The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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MTARP began in the fall of 1984, when the Rev. Calvin Goerdel, Vice President of Social Services for Lutheran Social Services of Texas, invited Ruth McRoy and Hal Grotevant to evaluate the changes that three of their agencies (LSS Austin, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi) were making in their adoption practices. Prospective adoptive parents and birth mothers were being offered a number of options, including the opportunity to meet each other prior to placement, have a placement ceremony, and have ongoing contact after placement. Seventeen adoptive families and members of their corresponding birth families were interviewed between May and September, 1985. Results of this pilot study were published in Openness in Adoption: New Practices, New Issues (McRoy, Grotevant, & White, 1988).

Data from the pilot study provided justification for a nationwide project involving families with differing degrees of openness in their adoption arrangements. Wave I of the project, funded by the federal Office of Population Affairs (DHHS), National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, involved 190 adoptive families and 169 birthmothers. The target adopted children were between the ages of 4 and 12 when the data were collected between 1987 and 1992. A summary of findings was published in Openness in Adoption: Exploring Family Connections (Grotevant & McRoy, 1998). During this phase of the project, Hal Grotevant moved from the University of Texas to the University of Minnesota, but the collaboration has continued to the present.

Because of the great interest in adoption outcomes for adolescents, Wave 2 of the project was funded by the William T. Grant Foundation and the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health. Data were collected between 1996 - 2000, when the target children were adolescents. Numerous articles have been published in professional journals and books (see project publication list).

Wave 3 of the project (2005 - 2008) was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Science Foundation, and the William T. Grant Foundation. The young children who enrolled in the study in the 1980s were now emerging adults ... some are married, some have children, some have completed college, some are working - they are taking many paths toward adulthood. The important new phase of the study is allowing us to look at how their long-term experiences in different adoption arrangements have set the stage for their development as adults. Wave 3 data collection was completed in 2008.

Wave 4 of the project (2012 - 2014) was funded by the Rudd Family Foundation Chair in Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The young adults in this study were young adults between age 25 - 35. A subsample of birth mothers is also being followed up.

Current Activities

Although almost two-thirds of Americans have personal experience with adoption through their own family or close friends, sensationalized media presentations continue to reinforce negative stereotypes about adoptees. Because adoption practice has changed so dramatically in the past 40 years, the field lacks adequate scientific understanding of the basic interpersonal processes in adoptive families and how they are connected to psychological and social outcomes for children, adolescents, and young adults.

With support from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Science Foundation, and the William T. Grant Foundation, Dr. Harold Grotevant and colleagues are conducting the third wave of a longitudinal study of variations in openness in adoption, which refers to a continuum of contact and communication among members of the adopted child's family of birth and family of rearing. The continuum ranges from confidential (no contact and no identifying information shared) to mediated (communication occurs indirectly through a third party such as an adoption agency) to fully disclosed (communication and contact occur directly between parties).

In two prior waves of research, 190 adoptive families were studied when the target children were in middle childhood and adolescence. The current work follows the study's participants across the transition into young adulthood (age 20-28) and asks how the quality of children's relationships while growing up predict the quality of their close relationships outside their families, their social adjustment, and their sense of identity as young adults.

This study contributes valuable research findings to the national debate about "the best interests of the child" in cases of adoption. These findings have helped shape agency and state policies about contact between adoptive and birth family members. In the process, undergraduate and graduate students involved in the research are mentored in an interdisciplinary setting, as the study of adoption draws on psychology, sociology, economics, public policy, social work, and anthropology. This strength will be reflected in the development of information for the public that will contribute to a more accurate portrayal of the strengths, successes, and challenges experienced by members of the adoptive kinship network.

Funding Partners