Contact Post Adoption – time for a new default position?

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore, the bulk of which was written in 2014 when there was a hope that there may begin to be a shift in attitudes towards the possibility of contact with birth parents post adoption, particularly when the parents did not seek to disrupt the placement and had not caused actual significant harm to their children but had lost their children on finding that the risk of future harm was too great. Now the first case has been decided which looks carefully at the arguments for and against and has re-affirmed the position that orders for post adoption contact are unlikely to be made unless the adoptive parents agree. 


EDIT March 11th 2019 – First case to be considered in the Court of Appeal

On the 30th January 2019 Court of Appeal handed down judgment in the case of B (A Child : Post-Adoption Contact) [2019] EWCA Civ 29 (30 January 2019). This case involved parents with a learning disability who did not wish to disrupt the placement, Nevertheless the Court of Appeal affirmed that it must be ‘exceptional’ to impose an order for contact post adoption with which the adopters did not agree. The court stated at para 59:

ACA 2002, s 51A has been brought into force at a time when there is research and debate amongst social work and adoption professionals which may be moving towards the concept of greater ‘openness’ in terms of post-adoption contact arrangements, both between an adopted child and natural parents and, more particularly, between siblings. For the reasons that I have given, the juxtaposition in timing between the new provisions and the wider debate does not indicate that the two are linked. The impact of new research and the debate is likely to be reflected in evidence adduced in court in particular cases. It may also surface in terms of advice and counselling to prospective adopters and birth families when considering what arrangements for contact may be the best in any particular case. But any development or change from previous practice and expectations as to post-adoption contact that may arise from these current initiatives will be a matter that may be reflected in welfare decisions that are made by adopters, or by a court, on a case by case basis. These are matters of ‘welfare’ and not of ‘law’. The law remains, as I have stated it, namely that it will only be in an extremely unusual case that a court will make an order stipulating contact arrangement to which the adopters do not agree.

See further this article by the lawyers involved in the case, Sarah Jennings and Phil Storey, where they offer the following suggestions for lawyers involved in such cases:

  • to be aware of the current research in respect of post-adoption contact.  If it is expected that the professionals working within the field are considering the recent and relevant research then it is crucial that we are able to appropriately analyse this information during the course of any hearing.
  • continue to raise issues relating to  post-adoption contact through the care and placement proceedings and adoption proceedings.
  • hope that prospective adoptive parents and adoption social workers familiarise themselves with the developing research showing the benefits of post-adoption contact and how changes can be made on the ground.  This needs to form the basis of some realistic training for prospective adopters around post-adoption contact.
  • consider making more applications for contact orders alongside placement orders under Section 26 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002) so that the issue of post-adoption contact at a realistic frequency is identified and discussed with potential adopters at an early stage in the process.

RE B (A Child) (Post-Adoption Contact) [2019] EWCA Civ 29: What is the Future for Post-Adoption Contact?

Discussion in 2014

We have come a long way from the days when adopted children might never even be told they were adopted. The huge majority of adopted children are not new born babies but much older children who may retain clear memories of their birth families. They will go to their adoptive families with the benefit of ‘Life Story’ work and photographs as we are now much more aware of the importance of knowing about and understanding our roots.

What kind of contact with birth families is either desirable or necessary after a child is adopted? The ‘default’ position appears to be ‘letter box’ contact a couple times a year but the issues raised by research and experience suggest that this default position needs re-examination.

The Children and Families Act 2014 came into force on 22nd April 2014 and introduced a new section 51A of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 which will allow applications to be made for contact after an adoption order has been made.  Suesspicious minds has written a detailed post about this here.

In this post we shall look at some of the lessons from the research and direct experience of those who are trying to start or maintain contact in such difficult and emotional circumstances.


Why is it important?

When an adoption breaks down, this is extremely traumatic for both the child and the adoptive parents. Disruption rates for adoption are quite high, considering the amount of care and time that goes into the assessment process; some studies show the breakdown rates for adoptions can be as high as 25%. There is some interesting research here from the US about rates of adoption disruption and what causes them.

Research published on April 9th 2014 by the University of Bristol offers another perspective on adoption disruption rates, concluding that they are low but emphasising the importance of post adoption support, particularly for older and more challenging children.

Therefore, it is important to know about the possible or likely effects on the placement of post adoption contact.

