least satisfied with that adoptive openness, and were preoccupied with their adoptive status were most likely to search. Search behavior was not related to family functioning or adolescent problem behavior.
This study examines potential links between early risk and problematic developmental outcomes in a sample of adopted children during middle childhood (mean age = 7. 8 years). No direct relation was found between prenatal, perinatal, or preplacement risk factors and problematic socioemotional adjustment. When 12 high-risk children and their families were studied more intensively, collaboration in relationships within the adoptive kinship network did account for variations in socioemotional outcomes for these children. Collaboration in relationships refers to proactive cooperation among the child’s adoptive and birth family members on behalf of the child’s best interests. The usefulness of this concept for studying other types of complex family forms is suggested.
This study tested the relationship between parent-adolescent communication and the Circumplex Model of Marital and Family Systems. While most studies of the Circumplex Model have focused on problem families, this study used fathers, mothers, and adolescents from 426 "normal" families. Family scores were developed and used to help describe the type of family system. Because of generational differences in terms of how parents and adolescents perceived their communication, separate analysis was done for each group. It was hypothesized that Balanced families (Circumplex Model) would have more positive parent-adolescent communication than Extreme families. This hypothesis was clearly supported for the parents but not for the adolescents. In contrast to the conflicting findings using individual level analysis (parents and adolescents), the findings at the family level using discriminant analysis indicated a linear relationship between parent-adolescent communication and the Circumplex dimensions (cohesion, adaptability) and family satisfaction. Families with good parent-adolescent communication perceived themselves in terms of the Circumplex Model as higher on family cohesion, family adaptability, and family satisfaction.
The present paper focuses on the issue of psychological risk associated with adoption. A selective review of the research literature is presented documenting the increased vulnerability of adopted children to behavioral and psychological problems. Following this review, a new psychosocial model of adoption adjustment is described. The basic thesis of the model is that the experience of adoption exposes parents and children to a unique set of psychosocial conflicts or tasks that interact with and complicate the more universal developmental tasks of family life described by Erikson. It is further assumed that the extent to which parents acknowledge the unique challenges associated with adoptive family life, and the way in which they attempt to cope with them, largely determines their pattern of adjustment. In the final section of the paper, an elaboration of Kirk's social role theory of adoption is presented and linked to various patterns of adoption adjustment.