As three social work students from the University of Edinburgh beginning a two week placement at Birthlink, we arrived with excitement, apprehension and asking ourselves the question, ‘what do we really know about adoption?’.
Over the past ten days we have had the opportunity to start an amazing learning journey at this organisation. We feel that our learning has greatly evolved regarding adoption in both the historical context as well as present day existence.
Birthlink is a voluntary Edinburgh-based agency which provides a range of support to adults affected by adoption. It has roots dating back to the 1900s and continues to help individuals impacted by adoption to trace or reunite with lost family members.
Birthlink manages the Adoption Contact Register for Scotland; any adult affected by adoption can register their details on this database in the hope of finding a link to a relative lost through adoption.
All details on the Register are cross referenced by the agency for links to others the individual may be trying to locate; if a match is found both parties are informed and mediation support offered. For those wishing to find and make contact with birth relatives, there is a search service, which uses skilled volunteers to undertake extensive searches of historic records to locate birth relatives. If successful, mediation is offered together with counselling support in contacting any birth relatives.
During our time at the agency closely observing staff, we soon discovered the emotional intricacies of this fascinating area of social work, and quickly found our eyes opened to the significant lifelong impact adoption can have on both the adopted adult and their birth relatives. We realised that each story is unique; each with its own emotional journey and diverse outcomes. In examining closed cases we discovered the huge impact this service can have for adults seeking to discover their birth roots or reunite with family members lost through adoption. Although not all outcomes live up to expectations, feedback from service users is incredibly positive. Within Birthlink there is a feeling of warmth and loyalty amongst its team members. Watching Birthlink staff in action, we found that each employee had a presence of dedication, compassion, and was highly motivated to help their service users in any way possible. Motivation is tested in the present because Birthlink is a small voluntary agency and relies on funding from a range of sources to continue its valuable work.
The organisation is reliant on support from valued volunteers and proceeds from its two thrift shops; it also depends on ongoing funding from both central and local government. Finances are an ongoing concern for all third sector organisations, particularly in the current economic climate.
Through our exploration into the support for adopted adults and their birth relatives offered by local authorities within Scotland, we discovered just how valuable Birthlink services are.
We found limited support offered by local authorities for adopted adults or their birth relatives, despite the fact that adoption affects as many as 1 in ten people.
This discovery highlighted the need for more services similar to Birthlink and how appreciated Birthlink is to the whole of Scotland.
Our time at Birthlink has immeasurably impacted our journey into social work, allowing us an insight into the lighter and more affirmative support that social work can bring to its service users. Birthlink has heightened our inspiration and motivation towards social work and we are excited for what the future may bring. We want to conclude our journey by deeply thanking the wonderful Birthlink staff for allowing us to be a part of their team. It is an experience that will remain with us and will certainly have a very positive impact in our future career as social workers.
• Jenni Campbell, Andi Cutspec and Inês Mendonca Simao, University of Edinburgh Masters in Social Work students