Openness in adoption: Challenging the narrative of historical progress

Christine Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-93
Number of pages9
JournalChild and Family Social Work
Issue number1
Early online date13 Nov 2013
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2019


  • Adoption/Post adoption
  • Contact
  • Reunification
  • Social Policy


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