There are a number of other factors to consider:

Positive factors for post adoption contact

  • Answers children’s questions about their past and allows them to know the reality of their birth families, saving from possible disappointment later;
  • May assist child’s self esteem and sense of identity to know that birth family cares and is interested;
  • Supports older children to continue established relationships with birth family members – the ‘disappearance’ of such people may hinder the child’s ability to form attachments to his adoptive parents;
  • Helps birth family members to resolve their grief and keep them informed about how their child is doing;
  • Helps adoptive parents feel more secure as ‘parents’ as the issue of contact is being addressed in structured and planned way

Negative factors for post adoption contact

  • Direct contact with birth family could have negative implications for a child’s ability to form attachments with adoptive family and stop them feeling a sense of ‘belonging’ and permanence;
  • If the birth family can’t sustain contact or the contact experience is negative this could be harmful for the child who experiences another rejection;
  • Adoptive parents may find it very difficult to sustain a positive relationship with birth families, depending on circumstances of the child’s removal from their care.
  • There is a risk birth families could use direct contact to try to undermine the adoptive placement, either consciously or unwittingly.
  • Even if positive, contact can cause emotional strain, particularly for older children.


What does research tell us about contact post adoption?

The numbers of children adopted each year have decreased significantly from about 21,000 in 1975 to 5,797 in 1995 and 3,980 in the year ending March 31st 2013; a reflection of the increased availability of abortion and the societal shift that no longer stigmatises illegitimacy.

The average age at adoption in the year ending 31st March 2013 was 3 years 8 months

  • 2% (90) of children adopted during the year ending 31st March 2013 were under 1 year old
  • 74% (2,960) were aged between 1 and 4 years old
  • 21% (850) were aged between 5 and 9 years old
  • 2% (70) were aged between 10 and 15 years old
  • <1% (10) were aged 16 and over

Adopted children are therefore very unlikely to be brand new babies, given up by desperate teenage girls, but rather older children who may have already suffered significant trauma. It is not difficult to understand how adoptive parents may be very wary about the idea of continuing ties with the very people who might have hurt their child. 

Research suggests that ‘communicative openness’ in adoptive families – how they think and talk about adoption – is positively linked to ‘structural openness’ – contact with birth family members – and can have a positive impact on the adoptive parents  feeling more secure in their role of parents. However, it seems that children’s emotional and behavioural development was not related to either the type of contact they were having with their birth families or the communicative openness of their adoptive parents. See Post-Adoption contact and Openness in Adoptive Parents’ Minds; Consequences for Children’s Development Elsbeth Neil (2009).

Some messages from recent research

The Centre for Research on Children and Families/UEA Contact after adoption: a follow up in late adolescence (Dec 2013)

  • Every case is different, and contact planning should be individualised.
  • Prospective adoptive parents and birth relatives should be prepared thoroughly for contact.
  • The long term needs of the child should come first in contact decision making and children should be involved once they are old enough.
  • Both adoptive parents and birth relatives need to be treated sensitively so that their questions and anxieties about contact can be addressed.
  • Facilitated meetings between adoptive parents and birth relatives to plan post adoption contact could be considered.
  • Information about background is essential in building a sense of identity, therefore it should be made available to young people either via contact and/or life-story work.
  • Where contact has been agreed, adoptive parents and birth relatives should stick to their side of the arrangements. If contact needs to decrease or stop, the other parties need to know the reasons why.
  •  Social workers should review and support contact to ensure that it continues successfully.
  • There should be more support offered to young people at age 18 about deciding on the future of their contact.


Challenge of finding answers in research

Elsbeth Neil recognises

finding empirical answers to questions about outcomes of contact after adoption is frustrated by significant methodological challenges …what is meant by contact after adoption? The type, frequency, duration and management of contact all need to be considered, as does the type of birth relative involved.

In addition (Neil and Young 2009):

We are left with no simple answer to the question of whether contact will be beneficial with any specific adoption placement. Each study reveals differences between children and families according to whether contact is appreciated  and experienced in a positive way and also shows patterns and changes over time.

Each adoptive placement is unique and there cannot be one path for all or even one path for all time within a placement. The developmental stage, attachment and parenting history, personal qualities and personalities and context of the child and adults involved will no doubt have a part to play in how contact is experienced.

Elsbeth Neil urged social workers to remain open minded about the issue of direct post adoption contact, resisting blanket predictions of either help or harm. However, it seems that the prevailing attitude is to assume it shouldn’t happen. Different reasons are given for this and they are compelling; birth parents may try to undermine the placement, the children may have unpleasant memories of the birth family and become upset by contact. Many social workers worry that potential adoptive parents will be ‘put off’ adopting if they also have to manage direct contact with birth parents.

But in practice it is rare to find social work analysis that goes beyond those familiar shibboleths, to consider the particular circumstances of children and birth family currently under scrutiny. Those of us who represent birth parents in care proceedings will be sadly familiar with the ‘party line’ around post adoption contact. It seems that the best we can get is a vague expression of a ‘hope’ that an adoptive family can be found who would be ‘open’ to direct contact but in the majority of cases the industry standard is letter box contact once or twice a year. This is so even in cases involving parents who would not actively attempt to undermine the placement and who had not subjected their children to serious abuse, such as parents with a learning disability whose children were removed on the basis of risk of significant future harm.

