Answering birth parents’ questions about adoption

Answering questions about adoption (by an adoptive parent)

A bit of background about me first – I’m a single mum, with three children, all of whom are adopted. Two of my children are now adults; the third is still in primary school. I spend a lot of time online nowadays, and I’ve been really privileged in the last few years to be able to talk with several birth mums about their experiences, and answer some of their questions about adoption and adoptive parents.

I could never truly know what it’s like to lose your child to adoption. But talking to mothers whose children have been adopted, has shown me that it’s often really confusing. They had a huge number of questions about adoption and adoptive parents, and no answers. They didn’t know any adoptive parents themselves, or at least none they felt comfortable asking their questions to.

I think these mothers were incredibly brave to ask me to answer their questions – they didn’t know me, I was just a random adoptive mum. They must have been worried that I would be judgemental or unkind. However it doesn’t matter to me whether someone is an adoptive parent or a birth parent or an adoptee. I hope I can find a way to support everyone who asks me to.

But I strongly feel that these mothers should have had an opportunity somewhere in the process to have all these questions answered, without having to reach out to a stranger on the internet. I am also sure that if these mums I talked to had questions, then there must be a lot more parents/grandparents (and other family) who also have the same questions about adoptive parents and adoption. So I’ve made a list of the questions I’ve been asked the most often by birth parents, and here are my answers. I’ve also included questions I’ve seen online which I haven’t been personally asked.

If you are a mother or father (or grandparent, sibling etc.) whose child (or grandchild, or sibling) is being adopted, then firstly I am sorry you are going through this. I hope you find these answers helpful. If you have any more questions you want to know about adoption that you think I could answer, please comment on this post, and I’ll try my best to answer for you.

And finally, from the bottom of my heart, thank you to the mums who asked me these questions first, who opened my eyes to how the process worked for them and who will remain in my thoughts always, as very courageous people who wanted the best for their children.

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Why do adoptive parents want to adopt?

Adoptive parents have very different reasons for adopting. Many come to adoption following infertility, but quite a few of us don’t. For me, adoption was my first choice because above all, I wanted to become a mum and love a child with all my heart. I was a single lesbian woman and no other method of becoming a mother felt like the right thing for me to do. I felt that there were so many older children in care that I wasn’t comfortable creating a new life instead of becoming a mum to a child who was already here.

One thing all adoptive parents have in common is that we ALL adopt because we want to experience parenthood, in the same way that people who give birth to their children want to experience parenthood. I’ve seen a couple of people suggest that we want children as “accessories”, but nothing could be further from the truth. I want to reassure families of children in care, that with every adoptive family I’ve ever met, we love our children in exactly the same way as we would love a child born to us, and we would never treat a child any differently because they were adopted.

How does being approved as an adoptive parent work? Is it hard? Do they check up on you thoroughly?

It’s a long process, and it is definitely very thorough. It’s changed now from when I was approved to adopt, but the basics of it are the same. There are several key parts of it. Firstly, there are the basic checks – every adoptive parent will have a criminal records check (certain criminal offences bar you from ever adopting, including any offence against a child) and a medical check to make sure they are well enough to parent a child into adulthood. Social services will also check on prospective parent’s finances, inspect their home and make sure it’s safe for a child, and also get references from family, friends and others. For instance, my employer had to give a reference for me when I adopted the first time.

Secondly, there is a “preparation group”, which all prospective parents will attend at some point during the process. The point of this is to educate, and prospective parents will be taught about the legal process of adoption, why children are available for adoption, about parenting adopted children, and so on.

Thirdly, there are the homestudy visits. This is where a social worker visits the parent/s in their home and talks to them in huge depth about their life and about adoption. For instance, in my homestudies, we talked about my childhood, my family, what support I have around me, my beliefs, my previous relationships (including my sex life), how I would support and parent my adopted child, and about what kind of a child I would be adopting. We basically give social services our life story! A social worker even interviewed one of my ex-partners as part of my assessment.

The social worker who is assessing us will write all this information into a big report. Lastly, the report goes to an Adoption Panel, who review it all, and then recommend whether a parent should be approved to adopt or not.

So it is definitely a thorough process, and whoever adopts your child, will have been checked, questioned and scrutinised as far as possible to make sure they are up to the task.

Do you pay social services to adopt a child?

If we are adopting a child in the UK care system, no we don’t, absolutely not. Not even one pence! You might see people at some point claiming that we pay social services for a child, but this is not true at all. I think some of this confusion is because people see American adoption sites online, and over there, they also have a private adoption system for babies where money is paid by adoptive parents to the adoption agencies. This just doesn’t exist in the UK, so don’t let those sites worry you.

