Tag Archives: Birth parents

National Adoption Week – An adopter’s view

We are grateful for this post from an adoptive parent, who calls for an end to the distorting rhetoric about adoption; without honest and open discussion of what is gained and lost through adoption, we risk losing focus on what should be the fundamental core of all our endeavours here –  the children and what they need.

During National Adoption Week, as a society, will we be able to finally have the conversation we urgently need? Or will rhetoric and political agendas continue to stifle that debate?

I have come to understand that adoption is more about loss than gain

Today is the start of National Adoption Week (NAW) when Adoption Agencies (on behalf of the Government) want and need to inform the public about how their country needs them. Not to go to war but to parent children and young people through adoption when nothing else will do

I am an adopter. I have a few problems with National Adoption Week. I probably shouldn’t because I can recall seeing some daytime tv 16yrs ago and thinking – `yep, that is what we need to do.’ Hubby and I would make good parents and if children need a forever family, that can and should be us.

Over the years that followed that day, I have come to understand that modern adoption is more about loss than gain. I hope you will understand why I think that by the end of this week.

I am a member of a peer support group for the parents of traumatised adopted children and young people. Trauma is a term we think best describes the losses our children have lived with. It describes their loss of birth family, identity, childhoods where they had rights to be kept safe, physically and psychologically.

A few weeks ago a few of us attended the first Family Law Class open to all . It was a good class. We were well aware that ‘our’ children’s birth families could be sat next to us and that was ok. It was ok because we know about their loss, their difficulties with communicating and dealing with professionals at an immensely difficult time in their lives. We know because a minority of experienced adopters go through the same experience with social services as many struggling birth parents. I will talk about that later this week.

Today I want to talk about what I feel is often unsaid during NAW, about birth parents, adopters and ‘our’ children.

The elephant in the room – what will happen if my child’s birth parents didn’t harm them after all?

Those professionals and interested adopters will know that the answer to the question is – probably nothing. The circumstances under which any Judge will reverse a decision involving an Adoption Order (certainly after some time has elapsed) are very rare.

But experienced adopters are well aware of the miscarriages of justice that have happened in the UK. I speak for many adopters who feel that these miscarriages of justice are a travesty. A child and maybe their siblings will have lost their birth parents, each other and everything they hold dear. They may be moved from pillar to post within the care system, being sent to live with strangers and one day, will have to learn that none of that should have happened. Such a loss can never really be put into words can it?

Adopters feel for birth parents where miscarriages of justice have happened. We have genuine empathy for them and hope that agencies (& if necessary the courts) do everything in their power to ensure that those children, birth parents and adoptive families are enabled to build a mutually rewarding relationship in the future. It can be done, I am sure of it. Society needs it to be so.

But what of those children and young people that were rightly removed from their birth parents?

People approved for adoption will have been told and will have read reports written by social services about the children’s life with birth parents. We will have been told that the children need a new `forever` family because birth parents are not able to safeguard them. The birth parents are deemed by all in authority to not be `good enough parents’.  This is my first problem with NAW.

NAW will have you, the person wanting to be a parent, believing that that is absolutely the case. It may well be, but I have been concerned for a number of years that it isn’t that simple.
Prospective adopters need to believe that for `our` children to have been placed for adoption, their birth families must not have been ‘good enough’ to do the job. Parents need to keep the children safe, not to abuse or neglect them, to put the children’s needs above their own. Parenting isn’t just about loving them. Social services are meant to prove that to be the case. Family law courts are supposed to ensure that that is the case before they agree to a placement order and thereafter an adoption order. Adopters need to believe that social services have also ruled out that other forms of permanence would not be in their child’s best interest too.

We will be led to believe that some birth parents should either never have direct contact (I prefer to say `have a relationship with`), or should absolutely have a relationship. We need to know that all the decisions made in relation to `our` children are made with the best of intentions.

We adopters need to know these things because contrary to some rhetoric, adopters do not want to steal children, we are not a market of middle class do gooders or people that need to have a child as a fashion accessory. We are not the reason that children need to be removed from the otherwise loving caring homes any more than the government have `targets` for removing children to support some black market.

We are just people who know we can give love, nurture and care to traumatised children and young people. We can and do put our children’s needs above our own.

My message throughout NAW is that children and young people must always be at the core of everything that is done in their name.

`OUR’ kids must always be the priority.

The impact on parents when their children are removed

This is a contribution from a mother who wishes to be anonymous.

