Closed Adoption as a Form of Emotional Neglect

*Note:  This blog has been edited from its original version as it was mistakenly published in draft

After working in child welfare for many years, I have been educated on abuse and neglect of children. Growing up in an almost idyllic area of town with all my material needs provided for, the thought had never occurred to me when I was growing up that I had been emotionally neglected. For a long time, I thought I had the perfect family. . ..until I no longer did.

I have always had a heart for children. I was a former Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA/GAL) for many years as a volunteer.  This position allowed me to hone my investigative and writing skills, through interviews with children and their families and write recommendations to the Judge on the case.  I became very familiar with the definitions of both abuse and neglect through working for both a custody attorney and handling my own cases through my volunteer work.  

During the training I was required to receive, I learned about dysfunctional families, how they cope, how they form protective denial, and what "roles" are assigned to different family members.  My role in my family was "Hero" (the one who made the family look good) . I was the child who never did any wrong, who did everything that was expected of her.  My brother, in contrast, was the "scapegoat" (the one who made the family look bad).  He spent many of his teenage years getting into trouble and driving my parents crazy. (Note:  He's a great guy and upstanding citizen now)

Contrary to popular understanding, the scapegoat (the trouble maker) is actually the healthiest member of the family unit because they have a better understanding of what is "really" going on within the family.

I attribute my own family's dysfunction, in part, to the elephant in the room (mine and my brother's "unknown past").  We were placed in a situation where we were expected to deny who we really were and to  go along with the program. Whenever there is a family secret, you can expect the family to become dysfunctional on some level.   My parents lacked the proper education, training and understanding of the importance of an adopted child's emotional needs.

Here is a working definition of emotional neglect:

"Emotional neglect occurs when a parent purposefully or ignorantly overlooks the signs that a child needs comfort or attention and includes withholding love, rejecting a child, and ignoring a child’s emotional needs. 

Emotional neglect is a serious problem and has long term effects. This form of abuse has been found to inhibit a child’s emotional and physical growth. There can be many causes for emotional neglect. However, emotional neglect of a child can be prevented by increasing parents’ understanding of their children’s developmental and emotional needs." (Source:

Emotional neglect is a form of child abuse.  My premise is that Closed Adoption is a form of both emotional neglect and abuse. Now before you go all "Hell NO" on me, hear me out.   Let me also preface it by saying that any adoptive parent currently parenting a child within closed adoption is not doing anything wrong just because they ignorantly chose a closed adoption. (Those of you who purposely did, is a blog for another day).

I am only saying that "closed adoption is emotionally abusive and neglectful to children"If the children within closed adoption have healthy parents, with healthy attitudes about adoption, then their child has the best possible situation to deal with any post-adoption issues that may arise later in life. This blog's purpose is not to crucify adoptive parents, only to educate.

 All people have an emotional need to know where they come from. (Re-read this sentence 5 more times)

Closed adoption stunts this need in some and compounds this need in others.  You see this in the adoptees who "don't need to know anything about their past" and then you see the adoptees who are searching/DNA enthusiasts/Ancestry-lovers like myself.  I am trying to balance a happy medium with my own daughter. She is growing up with knowledge of her original parents and opportunities for relationships with them.  

Make no mistake, knowing where you come from is an emotional need, just as strong as knowing you are loved, understood and that you belong in a family.

Closed adoption withholds a child's valid need to know the people, places and social constructs that led to the child being in this particular family.  Not being able to see your relatives faces, know their inherited gifts and traits, or have access to your bloodline (tribe, ancestors, etc) is a form of emotional neglectIt is a little-recognized form of  child  abuse, plain and simple, whether knowing, unknowing, purposeful or not purposeful. 

Add to the lack of knowledge a realization as an adult that laws were made especially for ADOPTEES ONLY is disempowering, shaming, and discriminatory.  The result of this emotional abuse varies, but it can lead to extremes such as suicide and mental illness.  Most adopted people do not react to closed adoption with such extreme outcomes, but I would be remiss if I did not point out that some do react that way. 

However, many of the rest of us have various issues in our adult functioning that are a result of this form of emotional abuse, coupled with other issues that stem from adoptive parents who were not properly trained, educated and understanding that adopted children are not the same as biological children.

So the next time you read or hear about an adoptee searching for family and your first thought is, "Oh, can't they just be grateful for the family they have?" -- remember they are only fulfilling an emotional need that each and every other person on the planet is born with.


  1. I once heard the broad definition of "abuse" as, "using something for the purpose it was not intended." Your post resonated with me and reminded me of this definition. Adoptee's identities are sealed and changed in order to fulfill our role in our new families, without regard to OUR need for our own personal (and true) stories and histories.

    1. Great point, Baby Girl Lowe. Adoption as it is practiced in this country is mainly about the adoptive parents' needs, which is why blogs like this need to be written.

  2. Why are you restricting it to "closed" adoption? "Open" is just gradually better.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I can't argue with you there, Anon.

  3. Closed Adoption is emotional abuse....Why does the author discount, apologize, second guess and invalidate her very necessary writing truth, facts and thoughts for the benefit of adoptive parents....It seems that too many bloggers change their words to calm the reality social impact of the adoptee's truth to satisfy the occasional Adoptive parent's anger and rebuttal. Why cant we just write about adopted child issues without the validating the adoptive parent. Are not adoptee blogs about adoptees for adoptees?

    1. I let your comment be published even though I disagree with your viewpoint. Closed adoption is a form of emotional abuse; however, I would say the majority of adoptive parents are not aware of this reality when they are adopting. When the law allows something, people generally feel they have a license to do it. It is never black and white and if the adoptive parents decide to meet their child's emotional needs (opening up the adoption in some way, by providing what the child is needing), then the emotional abuse can be mitigated or quite possibly reversed. If you are a regular reader of my blog, I'm sure you may have noticed I usually do not mince words. This blog is no exception. It's a hard truth for many people to swallow; but I firmly believe (but do not apologize) for my stance.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.


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