Do you pay any money to anyone else to adopt?

All adoptive parents have to have a (thorough) medical check. Doctor’s surgeries will usually charge for this, in the same way as they might charge for holiday vaccinations or some medical letters.

At the final part of the process, when you apply to the court to legally adopt your child, the court charges a fee. Some adoptive parents have to pay the fee themselves, but sometimes social services pay it for them. I have never paid for the court application for instance; the council have always paid it for me.

There is no other money paid to anyone in the adoption process.

Do you get paid to adopt?

No. Adoption is very different from foster care. Foster carers get paid a weekly allowance to foster. But when you adopt a child, they become your child (legally the same as if you gave birth to them) and so you are entitled to the same as birth parents get for their children (child benefit for instance).

What information do you get given about a child by social services, and what makes you “make your mind up” to adopt that child?

We get a lot of information. The very first thing we see is usually a short profile with just a little bit about the child, and if we are interested, we would get a lot more, in a report which is now called a CPR (Child Permanence Report). The information would include – about the child’s background, their birth family, why the child is in care and being adopted, the child’s personality, interests, behaviours, their health and medical information, their development, if they have any ongoing difficulties or need to be parented a bit differently to other children, about school and friends. It will also say what the plan is for contact after adoption with birth family.

After that, if you are still interested in adopting that child, the child’s social worker reviews your homestudy report and interviews you. Then they (and other members of their adoption team) come to a decision about whether they want to take things further. So it’s not just about you, as a parent, picking out a child. We adoptive parents do not just select a child to adopt like how it was decades ago. Social services have to choose you, based on whether they think you are the best possible parent for this child, and whether you can give this child everything they need.

If social services choose you, you then get even more information. You will meet the foster carer/s, and a medical advisor/paediatrician to get as much information as possible about the child and get all your questions answered. Finally after this, another ‘panel’ approve the match. This whole process of ‘matching’ lasts several months.

Making up your mind that you would like social services to choose you for a certain child, is really different for different people. Some parents ‘just know’ as soon as they read the CPR report, but others don’t and need more time.

When I read my eldest daughter’s information, I felt a strong connection to her, and I felt once I’d read her reports that she was most likely my daughter. I can’t tell you why I felt such a strong connection, it just happened! But we always use the huge amount of information we have to make up our minds as well. We have to be certain we can be the parent this child needs, and that we are comfortable with the child’s behaviour and their needs.

Whoever your child/relatives adoptive parents are, they will have put a huge amount of thought into whether or not to adopt your child/relative, and considered really carefully whether they are the right parents for this child.

Does eye and hair colour come into it?

No! I’ve seen birth parents being told that adoptive parents want children with blonde hair and blue eyes. Actually, we generally couldn’t care less what our child will look like! I’ve certainly never met any adoptive parent who cared whether their child was a blonde, or a brunette, or whatever. We view our children the same as we would a birth child. We wouldn’t care what our birth child looked like, and we don’t care what our adoptive child looks like. We just love them for who they are on the inside.

Personally, I thought it might be helpful for my children, if they looked like I could have given birth to them, because then my children could have privacy – they’d never have nosy strangers thinking ‘ooh, she/he must be adopted!’ based on their appearance. So for me, it was all about the child, and what I thought would be good for my child. It was not about me. As it happens, all my children look quite different, even the two who are birth half siblings!

Do you meet the child before you’ve decided 100% [if you want to adopt them]?

No. Being introduced to the child you are adopting is the very last stage. It’s called “introductions” and it’s where you and the child get to know each other before the child moves in. Before that happens, you’ve had all the information, made up your mind 100%, and been to the panel that’ve approve the match (and of course you’ve bought furniture and decorated etc.!) At this stage, everything is set. Once you’ve read the CPR and been to panel etc., you can’t meet the child and then decide if you want to adopt them. That would be very unfair and wrong for the child. As far as I was concerned, as soon as my children were told about me for the first time (by their foster carers and social worker) then I was absolutely 100% committed to them.

Do you “have” to tell the child that they are adopted? Could it happen that an adoptive family wouldn’t tell the child?

You don’t “have” to tell, because there is no law about it. We have the same freedom as birth parents to tell or not to tell our children about their early lives.