What happens to the mother?

The first night I walked, literally just kept walking for hours. I wanted to die.

This is a personal story of instant removal of my children. It is a snapshot, with some details left out to protect the children’s identity. I wanted to write it mainly for other mothers to relate to, but also that professionals may increase their understanding of the effect of removal on a parent.


Initial impact

What you would expect, if you have ever seen a distraught mother wailing waiting to see if their child gets pulled out of the rubble of a collapsed building, it was the same level of emotion. The first night I walked, literally just kept walking for hours. I wanted to die.


When a baby grows within you , you develop a relationship with him or her before they are born. You talk to them, you touch them as a they wriggle around, you get to know them.

When my children were born I was blessed enough to have instant love for them alongside with the need to nurture. For me, it had to be give birth then feed, it was what came naturally. I could not take my eyes off the baby.

When my children were taken this need I had to nurture was disregarded, the bond between myself and my children was hacked through and I could not keep them safe. Apart from the devastation it actually appears so surreal that you can not think straight and get the necessary help, for instance I did not contact a solicitor. My sleep was disturbed, I either did not get to sleep or woke in the middle of the night. I had the most horrrendous nightmares mainly about the children being in danger and not being able to help. I struggled to eat or concentrate. Privately I cried ,screamed, swore. I walked around with my head down. Nobody in my local small community talked to me for months , so I was also isolated. I received no support in the first six weeks then I had a weekly, which soon went to fortnightly talking therapy from the NHS for three months.

I know this is a generalisation but men talk about their jobs and woman talk about their children. If I ever went on a course and had to do one of those dreadful ice breaking exercises I would say I was a mum first. When your children are taken your identity is stolen also. I have discussed this with mums who have been bereaved and it is the same experience, some people who knew that you had children will cross the road rather than speak to you, others will not mention it.

What is different, is that some people tried to be helpful and said that you may have a relationship when the children are adults. It is not helpful.

It is unnatural not to be able to care for your children if they are ill, I had an instance when one of my children needed hospital treatment, I struggled to get anyone to take them and eventually when they went I was proved right.

A mum has that sixth sense about their child. It is abnormal to be unable to wish your child a happy birthday or know their shoe size and to only see your children for an hour or two supervised by strangers.

Practically speaking I was left in a mess, I obviously lived in a family sized house, I had all the children’s belongings including pets and because like many I had a special needs child, due to lack of support (another article!) I did not have a full time job. So in the midst of care proceedings I had to weed out the children’s belongings and pack to move to a smaller property. It is also of course expensive to move. So stress on top of stress. As care proceedings were on going every slightest moment I put a foot wrong and quite of number of times I didn’t was recorded and used against me in court.

I believe each family effectively has a template for bringing up children. Good or bad you will bring something from your own childhood and you have your own ideas. I had a mum myself who had encouraged me to have interests, she attended school functions and encouraged me to broaden my mind. I carried that on with my children, I had been involved with the school, I encouraged interests,I tried to create memories for them with high days and holidays.

These values have been obliterated and a different template imposed on my children’s lives. It goes against every instinct.


Long Term

I think to some extent I have used denial as a tool. I cannot comprehend not living again with my children so I don’t face it as a possibility. I do not think about my children’s futures as it is too bleak. The childhood they are having will not prepare them for a functional adulthood. As a parent it is usual to want the very best for your child, not a backwards step. I am well aware that someone whose child has been adopted does not have this strategy to use.

I have rebuilt my life but it is very different, none of my new friends have children at home. I live a false life, I cannot do the normal motherly stuff like worry about whether they have done their homework or if they are being bullied, bake or even buy clothes for them. I have nothing to do with children and it has affected my employability as well as previously I worked with children.

Some days I feel old before my time, I’m sure this amount of stress will later on come out in physical illness . Most days I cope well, I am kind to myself on the bad days. I can not talk about my children except to those who know me well. Sometimes I think I have spotted my child on the street and there is an incredible sadness when I realise it is a child that looks like mine. I can no longer say I am a mum if I meet someone new, that major part of me has been taken.

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.


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.

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.

The impact of investigation and the need for professionalism

We know that if the professionals in the child protection system are told that a child is being hurt or at risk of being hurt, they have to act. And that can sometimes mean an intrusive investigation into the family and some difficult questions. 

Here we set out some of the words of parents who have been investigated and no concerns were found – and how they found the experience. 

