When children are placed for adoption the Local Authority (LA) often opposes any direct continuing contact with the birth family. LA’s argue that they would not be able find adopters who would agree to this, and fear that continuing contact could disrupt the adoption placement. In the past, adoption was typically a very secretive process, with virtually no contact between the birth and adoptive families taking place. However, since the late 1980’s a more flexible approach has given children a measure of on-going contact with their birth families, but is this the best way forward?
Research by the University of East Anglia into more open adoptions resulted in a wide range of responses from children, adoptive families, and birth families, as might be expected given the range of personal circumstances faced. Apart from wanting the best for the child involved, these three strands in the adoption process will all approach the placement from a different point of view, regarding the relationship between the birth and adoptive families. Some of those questioned, either children or adults, had overwhelmingly positive responses to greater contact between the birth and adoptive families. Others were more wary, worrying about contact being rejected or being suddenly cut off from further contact once initial approaches had been made.
The University report found that a structured approach to regular contact was preferable to more casual arrangements, and it made a number of recommendations in its conclusions. It suggested that there should be no “standard practice” when it comes to adoptions, and that each should be viewed within its own set of unique circumstances. Questions should be asked of all those involved regarding their expectations about on-going contact between adoptive and birth families. Adoptive parents should also be encouraged to be open in their attitudes to contact, and build an understanding of the birth parents’ needs.
A further report in 2017 on behalf of adoption services in Yorkshire and Humberside claimed that “Contact emerges as an often unsatisfactory experience for a range of reasons, and a more proactive approach to establishing rewarding and sustained contact plans should be considered. Adoptive parents and the wider birth family (including carers of siblings) may need help understanding the value of contact for adopted children”.
In spite of the fears of rejection when contact approaches are made, the majority of those questioned by the researchers said that contact between the adoptive and birth families brought positive benefits. For the children involved this regular contact helped them to understand who they were, as well as the circumstances leading to them being placed for adoption. This assisted them in dealing with feelings of rejection. Contact with siblings, who may also be living in an adoptive family, as well as grandparents and other relatives again enhanced the child’s sense of belonging and general well-being. Birth parents experienced less guilt following regular contact with an adopted child, safe in the knowledge that the child was being well cared for and was happy. And adoptive parents had positive views that the relationship between the child and their birth family were being maintained, helping the child to deal with identity issues, and so leading to a greater sense of well-being in the adoptive family.
Bretherton Law have been helping families with changes in their circumstances for over 50 years, and have built an enviable reputation for our professional service and honest advice. Whether it is helping to resolve arrangements for children when parties separate, providing sympathetic but practical advice if Social Services have worries about a child, or representing adopters or special guardians, our team of expert family lawyers have many years’ experience in this complex area of law.
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