However, it is very rare nowadays for a child not be told they are adopted. Right from day one, we are told how important it is for children to know their story. Social workers and other adoptive parents, we are all very clear to prospective parents about how important it is for children to know about their adoption in an age appropriate way. Parents can access a lot of advice and tips about how best to do this. So whilst it could be that a child wouldn’t be told, it’s very unlikely. I’ve only come across a couple of people in about 18 years who haven’t told their children (and this includes online as well), as opposed to hundreds and hundreds who have.

At what age do you ‘tell’? And how?

Obviously with an older child, they know what’s happening. With a baby or toddler who is too young to understand, the way most adoptive parents try and ‘tell’, is in a way which means the child ‘always knows’. When they are older, they shouldn’t be able to remember a time when they didn’t know they were adopted. This means that for most children adopted as babies, they’ll be having little conversations about adoption by the age of 4 at the latest, but most usually a bit younger than that.

I told my youngest child the story of “the day we met” from when he was 2 years old (and he was 23 months old when we met), and I was also mentioning the word ‘adoption’ from that age. I didn’t bombard him with information; I just dropped in little things here and there. For instance, I remember when at age 3, a neighbour of ours was pregnant, and he pointed at her because she was getting so big. I said that yes, babies grow in the womb which is down in your tummy area, and you grew in X’s womb before you came to live with me. And he repeated that back to me.

All children who are adopted now are supposed to have life story books. These books, which as the name suggests, tell the child’s life story, might help parents to explain to the child the basics.

What are the options for any contact with birth mum? What’s the “norm”?

The norm in my experience is letterbox contact, which means letters going between you and the adoptive parents. This is normally either once or twice a year. It isn’t so common for there to be visits, but if there are, it will most likely be either once or twice a year. I’ve personally done both letters and visits.

For other adult family members, there might also be letterbox or, less commonly, visits.

The plan for contact should be mostly decided on before the child moves into their adoptive home, although it isn’t always. There may be a letterbox agreement which you sign and the adoptive parents sign. This agreement would say when the letters are being sent, to whom, how they are signed, and so on.

As the child gets older, they can have their own say in contact. For instance, my youngest child has asked for all letters to be stopped, so I stopped them. On the other hand, if my child had wanted the opposite and wanted more letters, I would have tried my best to add in another couple of letters a year. For adoptive parents, it’s about supporting our kids and helping them process everything.

What are the options for any contact with siblings? What’s the “norm”?

It definitely depends on where the siblings are living, whether they’ve lived together before and how close their bond is. But in my experience, visits with siblings are much more common than visits with any other members of the child’s birth family, especially if the siblings are also adopted or in long term foster care. I’ve supported my kids through a whole lot of sibling visits over the years. However, if there are no visits, letterbox contact is very often in place for the siblings, usually 1-3 times a year.

Will my child be told that I love them?

I realise how desperately you want your child to know that you love them. Every adoptive parent speaks to their children differently about their past, but most parents, when talking about their (young) child’s birth family, choose to say something along the lines of “your birth mum loves you very much, but can’t look after you”. As our children get older, we add in more about the ‘why’. I certainly have told my children that they are loved, and all the other adoptive parents I’ve met, tell their children the same. I want my children to know that they are loveable people, were the most loveable babies in the world, and that nothing that happened is their fault. I certainly want them to feel loved, and that’s something that all adoptive parents want for their children.

Will my child’s name be changed?

This is something I can’t give an answer to, because every situation is different. I can only say that in nearly all situations, the surname will be changed. Some children have their first names changed, but others don’t. Some of the things that may go into the decision are – whether there is a security risk (whether the child is likely to be recognised), how unusual the name is, its meaning and how old the child is.

I can give you my situation as an example – two of my children were older children when they came to live with me, hence it was entirely up to them what they did with their names. My eldest literally waltzed downstairs one morning and informed me that she was dropping both of her middle names, and had picked two new middle names for herself instead, which were x and y! And that was that, as far as she was concerned. My middle child on the other hand, only ever changed surname, and has kept all her other names as they always have been.

However my youngest child has been entirely named by me (and themselves!). I changed my child’s first name for many reasons, chief among them a security risk from a few people. I kept the old first name as a middle name, because I couldn’t take that away from my child. However, recently my child asked for that (original first) name to go entirely, and to pick a new middle name instead. So I went with my child’s choice, and we picked a new name together, which we are in the process of making legal now.

We are just one family, and every adoptive family will have a different story. So I can’t say whether or not your child will be given a new first or a new middle name. However I can say that if your child’s name is changed, they will at some point be told about it. My youngest always knew which name was originally the first name.