Perhaps we are still left with a residue of those earlier desires to entirely absorb the adopted child into the new family and to protect a sense of entitlement for adoptive parents. After all, it is asking a lot of someone to undertake the arduous task of raising a child (who often is neither grateful for nor welcoming of the parents’ input) without clear recognition of the status of ‘parent’.


Problems with indirect ‘letter box’ contact

This should not be thought of ‘the easy option’.

  • It is hard to write to people you don’t know;
  • indirect contact may falter without initial support to help all involved provide quality information;
  • there is a risk of what is written being misinterpreted or misunderstood, particularly when birth families already feel a lack of trust in the system;
  • adoptive parents will often ‘give up’ when birth families don’t respond.

Photographs were seen by almost all as more ‘real’ and honest than brief written updates but letters could be successful when written in a ‘newsy’ and friendly style.


What’s happening in practice?

The current motivation appears to be to assume that adoptive families should be left in peace without any direct dealings with the birth family throughout the child’s minority. The child’s need for information can be met by Life Story books, some photographs and possibly a letter once or twice a year. An adopted child and birth families can now enter their details upon the Adoption Contact Register to apply for contact with one another. However the clearly stated purpose of the register is to permit contact only between adults if both want it.

Section 4 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 provides that adoptive parents, children and birth families all have the right to request an assessment of their needs for post adoption contact. A recent study investigated the levels and nature of such support (see Supporting post adoption contact in complex cases – briefing paper June 2010). It found that direct contact happens only in a minority of cases and support for such contact is likely to be organised on a case by case basis rather than via dedicated staff or formal systems. The prevailing attitude of social workers towards direct contact is to focus on controlling risk rather than pro active consideration of how to overcome problems that would affect contact.

The main type of support offered to both adoptive and birth parents was co-ordination and administration of contact, rather than providing emotional or therapeutic support such as work on relationship building. Unsurprisingly, for direct contact to work well it helped to have an element of emotional support together with facilitators who were organised and forward thinking, anticipating challenges and changes rather than simply responding to them. The ‘average’ family used contact support services 12 times over the course of a year and the cost was £999. Unsurprisingly, the cheapest model of support was administered contact averaging £395 per year whilst supervised and facilitated contact averaged at £1,371 per year, but these costs were probably an underestimate.

As Dr Claire Fenton-Glynn comments in her report to the European Parliament in June 2015:

… the jurisprudence of the English courts shows that it will be rare for direct contact to be awarded against the wishes of the adoptive parents. Although their wishes will not be determinative, as the decision will be determined by the child’s welfare, the courts have recognised that it will not usually be in the child’s best interests to impose an obligation on the adoptive parents that they are unwilling to agree upon. This is based on the premise that the welfare of the child depends on the stability and security of the adoptive parents, and a decision that undermines this will be damaging to the child.

This position fails to take into account the changing nature of the driving forces behind adoption. When it was first introduced in English law, it provided a mechanism for single mothers to place their infants with an adoptive family without anyone being the wiser. Birth outside wedlock was a social stigma for both the mother and the child, and as such, the adoption would cut all legal ties with her, and there would be a complete legal transplant from one family to the other, under the shroud of secrecy. However, in the current era, the majority of children that are adopted are older, and have an established relationship with their parents, siblings and wider relations. Even where circumstances dictate that they require alternative care, it does not necessarily require that there be no further contact with their birth family. As such, this is an area in which English law needs to evolve so that greater recognition is given to the child’s pre-existing ties with the birth family.

It would be interesting to develop existing research and to have greater consideration of the existing structure of post adoption contact support together with a more rigorous cost/benefit analysis of the different types available. Considering the detailed nature of the assessment and matching process in adoptions, some studies show the disruption rate is surprisingly high at about 25%. It is certainly worth investigating whether or not greater structural and communicative openness in adoptions is a protective factor against breakdown.

That investigation becomes even more urgent when considering the inexorable rise of the new social media and the impact this has had on the way information now flows and is disseminated. It seems unlikely that the current rather static and limited framework to post adoption contact, with emphasis on adult control and choice, can survive the challenge posed by Facebook or other similar social networking sites. See this review of the book ‘Bubble Wrapped Children‘ by Helen Oakwater, which examines the issue of adoptive children seeking out their birth families with the help of social networking sites.


Conclusions – what helps make post adoption contact work?

  • The adopters are able to help the child understand a full and honest account of his background;
  • This account is given at a pace which is sensitive to the child’s ability to take it in;
  • The adopters are able to show empathy towards the birth family;
  • The birth family accept the adoption and don’t try to use contact to undermine the placement;
  • The child understands what is going on and is comfortable with contact;
  • The purpose of the contact is clear and understood by all;
  • The parties trust each other to make it work;
  • Contact is supported.


March 27th 2017 – new developments

There have been some important new developments. First, McFarlane LJ spoke of his disappointment that there had been no ‘sea change’ in attitudes towards post adoption contact after the 2002 Act. We now also have the Contact After Adoption site which supports practitioners working on making positive post-adoption contact plans and supporting birth relatives and adopters through contact planning for their child.

