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The new normal in adoption: Birth parent no longer secret

A new survey shows that more than 55 percent of adoption cases are fully open -- and 95 percent involve at least some relationships between birth parent and adoptive family.

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The new normal in adoption, a new study shows, is openness. There are at least some birth parent and adoptive family relations in 95 percent of all adoptions. For example, Dawne Era (right) of Warwick, R.I. and her adopted son, Grady, (left) – pictured here on a holiday in London in 2008 – have maintained contact with his birth mother.

John Tarrats/AP

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The secrecy that long shrouded adoption has given way to openness, and only about 5 percent of infant adoptions in the US now take place without some ongoing relationship between birth parent and adoptive family, according to a comprehensive new report.

Based on a survey of 100 adoption agencies, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute reported today that the new norm is for birth parents considering adoption to meet with prospective adoptive parents and pick the new family for their baby.

Of the roughly 14,000 to 18,000 infant adoptions each year, about 55 percent are fully open, with the parties agreeing to ongoing contact that includes the child, the report said. About 40 percent are "mediated" adoptions in which the adoption agency facilitates periodic exchanges of pictures and letters, but there is typically no direct contact among the parties.

"The degree of openness should be tailored to the preferences of the individual participants," said Chuck Johnson of the National Council for Adoption, which represents about 60 agencies. "It points to the huge importance of the right people being matched with each other."

The Donaldson institute, citing its own research and numerous other studies, said most participants find open adoptions a positive experience. In general, the report said, adoptive families are more satisfied with the adoption process, birth mothers experience less regret and worry, and the adopted children benefit by having access to their birth relatives, as well as to their family and medical histories.

"The good news is that adoption in our country is traveling a road toward greater openness and honesty," said Adam Pertman, the institute's executive director. "But this new reality also brings challenges, and there are still widespread myths and misconceptions about open adoption."

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