Should be more support for adopted young people who want to contact birth relatives, says report - Gary Clapton

Those of us who work in the field of support for adults affected by adoption know there has been considerable change.

Babies and infants are no longer the majority of children adopted. Most children adopted today are older, have been in care because of assessments of parental mistreatment and will have ongoing relationships with members of their families of birth. These relationships, or at the least, some form of contact, can be decided by the courts or are come by via an informal arrangement. These relationships – or indeed their re-establishment – are rarely offered much attention yet all parties in the process: the child or young person, the adoptive parents, the birth family members, often struggle.

The Adoption Barometer report was published in June by the charity Adoption UK and shines a light on these challenges. According to the Report’s survey, only a small fraction of adoptive parents are offered any training or advice about contact with birth family members. Among adoptive parents whose children were having direct contact, 85 per cent said that their adoption agency does not regularly review their contact arrangements, and 86 per cent said their child had not been offered any emotional or therapeutic support related to their contact arrangements. This chimes with our experience.

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The profile of those with whom we work is changing from the children and parents involved in the “secret adoptions” of the 1960s and 1970s when there was no assumption of contact between adopted people and the birth parents, and therefore reunions between them were akin to strangers coming together. Today it is not so much the challenge of introducing two “relative strangers” to each other as managing expectations raised when two people may have been following each other on Facebook for months and years.

Dr Gary Clapton, Honorary Fellow, School of Social and Political Science, University of EdinburghDr Gary Clapton, Honorary Fellow, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh
Dr Gary Clapton, Honorary Fellow, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh

The Adoption Barometer report found that more than a quarter (28 per cent) of 13 to 18 year-olds in their survey had direct contact with a birth family member, outside of any formal agreement, during 2021. When the parties involved want to take this to another level, little or no support exists. The Report quotes one 14 year-old girl who made contact with her birth mother by herself: “I’m pleased I instigated contact, but unfortunately it has now broken down, so I feel very rejected. There should be way more support for adopted young people who want to contact birth relatives. I also think we should be allowed to make contact when we want, rather than having to wait, and our choices should not be labelled as wrong.”

Rebecca Brooks, the Report author comments: “Contact with birth family is an important part of many adopted children’s lives and often looms large during adolescence and early adulthood, when people are exploring their identities. But too often, the preparation and support available does not meet the needs of adopted children, their parents, or their birth relatives.

"Contact plans made at the time of a child’s Adoption Order can go out of date very quickly as circumstances change and children grow older. Later, families can find themselves navigating complex situations without the support they need, with devastating impacts on children’s mental health and family stability.”

Though the report concentrates on adoptive family life, our focus, adults, was included. Here the report found that only a third of the adopted adults that they surveyed (37 per cent) were offered counselling as part of the process of tracing birth relatives in adulthood. Respondents described the process of tracing as “frustrating, costly” and “full of red tape”. They stressed the importance of long-term support after the initial reunion. Something that we in Birthlink are dedicated to providing.

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