By Ashley Dooley Wohlgemuth

By Ashley Dooley Wohlgemuth

Our staff takes time to work with each party, preparing them for critical interactions

Click here to read the entire October 2019 newsletter

Adoption has touched the lives of approximately 1.5 million American children. Yet, the process, communication and stigma associated with adoptions has dramatically shifted over the last half century, transitioning from a taboo topic to one of openness and mutual exchange.

Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph’s founding roots were in adoption when Fr. Bernard Donnelly launched Mount St. Bernard’s Orphanage 140 years ago (1879). In the three decades following, the organization focused on serving infants, children and young mothers. St. Anthony’s Home for Infants and St. Vincent’s Maternity Hospital were two resulting offshoots.

Throughout much of the 20th century, the negative stigma surrounding adoptions lingered. Society frowned upon out-of-wedlock pregnancies and unwed pregnant women were often shunned by their families and rejected by their communities. Adoption was viewed as a way to hide a pregnancy, keeping that “secret” locked away for life.

By the time the 1970s rolled around, maternity homes that once thrived were closing, stigmas faded, and society grew more supportive of expectant parents who desired to parent their children.

For more than 100 years, there were laws and processes designed to keep birth parents from knowing who their child was placed with, to keep adoptive parents from contacting birth parents, and to keep adoptees from knowing who their birth parents were. But the tide began shifting in the late 1980s. Adoptees, families, and eventually research showed closed adoptions were not beneficial to the adoption triad.

The Adoption Triad

The Adoption Triad

For example, birth parents might want, and deserve, to know their child is healthy and loved. Adoptive parents should be able to find out medical information about the birth family. And, adoptees should be able to have their inner questions answered (Why was I adopted? Where did I come from? Did my mother love me? Etc.)

It took time for the courts and adoption agencies to grasp just how harmful the closed adoption process was and how healthy an open adoption could be. Today, most adoptions are open.

The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption

The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption

In her book The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, Lori Holden describes open adoption as a process of building a relationship between the biological family and the biographical family for the benefit of the child. It may involve open sharing of contact information, feelings and emotions, and full support of the adoptee’s needs and desires. The benefits of an open adoption are bountiful:

  • More love for the child
  • Access to medical history
  • The child knows where they come from
  • Birth families see firsthand how their child is doing
  • Adoptive parents can show their appreciation to the birth family

This doesn’t happen overnight though, building relationships takes time.

In the last two years, Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph has helped facilitate primarily open adoptions. This involves educating parents on both sides and documenting their level of comfort in openness to ensure a suitable match for each child. The families regularly communicate with each other, providing letters, pictures, annual reunions, exchanging gifts, and even sharing meals together. In these homes, birth families are talked about with respect and adoptive families are praised for their love. Families involved in open adoptions have the child at the center of it all. Most would acknowledge some bumps in the road, but those bumps accompany any relationship.

Note: The Children and Family Services team at Catholic Charities has seen an increase in requests for facilitated reunions between adult adoptees and their birth parents that were previously closed or semi-closed. These requests were prompted after the Missouri Adoptee Rights Act allowed adoptees access to their original birth certificates. In these reunions where contact was extremely limited and filtered through Catholic Charities or in adoptions where no prior written correspondence was exchanged, the adoption staff takes time to work with each party to prepare them for these critical meetings.

If you are an adoptee, birth parent, or adoptive parent who has questions about openness, please contact our Children & Family Services adoption team at 816-659-8235 or


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