Again, if you have any more questions you want to know about adoptive parents/adoption that you think an adoptive parent could answer, please comment on this post, and I’ll try my best to answer for you.

24 thoughts on “Answering birth parents’ questions about adoption

  1. Pingback: For birth families, there are many questions without answers | Last Mother

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Yes. Because all adopted children should have ‘life story’ work done as they move into their permanent placement, which will be a collection of photos of their birth family and some information about them and what happened to mean the child couldn’t stay. Almost all adoptions involve some kind of ongoing contact with the birth family, even if that is limited to just a handful of letters a year.

      so it would be pretty weird and probably impossible for an adoptive family to fail to tell their child he or she was adopted and any adoptive family who wasn’t on board with helping the child understand his/her identity, probably isn’t fit to be an adoptive parent anyway.

      Reply
    2. Adoptive Parent Q&A

      Hi Emily, I’m the author of the Q&A,

      There isn’t a legal obligation for adoptive parents to tell their children, so we don’t “have” to. We have the same rights as every other parent to tell or not tell our children about their lives. BUT, but but, it’s very rare for a child not to know. Nowadays everyone is aware of how important it is for children to understand the facts of their early lives, and prospective adopters adopters are told right from the start about how important it is to tell children sensitively about their life story. As I said in my post, I’ve only seen a couple of online posts in over 19 years of being an adoptive parent from parents who still hadn’t told their older child and were wondering how to do it. Nearly all adoptive parents will tell their children at a young age. As Sarah said, they will probably also have a life story book of their own as well. Therefore I am almost certain that if your child or a relative of yours has been adopted, the child will know about it.

      Also, as a child gets an adoption certificate with their parents names on after finalisation, not a new long form birth certificate, once they reach adulthood and probably need their certificate for legal reasons eg. applying for a new passport, it would be impossible for them not to find out that way. I remember an woman who asked for advice online because she didn’t know whether or not she was adopted, and we advised her to apply online for an adoption certificate in her name and parents details, and see what happened. She did get her adoption certificate through the post soon after, so that was how she found out. Thankfully her situation is a very rare case nowadays. When it comes to telling kids their own life stories, we’ve learned a great deal from the things that were done wrong decades ago.

      I hope this is helpful to you

      Reply
      1. Adoptive Parent Q&A

        Oh and just to add – Social services will NOT approve anyone to adopt if they know that the person is not planning to tell their future child. They absolutely won’t do it. They expect applicants to have a certain attitude in this regard. They don’t have a crystal ball obviously and can’t see the future, they can only go by what a prospective applicant tells them, but they impress the importance of honesty on everyone who applies.

        Reply
  2. Rozi

    I am adopted, and it hurts me to think of my mother. She now has a son, I’m afraid that she loves me, she loves him and not me. I want to ask you mothers: what do you feel when you give the child up for adoption? I read that many mothers write “I really love my son.” But what do you feel concretely for this child? My mother was happy to know that I’m okay, and that I seek her, but relatives say she was a bad woman, who did not care much about his children.
    Answer me please, you do not grow the children that you gave up for adoption, so I want to ask you: why do you love this child? what you feel for him? you worry for him? if hem die or has an accident do you worry as they worry her adoptive parents?
    the relationship that a (birth) mother has with her child is not the same relationship that you have with a child that you grow for a lifetime. My (adoptive) mother worries a lot to me, she loves me, she knows my character and how I react to events, my (birth) mother does not know anything about me, so why she should love me? i don’t judje, but think about that hurts me so much, i want to understand, i want to have a testimony from a (birth) mother.
    Update: What would you do for that child? would you kill urself for him? I think that love we must built, as well as the relationships, just maternal instinct isn’t enough……

    Reply
    1. John Smith

      Can you please re-post in English with proper syntax? I have a very difficult time understanding exactly what you are trying to convey.

      Reply
        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          ooops, sorry thought you were referring to the post, not the comment. I will go away now…

          But I can understand what Rozi is saying, although I think there is a ‘his’ where there ought to be a ‘her’.

