Jamie Wyatt and Professor Jini Roby, School of Social Work
Increased globalization of today’s society is bringing about dramatic change; the social sciences are not exempt from the results of these changes. Particular to this research study is the issue of international adoptions, particularly those which are characterized as open. “Open adoption” was defined in this study to be some form of continued contact between the biological and adoptive families following the finalization of an adoption. International adoptions are a relatively new concept in and of themselves; international adoption compounded with openness was largely unheard of until the recent onset of globalization when open adoptions increased in accessibility and desirability across country borders. Because this is a recent phenomenon, the research conducted is exploratory and designed to be a means of developing hypotheses as well as a basis for further research on the subject of international open adoptions.
This research was conducted through the distribution of a survey instrument to adoptive parents in the United States who had adopted from the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI). RMI cultural traditionally holds that children placed for adoption maintain lifetime contact with their biological family. U.S.-RMI adoptions have increased over the past decade with the implementation of the Compact of Free Association between the United States and RMI, which allowed for RMI children to more easily enter the United States. All 44 families who participated in the research were aware that adoption from the RMI would be open prior to its finalization; 75% of families reported becoming aware of the openness factor through the agency they adopted thru. The remaining 25% of families became aware through an attorney, personal research conducted about RMI culture, or from personal experience with RMI.
Surveys were administered through the assistance of three liaisons in different regions of the United States, located by the faculty mentor for this research project who has conducted prior studies in the RMI. The liaisons were acquainted with a number of families who had participated in a U.S.-RMI adoption through either an informal listserve or personal contact at RMI cultural events. The surveys and informed consents were mailed to the liaisons who then distributed them to families. Informed consents were returned to the liaisons while the completed surveys, labeled only by a number that matched the number of their informed consent, were returned directly to the researchers, in order to provide the highest degree of anonymity possible for the adoptive parents. The researchers did verify with the liaisons that the numbers on the returned surveys matched the numbers on the returned informed consents.
The survey itself was a combination of 58 closed and open ended questions designed to gather a range of information regarding the experience of the families, from demographic information to motivation and understanding of openness as well as recommendations for future adoptive parents and policy makers. I was personally involved in the development and distribution of the survey instrument, as well as the gathering and analysis of the data. Statistical analysis was completed through the use of SPSS.
Overall, responses provided by the adoptive parents (questions were directed individually to both the mother and father) were positive with regard to open adoptions. Motivation for originally participating in an open adoption ranged from 28% who had previously heard of or been involved in a positive open adoption experience, 25% of families who liked the speed and ease of RMI adoptions, 13% who simply liked the idea of an open adoption, 7.5% who were attracted to the RMI culture and physical appearance of the children, and 4% who felt there was a higher chance for adopting an infant (N=52 families). 47% of mothers and 59% of fathers felt “positive” about an open adoption at the onset of the agreement, while 4% of mothers and 13% of fathers reported feeling “negative.”
When questioned as to both the legal and moral strength of the open adoption agreements, the results were intriguing. Prior to the adoption, 51% of families (mother and father were asked to answer this question together) stated the open adoption agreement was “not legally binding at all” following by 29% responding that it had “minimal legal significance.” However, 38% believe it to morally binding to the degree that it was “unable to be broken,” followed by 49% who responded that it is “significantly morally binding.” Statistics regarding current attitudes were nearly identical although there is a rise in those who believe the agreement is morally “unable to be broken” and morally “significantly binding.” Adoptive families made numerous suggestions for the future; a few of the responses ranged from encouraging families to establish a secure connection in the RMI in order to maintain contact, have a written agreement, culturally acknowledge the need and desire for openness, and even one family stating they no longer agree with the concept of an open adoption.
The vast amount of information gathered, though a strength in establishing a foundation of knowledge, proved to also be a limitation due to the difficulty in accurately defining every detail expressed by parents in their responses. Further, due to the anonymity required by a study of this nature, the researchers were dependent upon the support of parents. Therefore, questions were left unanswered, more so by fathers than by mothers, although this has been accounted for in the statistical analysis. Also, participating families are obviously those who are willing and able to be recognized as participating in an open adoption and are willing to voice their opinions; this sample does not incorporate all experiences of each family who has been involved in an open adoption.
Despite the difficulties associated with undertaking an exploratory study of this magnitude, the findings and implications are unique and will hopefully prove to be a backbone for policy making and the future direction of open adoptions. Though it is a relatively new idea and one which will surely change and develop in the coming years, a basic understanding of a concept is key to implementing any change. There is also no better way to gather information than directly from the source; in this case, adoptive parents are a primary source and have provided a basis for what the future of globalization, particularly in international open adoption, may hold.