Research from Cardiff University 2018

See ‘The support needs and experiences of newly formed adoptive families: findings from the Wales Adoption Study’ which one of the authors commented shows that adoptive parents have a more open and flexible attitude than they are commonly assumed to hold.

This paper reports on findings from the Wales Adoption study, which used a sequential, mixed method design to explore the early support needs and experiences of newly formed adoptive families. Ninety-six adoptive parents completed a questionnaire four months post-placement and sub sample of forty parents were interviewed in-depth five months thereafter. The main support needs of the families fell within five key domains: promoting children’s health and development, strengthening family relationships, fostering children’s identity, managing contact with significant others and financial and legal assistance. Whilst the age and developmental stage of the child placed for adoption often influenced the nature of the support required across the various domains, the need for some form of support in every family was universal. Most, however were not facing insurmountable difficulties. Arguably, many of the support needs identified could have been anticipated, as they illustrate the complexities of ‘normal’ adoptive family life. The implications for social work practice are discussed.

Research from Sydney 2019

Collings, S., Wright, A. C., & Spencer, M. (2019). Family Connections and Contact Study: Final Report. Institute of Open Adoption Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Science, The University of Sydney.

Key findings

  1. State-wide permanency reforms to increase the uptake of guardianship and open adoption by existing caregivers appear to be having an effect. A third of participants (N=19) were actively pursuing a move from kinship care to guardianship or long-term foster care to open adoption.
  2. Agency support appeared to taper off gradually for families during the transition to more permanent arrangements for children. Caseworkers could perform an important mediation role between carers and birth parents, modelling active listening and empathic communication, and supporting birth parents to attend contact visits.
  3. Families who were in guardianship and open adoption arrangements had more evolved relationships than those in long-term foster care.
  1. The type of contact in place and the access to professional support for contact influenced the quality of relationships between carers and birth parents. Supervised contact was associated with under-developed relationships between adults.
  2. Young people in care wanted to be consulted about their views of whether seeing some birth relatives was in their best interests and about contact planning.
  3. Children wanted contact to be a special time and many wanted to spend more time with birth relatives, particularly siblings. Children avoided raising topics that would upset parents in order to keep contact visits happy and positive.
  4. Contact experiences for children and birth relatives were influenced by interactions that took place outside of contact and often did not involve children directly, such as those between caseworkers, birth parents or carers.
  5. Agency processes could get in the way of adults building partnerships when carers and birth parents were discouraged from getting to know each other or being more flexible.
  6. Agencies could be perceived to take sides by both carers and birth parents, highlighting the need for clear and transparent messages and open communication.
  7. The experience of child removal was a source of ongoing grief and trauma for birth parents, regardless of how much time had elapsed. When encounters with child protection systems were negative and parents were coping with complex issues and adversity, they were less able to trust carers and caseworkers.
  8. Long-term foster carers with no plans to pursue open adoption held negative views of independently facilitated contact and wanted an agency buffer between themselves and birth relatives.
  9. Carers who had managed to transform their views and approach to contact from a legal obligation to a rewarding time with family shared common traits of being positive and optimistic, tolerant, and cooperative.
  10. Contact was viewed positively by adults when birth parents were able to accept a new parenting role and carers could recognise that birth parents had a legitimate emotional investment in their child’s life.


Experience of those dealing with post adoption contact.

Birth Families

Here are the views of one grandmother, who is finding the experience very difficult. What could or should we be doing to improve this experience for all involved?

Loosing my grandchild through no fault of my own or my son and problems with the first letterbox to us has been chaos emotionally. I am not used to being written to with such ‘ill feeling’. I am just hoping it was first letter nerves. We are trying to write a reply without being sarcastic and make things worse next time. There was no support for me and her Grandad throughout the whole of the SS proceedings. We felt like ships adrift with no hope. The first letter was a like a bombshell which left us wondering what the adopters had been told about us. Did they think we were monsters too? 

We have no faith in the SS and we has hoped for some sort of comfort from the adopters. We thought they may understand or have had some training in how to help extended family who get letterbox. Is there anything anyone could suggest we try to break the ice, or do we just have to put up with what we get. I have no faith in the system that has treated us so badly and we had hoped for better from the people who will be looking after our grand child for the next 16 years. We are still waiting permission for getting photographs, so we can put them with our family ones in our new house. A house we had to move to during the guardianship fiasco which was doomed to fail we found out too late. Also is it allowed to write one to the adoptive parent and one to my Grandchild for when they get older? How will I know if they are shown them? I have huge trust issues at the moment. I just need reassurances from people who are doing it. I cannot and never will be able to trust what the SS tell me. 

