Traditional Adoption

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traditional adoption

Anonymous or confidential adoption, the generally accepted practice of "classic adoption," wherein the identities of both the birthparents and the adoptive parents are unknown to each other. These are the types of adoptions that have been arranged, mostly by agencies, since around 1920 in the United States. Traditional adoptions are usually contrasted to so-called open or direct placements, although both types of adoptions have common elements.

Increasing numbers of traditional adoptions offer birthmothers broad choices, such as the religion of the adopting couple, whether the adopting parents are childless or already have children and other nonidentifying, specifying elements. Such choices are offered by most adoption agencies as well as many intermediaries who arrange adoptions. Such agencies also arrange a meeting between the birthmother and the prospective parents, which is on a first-name basis only. (If full names are exchanged, the adoption is open rather than traditional.) The majority of adoptions are traditional rather than open yet with choices provided so the birthmother has input to the choice of the family who will adopt the child.

Although a great deal of media attention has been focused on OPEN ADOPTION, proponents of traditional adoptions believe there is no apparent necessity for a change to open adoption. In fact, experts who support traditional adoptions believe there is insufficient evidence to support the idea that all or most adoptions should be open.

Wrote A. Dean Byrd, "This alleged acceptance of open adoption seems to be unsupported by anything other than the sparsest anecdotal data-data with virtually no sound theoretical rationale or scientific research to back it up."

Byrd believes that all members of the "adoption circle" can be negatively affected by open adoptions, which he believes cause damage that does not occur in traditional confidential adoptions.

Although it is generally believed and stated (by proponents of open adoption) that the birthmother benefits from openness, Byrd believes an open adoption allows birthparents to delay or try to avoid altogether the loss an adoption decision entails. In addition, "Ongoing contact may serve as a continuous reminder of the loss, or as a stimulus for the fantasy that relinquishing a child is not really a loss at all."

Byrd fears adoptive parents may not truly bond with a child if they must constantly confer with the birthmother or both birthparents. He worries that if the adoptive parents are "continually reminded that if the child is not really theirs," they will have difficulty bonding with the child, who, in turn, will suffer.

Finally, Byrd (and other experts) are concerned most about the effect on the child when a traditional adoption is ruled out altogether.

Describing a young adolescent in an identity conflict occurring at the time of increased birthmother contact, Byrd says the adopted adolescent went back and forth from the adoptive parents to the birthmother, and the child was very confused. According to Byrd, she stated, "I want to be like my adoptive mother, but my birth mother says I'm like her. I don't know what to do or who I am .?.?. My birth mother talks about lawsuits when things go wrong. Isn't there someone that I can sue?"

For a more detailed discussion of open adoption and open adoption versus traditional adoption, see OPEN ADOPTION. (See also CONFIDENTIALITY.)


A. Dean Byrd, "The Case for Confidential Adoption," Public Welfare 62 (fall 1988): 20-23.

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