Openness in adoption : challenging the narrative of historical progress

Jones, Christine (2016) Openness in adoption : challenging the narrative of historical progress. Child and Family Social Work, 21 (1). pp. 85-93. ISSN 1365-2206 (

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One significant change in adoption practice that has occurred over the last four decades is the shift away from an expectation of confidentiality towards an expectation of openness in adoption. Openness is typically conceived in terms of the level of contact between adoptive and birth families following adoption or the extent to which adoption is openly discussed within the adoptive family. While these shifts in practice have generated controversy, they are largely supported by research evidence and have become a feature of contemporary adoptive family life. As a result, the narrative that has emerged in relation to openness in adoption is one of historical progress. In this paper, I argue that the lived reality of adoption is less straightforward than this narrative suggests. An analysis of the social and cultural context in which adoption operates suggests instead that the persistent feature of adoption throughout this historical period of increasing openness can be more accurately described as a state of enduring ambiguity regarding the nature of post-adoption relationships. The paper highlights the potentially damaging consequences of overlooking this aspect of adoptive family life and comments on the role of policy in shaping openness in adoption.


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