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The History of Open Adoption in the United States

The History of Open Adoption in the United States

Up to the 19th century, almost all adoptions were handled on an informal basis. If a woman was pregnant and wanted to place her child in an alternate home, she placed them wherever she wanted with whomever she wanted. It was most often handled with the advice of parents or other family members or loved ones. In many cases, the child was placed with another family member or someone in the local area. No agencies, counselors or attorneys were used. There were no legal proceedings, not legal documents to be filed; no government involvement and no outside individuals were consulted regarding the child’s welfare.

The closed adoption was born in the late 19th century. During the Victorian era, children considered illegitimate were locked up or hidden away. Birth mothers in these situations were considered the scourge of society – labeled misfits, outcasts, etc. Many were whisked away from their homes to give birth in secret hospitals or nunneries. Suddenly women who wanted or needed to place their babies in “adoptive” homes were not allowed the freedom of choice that was provided in years past.

Soon after this societal change, the agencies wielded almost complete power over the child. Birth mother rights were minimal. Adoptive families adopted children from orphanages without being provided any background or medical history. Laws that resulted in making adoption secret were not passed until the 1940’s and 1950’s. This had the result of solidifying society’s view of the closed adoption as normal.

The push towards open adoption began throughout the 60’s and 70’s. Birth mothers began to gain more power back over their newborn children before they were placed. They began to demand more involvement in the process and many insisted on the right to pick who might parent their child. Additionally, children adopted during the “closed adoption era” grew older and began to demand the right to access their personal histories.

By the time the 80’s and 90’s rolled around, the evolution of the open adoption was fairly complete. The open adoption is now considered to be a healthy method. Laws are still changing today as more and more voices are heard: adopted children insisting on rights to their own history, birth mothers with concerns regarding their rights, and adoptive parents with equally legitimate concerns regarding the adoption process and what’s in the best interests of the child.

The history of open adoption in the United States makes it clear that we’ve come a long way, but the adoption laws do see frequent change and upheaval so it’s best to consult an adoption attorney experienced in private adoption as soon as you decide that you would like to adopt.

If you have concerns or questions regarding the adoption process and what is best for you, your family and your adopted child, please get in touch. Arizona Family Law Attorneys is prepared to assist you with the sometimes overwhelming process.
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