..I have seen a poem and have a few photographs to add from the first birthday party we were allowed. Songs which remind us of our time together. There are so many of us on our side of the family. Each year they will be eager to hear how things are going. Her birthday is the same day as her Dads cousin and it will remain a double celebration regardless. Her great grandparents will never forget either and it is a shame that they did not all get to meet her in person.

I really do hope that her new parents realise how much we love her and want her to know this while being loved by them too. We do not want to steal their thunder, a glimpse of the rainbow is all we ask.

Prospective Adoptive Parent

My thinking on the topic starts from the belief that unless contraindicated, e.g. known to be detrimental for the child in question, contact has got to be a good thing.

Good for the child: I can imagine many circumstances where the downsides of a mother basically just disappearing from a child’s life, heavily outweighs any benefits in terms of the child being able to settle and bond with their new family better. I can imagine that this idea that a child needs their birth mum to be completely out of the picture, in order to be able to form secure attachments with the new family, to be mainly fuelled by the new parents’ insecurities. However I would be very interested to know if any research has been undertaken on this, or if this strategy is just based on assumptions.
I think that nowadays the reality will be that average resumed contact with birth family will come at a much earlier age than previously, simply due to the social media. Whereas cutting off contact and then leaving the adoptee to reinstate contact in their twenties or thirties or even later – point is, when THEY feel the desire and the maturity for it; seemed ok; when we’re talking about cutting off contact as a toddler and reinstating it at age 13 as a vulnerable teenager, through social media, perhaps sought out on a whim by the teenager, but perhaps sought out by the birth family, it’s a different story. Here I think it may be better for the child, for contact never to have been cut off in the first place. Supervised, carefully managed contact throughout the childhood years has got to be better (in many cases) than BM totally disappearing, then reappearing by Facebook message at teenager age. And I fear the latter is going to be more and more of a reality.

Better for the birth parents: Removing a child from a parent, and placing it for adoption, with no contact until age 18, seems like a very harsh ‘punishment’ for what in some cases may not have been big ‘crimes’. Even when it is totally right that a child is removed from their BM, it doesn’t have to mean that they have done anything deserving of such punishment. An adoptive placement with ongoing contact would mean providing for the child’s needs whilst at the same time not ‘punishing’ the BM more than necessary.

Better for the adopters: If adoptive parents can get over their own insecurities, then regular meetings with their children’s birth parents may in many circumstances enable them to have better understanding of their children’s past, and thus may enable them to be better parents to them. Also they won’t have to deal with issues such as the child idolising the birth parents, or seeking out unsupervised contact by Facebook etc. at a young age.

Of course there are equally many circumstances where direct, and sometimes even indirect contact, are totally contraindicated. This obviously needs to be taken into account. From fostering experiences it is known that some children absolutely hate having to go to contact sessions, and stop going as soon as they have any say in it. I can imagine that these children feel repercussions in other areas, such as never growing to feel that their foster carers really keep them safe, since after all the FC keep sending them to the contact sessions. Etc.

Over all, I get the impression that direct contact is one of the key issues which distinguish long-term fostering from adoption. (Of course there are many others, particularly legally). From my own, somewhat rambling thinking, I think this should not be the case. Adoption should become more like fostering, in that (circumstances permitting) direct contact remains in place. Fostering should become more like adoption, in that contact should not be unquestionable, should be something which is decided from case to case and the decision should be able to be revisited. Or in other words, in fostering as well as in adoption, direct contact should be sought if possible but stopped/not started at all, if not appropriate/detrimental to the child.

So the key question becomes, is it good or bad for the child. Since on paper, the child’s wellbeing is paramount anyway, I get the impression that people believe that direct contact is good for a (long term) foster child (where it is the default) but bad for an adoptive child (where it is exceedingly rare). I am willing to accept that this MAY be so, but I would be very interested in the reasoning behind it, and the scientific evidence for this reasoning.


Further reading

  •  Child Placement Handbook, published by the British Assocation of Adoption and Fostering.
  •  Supporting direct contact after adoption BAAF 2011
  • My Thoughts and Experiences of Contact  – blog post from the Open Nest charity about the importance of clear information about the birth family for the adopted child.
  • Research in Practice – Contact after adoption -This website supports practitioners working on making positive post-adoption contact plans and supporting birth relatives and adopters through contact planning for their child. The materials on this website bring together knowledge from research and practice. They draw on research by Professor Beth Neil at University of East Anglia. Research in Practice has worked with Beth and practitioners across England to share expertise and produce accessible and practical resources for professionals involved in this work.
  • This blog from an adoptive parent who made successful contact with her daughter’s birth mother – a woman the social workers had said was ‘too volatile’ to cope.
  • Rethinking Adoption and Birth Family contact: is there a role for the law? Professor Elsbeth Neil [2018] Family Law, concluding that social workers and the courts should articulate clearly the goals of any contact arrangement, considering the impact on the child, the adoptive parents and the birth family.

30 thoughts on “Contact Post Adoption – time for a new default position?