We hope that all who work in this field can recognise the potentially enormous impact of their interventions and will appreciate the importance of remaining professional in all their interactions. 


One mother’s story

This mother had to deal with an investigation following something her son said at school. Nothing came of the investigation but she is still dealing with its aftermath and her shock at the attitude of some of the investigating professionals. 

There were no concerns about my son until an unqualified student with no experience of autism turned an informal chat into a ‘therapy session’ in which she questioned him as to why he ‘looked sad’. This led him to become anxious and confused. A referral was made on the basis of what he said during this session.

We were not informed that a referral had been made and my son was sent home and was in great distress when he tried to explain what had happened.

I think I was so shocked at what had happened to us because I had spent 10 years putting everything I had into the children, particularly my son (with SN and who we had adopted) and my daughter who had died of cancer.

I remember thinking ‘what more do they expect of me? What more do I have to do to prove that my children are the most important thing in the world, that I would do anything to keep them safe?’

The thing that had kept me going after my daughter was the knowledge that I had done everything I could for her and I had felt proud that we had fought for our son. That he had been handed to us out of the blue because a relative couldn’t care for him and I had dropped everything to take him as one of our own.

But none of that seemed to mean anything and ever since I feel I have lost my credentials as a good mother. I have never been a brilliant or perfect or complacent mother but I knew that I did my best.

And all that seemed to have been snatched from me. For no good reason. Through the unprofessional behaviour of others. To those professionals it was a routine thing that was done and dusted and nothing came of it.

Not to me.

I have done the initial complaint and the response was rubbish. I am still working up to the second one. It is one of the very few times I have wished I was rich. Just so I could pay a solicitor to deal with it (even though its not a strictly legal matter).

The arrogance is breathtaking. I quoted paragraphs from the area guidelines and their own policy and the person dealing with my complaint just ignored the things he couldn’t justify!

I know I have to get on with it but ….GAH…I hate it.


Another experience

I think it shakes your confidence in your ability to keep your child safe to be honest,  and your trust in the health profession as well. Once my son was referred on every professional acknowledged that I was a knowledgeable and experienced parent who handled ds sensitively and that helped a great deal.
Five years after my son’s diagnosis I had my daughter and she restored my confidence, I escaped the pnd and puerperal psychosis, my daughter was a model baby and when she was diagnosed with autism at two it was so smoothly done (No one would have dared doubted me by then).
The anger has gone, I look back and just feel sad now and grateful in a way that it was autism because had it been something life threatening I’m in no doubt that my concerns wouldn’t have been listened to or acted upon until it was too late.
I’ve done the tribunal and judicial review to get my son into independent specialist school so you have my sympathy but I learned from my complaint to keep meticulous notes and they helped enormously.


My son was my fourth child, I was never neurotic, I had never expressed any concerns about the others, never needed any support and the others thrived. Suddenly that all counted for nothing, they totally dismissed that I knew what the average child should be able to do and my son was nothing like average.
I even said I thought it was autism (because my son presented as classical autism and I was looking for reasons why) but that was seen as being proof it was MBP. The psychiatrist himself asked for referral for assessment for autism because it was so obvious and yet the GPs thought they knew better than the psychiatrist and the SALT.


Their arrogance astounds me to this day.
The HV was forced to retire soon after my complaint when a baby nearly died because of her advice but the GPs are still there and it’s an open secret in this area that if a child enters school with developmental difficulties that haven’t been noticed or addressed the child is at that practise so my complaint counted for nothing in the end.
Hang in there,  go through every complaints procedure, it’s bloody frustrating but I got a little pleasure knowing I was giving them extra work and they were shit scared up before the health authority which pleased me no end.

You may also be interested in our post  – what if the doctors don’t believe my child is really ill?

Words don’t come easy

This contribution is from a group of ‘birth’ and ‘adoptive’ parents who started discussing this issue on Twitter. What is the impact of the words we use to talk about people in the care and adoption process?

Do we need to be more considerate of or more challenging about the terms we use? 

You may also be interested in this blog post from an adoptive parent. 


Does the terminology associated with adoption need to be challenged?

The current adoption climate in the UK has seen the use of many terminologies being uttered that evoke negative emotions for all involved. Adoption in itself is very emotive for all involved especially where consent has been dispensed with.  So can the use of some of these terms be considered as  “hate speech”? Possibly, possibly not, but what is clear is that we need to remove the use of some of these terms as it builds an even greater divide between the “birth family” and the “adoptive family”.

