Open Adoption: Adoptive Parents' Experiences of Birth Family Contact and Talking to Their Child about Adoption

Mandi MacDonald, Dominic Mc Sherry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


The trend towards more open adoption presents adopters with unique parenting challenges associated with satisfying the child’s curiosity about their origins, and maintaining relationships with birth family through contact. This paper focuses on the experiences of 20 sets of adoptive parents who were interviewed as part of the Northern Ireland Care Pathways and Outcomes Study. Interviews were analysed following the principles of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). It explores adoptive parents’ experience of talking to their child about adoption, and of post-adoption contact with members of the birth family. Adopters discussed adoption sensitively with their child, but were concerned that difficult and complex family histories would present a risk to the child’s self-esteem and emotional well-being. All forms of contact proved emotionally and practically burdensome, however adopters were committed to making it work for the child’s benefit, and were open to increased contact should the child wish it in the future. There was little relationship with birth family outside of formal contact. The study reveals a need for a mechanism to facilitate communication with birth family if adopters are to be able to respond to the child’s changing need for contact and information.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-16
Number of pages13
JournalAdoption & Fostering Journal
Issue number3
Early online date1 Oct 2011
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Oct 2011


  • Adoption
  • Adoptive parents
  • Post-adoption contact
  • Adopted children
  • IPA


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