  1. Eeyore Incognito

    Thank you for this sensitively constructed post. I think it covers really well the key issues and shows just how complex a matter post-adoption contact is, and really how little is known.

    It is sad there have been no suggestions yet for the birth grandmother cited, in how to tackle her concerns. I am afraid I can relate only too well to her experiences and some of her reactions. This one particularly resonates:

    “The first letter was a like a bombshell which left us wondering what the adopters had been told about us. Did they think we were monsters….?”

    We have had many concerns around what information had been given to the adopters about the reasons for adoption, and how accurate this was.

    I have a copy of the “Supporting Contact After Adoption” book and note that it refers to the use of Independent Post-Adoption Support Agencies in some circumstances. I often wonder if it would be sensible for all actively contested adoptions to be handed over to an independent post-adoption agency, since there are bound to be residual tensions in most cases, I would have thought.

    Can anyone explain more about why an independent agency might be used instead of the LA, and how this might come about? This is something I have wanted to find out more about, but to be honest have not wanted to “rock the boat” with the LA through enquiring.

  2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

    Thanks for your comment, I am glad you found this useful.

    I would also be interested to know more about the work of independent agencies – I think one of key messages from research is that post adoption contact of any type has more chance of working if supported.

  3. Sarah Phillimore Post author

    That link doesn’t work for me? Is this his recent article on applying for contact post adoption? I am going to add something about that to the post.

  4. Eeyore Incognito

    Thanks Matt – another great link.

    Sarah, the server seems to be down at the moment but it’s a draft critical evaluation looking at current Government policy to both increase the number and speed of adoptions from care whilst simultaneously reducing the scope for post-adoption contact.

    I have waded through a lot of it this evening and found it quite a disturbing read, although relieved of the criticisms likely to be put forward. I’m not sure if it’s the exact article you’re thinking of, but it would be good to include something.

  5. Julie

    Thanks for that link to Sloan and Hughes article – it does look really interesting although will have to set aside time to read! Possibly for the non-academic, the Elspeth Neil research is still the most useful resource (?)

  6. Stephen

    Yes, I think it is time for a new default position. I think the real answer should NOT rubberstamp one option, but take into the interests, opinions, and situations of the birth parents, adoptive parents, and the child. Additionally, the new contact system will need to take into it the possibility of arrangements changing over time. Future Foster and Adoptive Parents will need to be advised that there is no way to force 100% cut-off of contact with birth relatives and siblings in the information age, as the old way of cutting off assumed the children did not remember their old surnames, assumed social services was the only place of obtaining contact information, and all contact went through the mail. Today, this is not the case and services like Google, Facebook, Friendster, and LinkedIn have changed the landscape.

    My recommendation is for the new position to allow the child to have some say in the matter. I think it is a good idea to allow relationships with former family members if they were very positive for the child before the adoption or foster placement took place, and only try to cut off (as best you can) contact with people who are high risk to the child, are criminals, who abused the child. Each relative should be evaluated for risk level. The adoptive parent can have a say too in this.

    As the children reach the upper grades (ages 11-18), their level of computer skills likely will have increased since then. They may be familiar with search engines, social networking, and other skills by that time. So when they reach that age, they will likely have far more control of the contact and relationships they want to maintain with former family. The amount of control social services, CPS, adoption agency will have over restricting information will diminish due to the fact a child can find their birth family other ways. So they will need to be coached and supported as they develop new relationships with relatives.

    There are many actions that can be taken if a relationship goes bad with a birth relative, too. If they abuse a child, they can apply many of the same punishments like jail time, fines, counseling, etc. One can block contact online too. Restraining orders can be issued.

  7. C

    What happens if an adoption breaks down? Is there ever an opportunity that the natural parents – if their circumstances had changed sufficiently – might be able to ‘re-adopt’ their child, rather than the child facing either a fresh adoption, or more likely foster care or foster home?

  8. Sarah Phillimore

    I am not aware of any case where an adoption broke down and the child went to birth parents or indeed any member of the birth family. I suspect part of the reason for that would be because adoption breakdowns tend to involve older children who are demonstrating very difficult behaviour due to attachment disorders etc. I suspect the majority will need to go to specialist residential placements, it would be very difficult for any family to cope.

    But I don’t know this, it’s just an educated guess based on what I know about adoption breakdowns.

    What always needs to be remembered is, despite the valid criticisms that can be made of the whole system of child protection, a lot of children placed for adoption are seriously traumatised because of what their parents did (or didn’t do) to them. This can include sexual and physical abuse – in those kind of cases I think it would be wholly wrong to ever think about placing a child back with adults who had hurt him.