Whichever side you find yourself on, it is the child at the end of the day that is most affected by whichever term is used.  Some can denote that the one family is either lesser or even better than the other family, leaving the child in the middle feeling they are being torn in two having to choose sides. This has a devastating and lasting effect on the child’s identity, self worth, emotions and psychology not to mention a test on their loyalty to the families involved.

So let’s look at some of the terms and the emotive relationships associated to them:

Birth Parent

Person who gave birth is nothing more than a ‘surrogate’ or ‘breeder’. Denotes derogatory connotations. If an adopter has a blood child and an adopted child, it segregates the two making the adopted child always feel isolated.

Genetic Parent

Person is nothing more than a donor of an egg or sperm

First / Second Family

Renders the essence of a family unit moot. Undermines the role of permanence and stability. Suggests families can be discarded summarily and breeds lack of respect.

Forever Family

This is considered one of the most offensive terms in adoption. There is not such thing as a ‘forever family’ as the whole process of adoption contradicts the entire term. It is also suggestive to children in families who have not been separated by adoption, that their place in the family is temporary which has devastating consequences in terms of building trust, relationship alienation etc.

Natural Parent

Who will carry this term (adopter or other?) and is being a parent a ‘natural’ thing so that assistance is never required at any point? Everyone needs help and guidance as children do not come with manuals and no two children are alike. Whoever coins their family as ‘natural’ will them imply that the other family is ‘unnatural’.”

Real Mother/Father

Adopters are made to feel they are artificial parents


The use of this term for adoptive parent dismisses the emotional and psychological link the ‘biological’ parent has and will always have, with a child who has been adopted.


Many adopters feel they should have the use of this term as opposed to the inclusion of the ‘birth’ family within the term, but is a ‘family’ simply all who love and care for the child and can simply be seen as a ‘cohesive family’ ?


Denotes that the child is ‘different’ and unloved by those who gave birth to them. In the UK, this term is becoming synonymous with having come from an abusive home, hence they were removed for adoption. Not all children are removed from abusive or neglectful homes and parents who did not love them. Many parents who have lost their child to adoption will go to extra-ordinary lengths to fight for their child’s return. Another obvious observation is that if ‘birth’ parent is used does that make this child a ‘birth’ child?


Not everyone can parent. This applies to ‘birth’ parents as well as ‘adoptive’ parents. So do we keep the term parent for both?


The  impact of terminology

The emotive responses can either have positive or negative connotations and more suitable terminology must begin to be accepted, especially amongst the legal fraternity and social care societies as it is from there that the initial steps can be introduced.  So what do we use? There is much debate around this very subject with no definitive conclusion.

Do we start referring to “birth” parents as the “Alpha” parent/family while “Beta” is used for extended families, “Gamma” for Step families and “Delta” for the adoptive family? Does this make one again lesser than the other or is it simply a matter of numeric’s. After all, without the “birth” family coming first, there would be no adoption?

Literature and research accepts that the majority of ‘adoptees’ will at some point seek out their ‘birth’ family. How reunions turn out often depends on how the child, adopter and ‘birth parent’ have associated each other’s role based on the terminology that each has grown accustomed to or been offended by.  If the reunion is a success, the adoptive family, especially the parent, will often feel sidelined and abandoned whilst the adoptee reconnects with the biological ties that will forever bind them to their ‘birth’ family.

We need to be realistic and frank if we are ever to get to the bottom of all this, despite everyone’s sensitivities. Adoption is nothing more than giving a child which is not your own, a potentially safe environment to grow up in, but how is this different to growing up with grandparents or extended families? Would you raise an eyebrow if a child referred to their  grandparents as ‘my adoptive mom’? So is the use of Adopter still appropriate and should this term perhaps be replace with “Guardian”?

As adoption can be cross-cultural, do we also need to consider religion and culture in the terminology as translations can change an entire meaning? Or do we stick with the English speaking populous and leave the rest to be interpreted as each culture and religion sees fit?

Will changing the terminology go a long way to building a more constructive framework and solid foundation for the child involved and even possibly lead towards successful open adoptions?

What if we used similar words with similar meanings but either spelt or pronounced differently?

We call two grandmothers in a family different things so that we can distinguish them e.g. grandma, nan etc.., and one is not loved more or less than the other.  The same can be done for mothers for example, so that the child knows the difference but the terminology would be different for every family.