          Reply
    2. Susan Mohr

      Hi, my daughter was very young when she got pregnant, she gave him up to a very loving family that could give him everything he needs. We got to see him one day a week and attend his birthday party. When he was 18 months old, they decided it wasn’t in his best interest for us to see him. My daughter has cried alot. She loves him very much. And us as grandparents want to have a relationship with him. And all of us would give our lives for his. They told us we would always be able to see him. They lied.
      So yes it is possible that she loves you very much and the same as her other children. Don’t always believe what people tell you, cause sometimes your parents don’t want you to know your real mother, cause they are afraid you will get close to them

      Reply
  3. becky

    hi l have 2 children but thay were adoped out lm the birth mum l just wanted to no what age can thay come back to me iv beem told 16 and then l was told 18 my oldest son is 16 years old he nos hes adoped l have letter boxs contact once a year my oldest son has started righting his own letters to me he nos lm his birth mum can someone tell me what age it is when he can come bk he has phoned socel serves to ask them to call me to see if lm ok lm confussed about the age

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      He is officially an adult at 18 and can do what he likes, but the reality is that for most teenagers, if they decide they want to live with someone else there is not much you can do once they are 15-16; they can vote with their feet and it is only in the most serious of circumstances that someone would be able to stop them – for e.g. if they were at risk of hurting themselves or someone else.

      Reply
  4. candy edelman

    My husbands son was taken from him at age 4 by the County he lives in, and in Nov he will turn 27. CPS got involved and whwn his sin was adopted, cps made it a closed adoption giving my husband no information on the adopted parents, NOTHING!! So my husband and I have a 17year old son that would like to meet his brother he never met. So one question i have is since there is no information abt the adoption, and all records are sealed, would facebook or other social media be a good start on trying to locate him? And with him only age 4 at the time, do you think the adoptive parents would have changed his first and middle name? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I am assuming because you refer to ‘CPS’ that you are in the US? I am afraid I know very little about the law in the USA.

      Reply
  5. Lynn Assimacopoulos

    My new book called “Separated Lives” is a true story about the adoption of a baby boy and years later a friend taking him on a fascinating but uncertain journey to search for his birth parents. It is available from Dorrance Publishing (in Pittsburgh, PA) http://www.DorranceBookstore.com, Barnes & Noble barnesandnoble.com and Amazon.com.
    Author: Lynn Assimacopoulos

    Reply
  6. A george

    So my eldest her adoptive placement has failed and she is in the care system she is 18 in 5 months she made contact with me requesting she wanted to meet me but all above board I set out to do this but got brick walls and I have no further contact with her until she is 18 is this allowed if that’s not what she wants

    Reply
    1. HelenSparkles

      Adoption legislation is designed to protect children so birth parents cannot make contact with a child unless the child instigates it., even at 18. It may be that your daughter has changed her mind or the difficulties of a placement breakdown, and being in care, are the overriding issue for her at the moment. What you can do is to ask to put a letter on her file to make sure your child knows that you would like her to make contact.

      Reply
    2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      If she is 17 I can’t see how anyone in reality could stop her making contact with you if she wanted to. who is putting up the brick walls? It may be quite overwhelming for her and she may need some time. If she has got your details and you have made it clear you would love to talk to her, I hope that in the next few weeks, she will contact you.

      Reply
  7. Angelo Granda

    A George,
    Apparently under NICE guidelines ,the CS are supposed to commence working on a transition plan well before your daughter gets to 18 years of age because the current care -order will no longer have any validity. Your daughter will be able to do as she likes and if she wishes to come home, technically they cannot stop her. That they have not begun working with you or her on any transition plan to date is a bad sign as it appears to be against the guidelines .Planning should have started when she was about 14, I think. Do you know whether your daughter has any sort of disorder? Because if she has ,it is possible the CS will be working behind your back with adult services and planning for her future behind your back. This is not to say they are but it is not uncommon. I am just an ordinary parent like you so consult a proper advocate ; I’m just telling you what to look out for! Do you happen to know if she is in a secure placement or is she allowed to come and go as she wishes?

    Reply
    1. HelenSparkles

      If an adoption order is still in place, any planning will take place with the adopters who have PR.

      Reply
  8. joelly

    So, does my son have to tell the adopter he is having another child. My sons partner doesn’t want adopter to know. She has no worries about her child knowing she has a sister out there somewhere. My sons partner is fully aware of the circumstances of the adoption and has an acute sense of the unfairness of the whole situation and promises that were broken by the adopter and SS. I as a grandmother will respect their wishes, so yet another year with a very short response as only allowed to forward good news…

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      This is surely more about what is best for the children? If they have a brother or sister it would presumably be a good thing for them to know about each other or even get to know each other while they are growing up. Supportive sibling relationships are some of the most important and long term relationships we will ever have. he doesn’t HAVE to do anything. But it could be a great loss for these children if they don’t know about each other until they are adults.

      Reply

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