Adoptive children often go through a variety of emotions while attempting to locate their birth parents. For some, the pursuit of their biological families is an all encompassing goal. This idea is evidenced in the poem above, written by an adopted child who is still trying to find her birthparents. The journey is often a long hard road that can lead to a variety of emotions, and positive and negative outcomes. The fruits of many adoptees' efforts may sometimes lead to joy, but other times may cause sorrow.
The majority of studies that have been conducted however related to adoption research have indicated that the effects of finding one's birthparents are often positive in nature, not only for the adoptee but for the birthparent as well. Much evidence also indicates that finding one's birthparents may solidify gaps in the relationship for adoptive families and strengthen unions between adopted parents and children. There is also a great deal of information that shows that most adopted children do at some point seek out their birthparents, and many birthparents readily make available identifying information about themselves. These facts are part of the reason the outcome is positive for children who do find their birthparents. More information related to reunion outcomes and adoption statistics is related below.
STATISTICS ON ADOPTION
The most recent "formal review of records related to adoption statistics" collected by government officials was published between 1990 and 1995, with research conducted by the National Center for Social Statistics (NAIC, 2003). The federal government does not typically collect comprehensive statistics on adoption, thus independent agencies and individuals have done their best to attempt to piece together as much information related to adoption statistics as possible (Stolley, 1993). Listed below is some detail regarding the statistics that have been collected related to adoption.
According to the National Committee for Adoption, or NCFA the following statistics were collected related to adoptions in 1986:
Number in Thousands
Total Domestic Adoptions
Public Agency Adoptions
Private Agency Adoptions
Source: National Committee for Adoption, 1989. Stolley, Kathy. "Statistics on Adoption in the United States." Future of Children: Adoption, Center for the Future of children. Los Altos: Spring 1993.
By far infant adoptions are the most popular form of adoption. "Infant adoptions currently account for 48.1% of all adoptions," and of those adoptions "public agency adoptions account for 39.2%" of figures (Stolley, 2003 & NCFA, 1989). Public agency adoptions often are more easily tracked, and thus adoptee's seeking their birth parents are more likely to find success in such situations, because more formal record keeping practices are often engaged. "Private agency adoptions typically account for 29.4% of records and individually arranged adoptions occur approximately 31.4% of the time" (Stolley, 2003 and NCFA, 1989). These statistics are important to note, as they relate to the potential children have for successful reunion with birthparents later in life. Individual or privately arranged adoptions may result in less chance for positive outcome later on, if for no other reason than adequate record keeping may not always be ensured, and in these situations it may be more likely that the birthparents do not provide identifying information in all circumstances to officials.
Adoption typically occurs through two different types of practices; either formal or non-formal (Stolley, 2003). Formal adoption involves "legal recognition of parental relationship" and informal adoption occurs "when the birthmother allows another person to take parental responsibility for her child" without legal recognition or approval (Stolley, 2003). Informal adoption practices are also those most likely to result in difficulty when a child seeks out their birthparent in the future.
In 1990 there were a "total of approximately 118, 529 adoptions in the U.S." (Stolley, 1993). Unrelated adoptions are those that usually result in a stranger taking care of the birthmother's child (Stolley, 1993). In an unrelated adoption a child has a much greater chance of having difficulty locating birthparents at a later date.
According to the NCFA, approximately "two to four percent of adoptee's searched for their birthparents in 1990" (NAIC, 2003 & Babb, 1996). In a survey conducted in the late 1980's "as many as 500,000 adults were searching for their birth families still" and expected a positive outcome (NAIC, 2003 & Groza, 1998). The reasons for searching out birthparents varied;
72% of adolescents searching for their birthparents wanted to know why they were given up at birth" (NAIC, 2003 & Babb, 1996)
65% wanted to meet their birth parents"
94% simply wanted to know if they looked like their birth parent or not" (NAIC, 2003 & Babb, 1996).
Psychological and social studies have also been conducted related to adoption, and the majority have revealed that "as many as 60-90% of adopted children are seeking out information about their biological parents, mostly as a means to normalize their life and feel more complete" (NAIC, 2003 and Babb, 1996). Turning again back to the poem mentioned at the beginning of this paper, a large majority of adopted children feel that their life has a void in it, even if they are living in a positive situation with adoptive parents they love and care for. Most will end up spending some portion of their life looking for their birthparents, if for no other reason than to fill this gap. Not all will contact their birthparents upon meeting them, but the majority feels that just knowing who their birthparents are will make a difference (AFN, 2003).
POSITIVE/NEGATIVE ASPECTS OF ADOPTION
What of the positive and negative aspects of seeking out one's adoptive parents? The Main Department of Human Resources Task Force on Adoption conducted a study in 1989 "that showed that almost 100% of birth parents" who had given up their children "would support a reunion for themselves and their children" and felt the results would be positive in nature (NAIC, 2003 and CWLA, 1998). "98% actually had positive experiences" when given the opportunity to meet with their children (NAIC, 2003 and CWLA, 1998). More than "95% of adopted children also were interested in the survey in being found by their birthparents" and expected a positive outcome (NAIC, 2003 and CWLA, 1998).
These facts tend to affirm the belief that children have a natural tendency to seek out their bloodlines, regardless of the outcome. The majority of people searching however, expect a positive outcome. Perhaps this is because at least within the United States, adoption has a positive connotation surrounding it. Most children who are adopted do experience some negative emotions regarding their adoption or uncertainty regarding their search for their birthparents at some point during their lives. Fortunately, most have a positive outcome.
An overwhelming majority of adoptee's and birthparents feel that they should be supported in their quest to find their biological families (NAIC, 2003). A 1991 study found that "85.5% of birth mothers and 81.1% of adopted children supported access by adult adoptee's to identifying information regarding their birth parents" (NAIC, 2003 and CWLA, 1998). The majority of research that has been conducted has shown that finding ones biological parents does not negatively impact children or birthparents. (See Figure 1.) In many cases, finding biological parents has been shown to strengthen the bond between the adoptive parents and child. Often an adoptive parent will assist their adoptee in the search to find their biological parents, though this has been shown in some circumstances to cause stress for the adoptive parent. An example of this is indicated in Seth's story detailed below.
Details percentage of positive outcome vs. negative outcome for birthparents seeking information on their children, as well as outcome of adopted children acquiring identifying information related to birthparents. The overwhelming majority of information collected suggests that in general a very positive outcome results when birthparents are reunited with their children. In most situations, studies conducted have shown that adopted children who obtain identifying information regarding their birthparents form some type of positive relationship with their birth families as adults, but also develop stronger bonds with their adoptive families.
Source Statistical Data: NAIC, 2003. National Adoption Information Clearinghouse. CWL Adoption News. Retrieved November 28, 2003, http://naic.acf.hhs.gov/index.cfm
PERSONAL ACCOUNTS OF ADOPTIVE FAMILIES
Seth Mogil led what he refers to as "a fairly normal childhood," but began inquiring about his adoptive parents "at about the age of nine" (AFN, 2003). His parents weren't able to tell him much about his birth mother however, so Seth set out on a mission to find his biological parents on his own with his adoptive family's assistance. The process was a difficult one for Seth, and "took him down a road where for some time he suffered from depression," however eventually with his adoptive mothers help he was able to locate his birth mother,…