Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Research: Are visits with the biomom good for teenagers?

          This is day 2 of my whole "be productive and read research while we wait" endeavor. The article I read today was from a 2008 issue of Adoption Quarterly entitled "Many faces of openness in adoption: Perspectives of adopted adolescents and their parents." This study only included 52 adolescents, so it isn't huge, but it did have interesting results.

 What is the biomom's role in their lives?

           One of the first things the researchers looked at was how the teenagers viewed the role that their biomoms played in their lives if they had an open adoption that included visits. About half of them saw their biomom as some type of friend: either a close/special friend (25%), or a casual friend/acquaintance (23%). A few did see her as being some sort of relative (16%), with even less seeing her as an additional parent (11%). Some gave an interesting answer that she was "playing a birth mother role" (16%), and there were some (9%) who said she had no role, even if they had visits together.
How do they feel about the visits?
        Another thing that the study considered was what impact the visits with the biomom had on the adolescents. First of all, it was noted that the teens who had face-to-face contact with the biomom had more positive feelings about her. But, there was no difference seen in negative feelings. So, for example, the visits could be beneficial in helping them see the biomom as an individual with good qualities, strengths, and characteristics, but the visits wouldn't necessarily help reduce feelings of hurt, disappointment, anger, or sadness towards her.
          The other issue with visits that was addressed was the teens feelings after the visit. One thing that stuck out to me is that no one reported that they had feelings of fear, surprise, anger, confusion, or hatred after the visits. Since the concern is often that seeing the biomom will just be confusing (I know that this is what we believed when we starting thinking about an open adoption), I thought that this was interesting. The most common response (52%) involved a combination of positive and negative feelings (a popular combination was nervous and happy). The second highest response (40%) was only positive feelings, then a tie between only negative feelings (4%) and not having a clear memory about their emotions after the visit (4%).  Those who didn't remember how they felt had only met their biomom once.

        The last important thing to note from this study is that the visits did seem to help, overall. For both the adolescents and the adoptive parents, those who included ongoing visits as part of their open adoption arrangement were the most satisfied with their adoption arrangement, in comparison to those who had no contact, who had at one point had physical visits but stopped doing them, and those who had other types of contact (phone, mail, internet) but not actual visits.

       So, it looks like the concern that adopted children will be confused about who their family is if there is an open adoption that includes visits didn't really hold up in this study. Obviously with only 52 teenagers it doesn't mean that this never happens, but it wasn't seen in this group. 

       I would be curious to see how different these numbers would look if you questioned a younger group of adoptees. Since this study dealt with teenagers, they would have had many years (and probably many visits) to process their feelings and would be able to reflect on the situation very differently than, say, a 6 year old. However, the researchers didn't give any indication that anyone had said something along the lines of "It used to be confusing for me when I was younger, but now I understand." So, this article did help me to be optimistic that our desire for a more open adoption that will possibly include at least occasional visits with the biomom (or bioparents) will be a good arrangement.

Do you have a suggestion for something you would like to see research on? Leave a comment and I will do my best to see if I can find any articles on that topic!

Grotevant, H. D., Wrobel, G. M., Von Korff, L., Skinner, B., Newell, J., Friese, S., & McRoy, R. G.    (2008). Many faces of openness in adoption: Perspectives of adopted adolescents and their parents. Adoption Quarterly, 10, 79-101.

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