Identity in Open Adoption

In December 2016, the Institute of Open Adoption Studies supported the publication of research into "Young children's identity formation in the context of open adoption in NSW", a report of the findings of a series on interviews with nine adoptees, aged between 9 and 23 years of age who were recruited via Barnardos' existing database of individuals who were in their Find-a-Family program.

The participants were three children (all nine years old); four adolescents (ages 12, 13, 15 and 16 years); and two young adults (ages 19 and 23 years).

The researchers were Professor of Child Development at the University of Wollongong, Dr Marc de Rosnay; research assistant with the School of Psychology at The University of Sydney Dr Betty Luu; and senior lecturer in social work at the University of Wollongong Dr Amy Conley Wright.


The researchers were principally interested in how open adoption can facilitate identity formation and promote positive developmental outcomes for children up to 5 years of age who are adopted from out-of-home care (OOHC). The aim of the report was to examine factors and processes influencing identity formation for children who have been adopted from care before the age of five, and how conditions of open adoption may facilitate developmental outcomes, particularly with respect to the formation of children's identity. The summary of their conclusions comprised eight key points.

  • The benefits of early open adoption should be accepted as a guiding principle in making decisions in the best interests of children for whom restoration or kin care is not possible.

  • Further studies will be needed to examine the practices and procedures in the NSW legislative environment that will serve to support the development of children in open adoptions.

  • More work is needed to determine how such children can be efficiently identified and to address the slow uptake of open adoption as a permanent placement decisions.

  • Future research needs to examine the characteristics and circumstances of individuals who have chosen to remain in long-term foster care, or who have benefited from such arrangements, in order to make better informed decisions about which permanent placement is most appropriate for a given child.

  • There is a need for empirical investigations into the nature of the information provided to children and young people at different ages so that it can act as a strong foundation when identity concerns become significant.

  • Research that examines how contact can best meet the changing interests of the child should be a priority, to provide a more complete picture of how practices of open adoption can support identity formation.

  • Future studies are needed to examine how the beliefs and attitudes of adoptive parents can best support the development of their child’s sense of who they are, where they belong, and what it means to be an adopted person.

  • Further emphasis is needed on the contributions that both adoptive and biological siblings have on adoptees’ sense of belonging.