  9. C

    Thanks for the reply. Of course it would be wrong if the parents had been responsible for hurting the child – but my hunch is that there are some adoptions which are breaking down precisely because the child resents the fact that he/she is adopted and would be old enough to have ‘gillick competence’ – and thus able to make the decision as to whether they would like to return to their birth parents, if that was also something that those birth parents wanted. ( And there are certainly some birth parents who lost their kids in a forced adoption process who fret 18 years waiting for the opportunity to see their children again.) So – I wondered if it were feasible – in certain circumstances. My thinking is, if an adoption breaks down then the placement order is defunct, and must be re-made, or the order must be altered – and at that point, what order is the child under? Could there be a submission for a court to review the position at that point?

  10. Sarah Phillimore

    I think – but would have to go back to the research to be sure – that adoptions tend to break down because the children are just so damaged they cannot be contained in a family unit so specialist residential placements are needed. So the idea that they could be ‘replaced’ with birth family just isn’t on the table.

    But it would be interesting to look again at the Bristol research to see if my assumption is supported by their evidence.

  11. C

    Further research has informed me that when an adoption breaks down, if a new arrangement is not found within 1 year, then the natural parents can apply… But don’t precisely where this originates.

  12. Sarah Phillimore

    Yes, that’s interesting, i have seen people refer to six months or a year, but they don’t say where they get that from and I don’t know. I don’t think there is any statutory provision to say that as when I tried searching for it I couldn’t find anything. I will have another go!

  13. Sarah Phillimore

    I can’t find anything. I’m going to email Pink Tape and suespcioussminds as this is bugging me now.

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    I am going out of my head, My grandson 10mths old has been in foster care for the past 6 weeks and the social workers are recommending adoption. They wont tell me anything of the mothers past but stated that any child would be removed from her. 4 already that i didnt know about. They wont agree to my son having him, as he was heard shouting and cursing at the mother for being drunk and my grandson could be heard crying. THEY HAVE NEVER LAID A FINGER ON HIM. I was asked about being his guardian but due to me having an adult son with special needs, an illness myself and not having a spare room for him we both decided I couldnt do it. But i want to keep contact with him, Iv’e been involved with him from birth and it’s breaking my heart. What can i do??

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I am sorry to hear this. But if you can’t put yourself forward as a permanent carer it seems likely the court will approve another placement and as he is only 10 months old, the first choice will be adoption ASSUMING of course that one or both of his parents are unable to make the changes they appear to need to make to be good enough parents.

      It is possible to have contact after an adoption order is made, but it isn’t very common and it will depend a lot on how comfortable the adoptive parents and the SW feel about it.
      But if you do want to keep up a relationship, you may need to apply to be an intervenor in the care proceedings. I assume care proceedings have already started unless your grandson isn in foster care on section 20.

      you say this “as he was heard shouting and cursing at the mother for being drunk and my grandson could be heard crying. THEY HAVE NEVER LAID A FINGER ON HIM.” – physical violence against a child isn’t the problem here. The harm that will be done to him hearing his parents shout and his mother being drunk, and therefore less able to care for him, is likely to be very serious harm indeed. At that age he must know that the adults around him are safe and will take care of him. If he grows up without that knowledge and without feeling safe, this can have a really serious impact on his emotional development and the courts will act to protect him from this harm.

  18. Angelo Granda

    Sharon ,It is not only a likelihood that the child will suffer serious emotional harm if removed from natural family but a CERTAINTY which all research shows. It is also possible he will suffer considerable physical harm in care because of Local Authority neglect. LA’s are often unfit for purpose etc. etc.
    I understand why you are going out of your head. Removing the child into care just because your son was heard to shout and curse in the situation he was dealing with is totally disproportionate to circumstances!
    I am not saying it is true in your family’s case ,I cannot know ,but very often LA’s fail to solve these cases by supporting and monitoring troubled families as the Law instructs them to. They prefer to avoid the expense by misleading the Court into believing that circumstances are so dire that nothing else will do but adoption.
    For that reason, they avoid the WORKING TOGETHER provisions of the Children Act . I suggest you instruct your son’s solicitor to examine whether guidelines have been followed. If not ,the LA should be forced to do so. For example, did the SW inform your son of his rights to get an advocacy service to support him at meetings etc? Has a full family conference been called? If extended family were not fully consulted and asked whether any of them would care for your grandson temporarily ( or long-term) in accordance with correct procedure then removal should never have been ordered in the first place.

