Social Work Issues and International Adoption dissertation

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International Adoption

Adoption, whether national or international, is a legal process in which the rights of the biological parent are terminated. The adoptive parent is then given the rights and responsibilities of a legal parent and the adoptee is also given all the rights and responsibilities of his new family, including social and emotional rights. Individuals going abroad also have to adhere to international laws. Traditionally, individuals seeking to participate in international adoptions seemed to navigate towards a closed process where there sometimes was little or no contact between the biological and adoptive families before, during, and especially after placement or adoption of the child. Individuals seemed to prefer the secrecy/confidentiality of a closed international adoption vs. An open process. However as time went on, biological and adoptive parents began to realize that the tide was changing and that closed adoptions were less beneficial than initially presumed. Changes in the social climate, lifestyle and in the adoption population necessitated the exploration of open international adoptions.

While some research tracking the effects of an open international adoption is still in its nascent phase, there is evidence from completed research indicating the "substantial benefits" of open international adoption on children, biological mothers/families and adoptive vs. closed international adoptions (Weeks 6). Though some risks may be associated with, and degrees of openness vary in, international adoptions, there is increasing evidence that an open process rather than a closed one is more positive and beneficial process to all stakeholders involved.

For the past three decades, societal changes including, but not limited to, career choices over starting a family, health issues that could derail pregnancy and norms such as "birth control and abortion practices" (Berry 125) have impacted changes in the international adoption population as well as "the number of health infants available for international adoption" (Berry 125). Along with changes in international adoption population, shifts in the international adoption process have also been noted. According to Berry (125), "one of the most controversial shifts is the introduction of open international adoptions as a standard practice among many international adoption agencies and attorneys."

Open international adoption is defined as "the sharing of information and/or contacts between the adoptive and biological parents of an adopted child, before and/or after the placement of the child, perhaps continuing for the life of the child" (Berry 126). The above definition is in opposition to the traditionally closed or confidential international adoption practice, where the identity of the adoptive parents/family was unknown to the biological parents/family. There was no communication with the child or between the biological and adoptive families after placement. Openness can be as simple as both families sharing information before the international adoption, during the process, and after the placement of the child. Though openness in an international adoption can be beneficial in alleviating some of the cross-cultural issues that might arise as well as minimize the confusion that adopted children experience as they grow up, sharing is not for everyone and is not always possible for every child who is adopted. This may be true for orphans and children of rape or incest.

International adoption experts today recommend "matching adoptive and biological families partly on the basis of their choice of open, semi-open, or closed international adoption" (Berry 126). A decline of available healthy infants for international adoption has also empowered biological mothers/parents to have more control in the international adoption process. Long-term research on families who engage in open international adoption placements reveals several substantial benefits to openness:

Some adoptive parents report that they do not feel that the biological parents will return to claim the child.

Adoptive parents report that, because of sharing, they have information that they can use to support their adopted child as he/she grows up with no doubts that they are with their parents

Adoptive parents report that they are able to provide information about the child's past and reason(s) for placement

Biological parents report feeling good about making such a difficult decision, to let their child be adopted, when there is openness and sharing with the adoptive parents. They feel as though they are still involved with the child and are aware of what's going on.

Research further indicates that in addition to societal issues, other factors that may impact the process of international adoptions include emotional factors, the age of the biological mother and the lack of financial resources. Openness in this process often seems to resolve many of these issues, especially for the biological parent. Participants involved in a closed international adoption process have stressors just as much as those involved in an open process. The decision to give up child for adoption, no matter what the circumstances are, is never an easy one. A very young mother, one that is physically and emotionally immature and often without a support system, may be unable to deal with the various aspects of the adoption process such as what she feels before and after placement, separation anxiety, feelings of loss because she no longer has her child, and the distress she might feel not knowing what's is going on with her child or if she would ever see that child. These feelings are not limited to only one young mother but across the board to all biological parents going through the adoption process. One could make the argument that adoptive parents also have some worries as well: whether they are getting the child that they want; how to deal with cultural and societal issues; if they are really doing what is in the best interest of the child.

One international adoption professional maintains that open international adoptions benefit biological parents in that it offers "reassurance of knowing their child is safe and thriving" and it permits them to "answer their birth child's questions about his or her international adoption or origin" (Openness 1). Open international adoptions appear to be a more humane approach for all stakeholders in the international adoption process. Sharing provides information that can be used to positively support the biological and adoptive parents, and to ensure that the child's best interest is at the center of all discussions. Knowing the benefits of an open international adoption, there are biological and adoptive parents who still opt for a closed process.

Many children who are adopted also have difficulties. They suffer from feelings of loss/separation from biological family, guilt/inadequacy that they did not love their biological family enough or vice versa, powerlessness that they are unable to change the process, feelings of rejection that they were unwanted by their families, not knowing why their biological mother/parent chose international adoption. Others suffer because they do not have access to pertinent medical history of their biological parents in the event that they (the children) may be prone to, or develop serious mental health or medical conditions. More biological and adoptive families are embracing open international adoptions because of proven benefits to all involved including, but not limited to:

A better sense of identity

Access to biological family, pertinent medical history and biographical information

Understanding of why biological parents chose international adoption

(Openness 1)

As Silber (1) notes, "Through an open international adoption, the adoptee knows he/she was placed for international adoption out of love. he/she is aware, on an ongoing basis, of his/her Biological parents' love. As a result, the adoptee is able to feel good not only about where he/she is, but also where he/she came from, freed from the frustrations of the unknowns and feelings of rejection of closed international adoption." Within the open international adoption model, some adoptive parents view the biological family as extended family, primarily because of their relation to the adoptee. For some other adoptive parents, however, it is difficult to accept the biological parents into their lives as "relatives" and they may not immediately see the benefits of such relationships. As these adoptive parents attempt to forge a relationship with the biological family, the hope is that they would realize that adoption, like marriage, is a means by which people gain extended family that they have to learn to understand and trust. Research shows that adoptive parents also benefit from open international adoptions in the following areas, some of them similar to benefits that the adoptees experience:

Access to the biological parents/family, pertinent medical histories and personalities

Eliminating the fear of the unknown, that the biological parent may want or try to reverse the adoption process

Access to biographical information

Better equipped to address areas in which the adoptee might be vulnerable

(Openness 1)

It is imperative that the biological parents and adoptive parents try to put themselves in the mindset of the adoptee. It does not take a great deal of empathy to understand how painful it can be to have no idea where you came from or why your biological parents gave you up to others. It is normal for all human beings to be curious about their origins, their parents, and their past. Keeping such information from individuals can greatly…[continue]

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