    Please note, i am only an ordinary parent advising you not a professional but I hope it is of help.
    It is fairly commonplace in child-protection for children to be removed into care for one reason or another whether genuine or not then for the Mum concerned to be stigmatised for life and persecuted for LIFE unfairly. These poor Mums will have child after child removed. I AM SUGGESTING THAT IS WHAT HAS HAPPENED HERE. They are discriminating against her because of past events and they removed the child unlawfully without investigating new circumstances including your son’s etc. first. They probably gave false ,incomplete info to the Court. If Mum has an alcohol problem ,she should be helped to sort it out quickly. I have little doubt that the Social Services haven’t offered her any help over the years. Try and persuade her to get help and a good lawyer.The way these Mum’s are treated by the Authorities is scandalous and inhumane. She needs help not persecution for life.
    Finally, please don’t make the mistake of believing all the CS tell you about her previous children. They do tend to exaggerate circumstances for obvious reasons. Possibly, no-one ever laid a finger on any of them either. Try and find out if any findings were made against her in a criminal court. If not, you can not be certain where Family Courts are concerned ; they often make decisions without real facts only hearsay and speculation etc.
    If you contact the Family Rights Group (FRG) website,Sharon, they will provide you with factsheets as to your rights. They also have a free help and advice line and two forums, one for your son and one for grandparents.
    Hope this helps.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I think if you spoke to Jenny Molloy and read her books about how she took herself to a police station and asked to be taken away from her birth family, you might benefit from another perspective.

      to cling to this idea that the birth family is ALWAYS the best place for a child and removal ALWAYS causes immense harm is just as foolish and damaging as pushing for adoption at all costs.

      As ever, the truth is a lot more complicated and nuanced than either of those extremes will allow.

  19. Angelo Granda

    Sarah, I don’t think the High Court, we or any one else are clinging to the idea that are ‘clinging’ to the idea that the birth family is always the best place for a child. We have to face reality and follow the law which says that in dire situations when nothing else will do children are better off away from family providing all guidelines and safeguards, frameworks for working with families have been followed scrupulously.

    Obviously, to be constructive, parents like to avoid to using terms like foolish of lawyers , therefore let me just say it is ‘unwise’ and damaging to fail to consider or worse even ignore research which informs us that it is known that removal from natural family causes trauma to children. We should face uncomplicated ,true facts like those . Not adopt nuanced ifs and maybes designed to negate them .It is also a fact that many, many children suffer physical neglect and abuse in the care system. Let us not deny that fact either .
    Sarah, I read quite widely and it appears to me just lately having seen recent articles in your links above that , whilst there are several Jenny Molloy’s ,there are many more children who are taken into care and adopted against their wishes. Naturally I fully support professionals but only when they confine their evidence to facts.
    I think if you spoke to Sharon’s son and Mum, and saw her grandson, you would see that the possibility of future emotional harm due to raised voices and swearing is not factual evidence that the child has already suffered harm physical or emotional. In my eyes there was probably no scientific ,forensic evidence to warrant removing the child into care thus it was unlawful. Probabilities and speculation based on fears connected with the Jenny Molloy case or any other should not be used in evidence.
    Thanks as always for your comments and I look forward to your reply.

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  22. Darryl


    Your website or a website that your company hosts is violating the copyrighted images owned by our company (trello Inc.).

    Check out this official document with the hyperlinks to our images you utilized at and our previous publications to find the proof of our copyrights.

    Download it right now and check this out for yourself:

    I think you’ve willfully violated our legal rights under 17 U.S.C. Sec. 101 et seq. and can be liable for statutory damages of up to $130,000 as set forth in Section 504 (c)(2) of the Digital millennium copyright act (DMCA) therein.

    This message is official notice. I seek the elimination of the infringing materials mentioned above. Please take note as a company, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act requires you to eliminate and/or disable access to the infringing content upon receipt of this notice. In case you don’t cease the use of the previously mentioned copyrighted content a court action will likely be initiated against you.

    I do have a strong belief that utilization of the copyrighted materials described above as allegedly violating is not authorized by the legal copyright proprietor, its legal agent, or the law.

    I declare, under consequence of perjury, that the information in this notification is correct and hereby affirm that I am permitted to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive and legal right that is presumably violated.

    Best regards,
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    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Apologies – I thought I was covered by ‘fair use’. I have removed the image from the post at your request.

  23. Jim


    Your website or a website that your organization hosts is infringing on a copyright protected images owned by our company (xero Inc.).

    Check out this report with the URLs to our images you used at and our earlier publications to get the evidence of our copyrights.

    Download it now and check this out for yourself:

    I believe you’ve intentionally violated our legal rights under 17 USC Sec. 101 et seq. and could be liable for statutory damage as high as $150,000 as set-forth in Section 504(c)(2) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) therein.

    This message is official notification. I seek the elimination of the infringing materials referenced above. Please be aware as a company, the Dmca demands you to remove and/or disable access to the infringing materials upon receipt of this notification letter. If you do not cease the use of the previously mentioned copyrighted content a law suit will be commenced against you.

    I have a good belief that use of the copyrighted materials referenced above as presumably violating is not authorized by the legal copyright proprietor, its legal agent, or the laws.

    I swear, under consequence of perjury, that the information in this notification is accurate and hereby affirm that I am certified to act on behalf of the proprietor of an exclusive and legal right that is presumably infringed.

    Sincerely yours,
    Jim Lisko
    Legal Officer
    xero, Inc.


    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Apologies, I thought I was covered by ‘fair use’ but will remove the image on your request. Sarah P.

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