Some possible suggestions are:

Female Carers: Mom, mommy, mother, mama, mammy, mum, ma, mummy, etc.

Male Carers: Dad, Father, Pops, pappy, daddy, papa, pa, etc.

It has to be argued that this has to be the better option for all involved but more so, for the child. If you accept that, then why not go the extra step when referring to ‘Birth’ and ‘Adoptive’ parents both  as ‘Parents’? Similarly, both sides can be referred to as ‘Families’ because that is pure and simply what they are and will always be to the child.

Removing the adjectives and verbs will improve long term outcomes for the child and that dear reader, has to be what is in every child’s best interest.


Lawyers need to see it through the parents’ eyes

This is a guest post from Jacque Courtnage founder of the TaKen UK website. She has the perspective of not only being a parent who went through the system but she is also a lay advisor to other parents in family proceedings. 

Here she describes some of the frustrations and difficulties she has encountered concerning the parent/lawyer relationship. We agree that it is important for professionals to always be aware of how confusing proceedings can seem to their lay clients and just how anxious and afraid their clients can be. 


The importance of clear explanations

One of the problems we are finding is that some of the legal aid solicitors appear to only be going through the motions and tend to forget they are dealing with people who do not know their rights, the legal system or the practices and expectations of social care. I have taken on cases where some of the basics of the legal process is little, if not at all understood. From many of those whom I have assisted, they have often come back saying to me “why did my lawyer not tell me that” or “if only someone had explained that to me”.  Whilst an explanation of lack of time, high case loads and resources can often be blamed, an excuse already used by social care, it is but yet just another nail in the coffin of the family facing forced permanent separation.

Some of the lawyers I have spoken to about this have admitted they tend to forget they are dealing with laymen not to mention most of these families are traumatised and can barely see the wood for the trees.

So how do you fix this? I do not know, but what I can say is the role I often fulfil in these cases, is acting as an intermediate between client and solicitor. Whilst this is unique and I do not know how many do what I do, it works and alleviates the solicitor having to deal with incessant queries. To make the relationship work, there has to be a good understanding and working relationship between myself and the solicitor. We each know each other’s boundaries and we keep each other in check whilst the client benefits knowing that all areas are covered and their best interests are always put first. Whether this can be allowed as an extension of the role of a Mackenzie Friend is something only the relevant law firm and courts can consider.


The benefits of working with a lay advisor

There are many benefits in pursuing this course of action. Just some pluses is that not only does the MF learn more about the system the correct way to help those who cannot afford representation, but the solicitor gets a different set of eyes as well as the benefit of having someone help weed out the irrelevant and highlight pertinent stuff that may otherwise be missed or dismissed by the carer.

Whilst many solicitors will cringe at the very thought of the aforementioned suggestion, it must be remembered that whilst solicitors have long fought for individuals in court, the majority will never have had the experience of being the subject to care proceedings and all that that entails, whilst many MF on the other hand have and can be considered experts in their own rights.  Please do not mistake this for plugging MF’s but would it not be beneficial to gain access to ALL experts in the field to help your client case? I am by no means challenging the role of solicitors, what I am challenging is the very real perception of an invisible insurmountable wall between client and their family law solicitors.

Simple things like, open communication, access to information or at least be informed that there is information and support out there and where to find it.

The biggest of them all is building a trusting relationship with their client because let’s face it, whilst many consider this as just their job and yet another case, for the client it is their worst nightmare come true and they are terrified.


Access to counselling

All I can further add is that it would be very helpful to families who are the subjects of care proceedings to ensure they have access to counselling as PTSD is very seldom considered, if at all. All we are asking from solicitors is for just a few minutes to consider what they would want if they found themselves in unfamiliar surrounding fighting for their and their families lives and then use that list to help their clients.





Recording interactions between social worker and parents

Is this becoming the norm? And if so, what are the consequences?

What is the impact of this practice on the working relationship between parents and social workers? Is this a good thing or do you find it concerning?

You may also be interested in this blog post by suesspiciousminds on the subject.


Section 36 Data Protection Act

The Data Protection Act makes it clear that individuals do not need the consent of professionals to record meetings/visits, as the information being discussed in that situation is personal to them and therefore exempt from the data protection principles. There may be problems if the meeting is going to deal with issues relating to a third party.


Update – Louise Tickle writes in the Guardian on 17th June 2015.

Louise Tickle, who attended the Child Protection Conference on 1st June, organised by the Transparency Project, was interested to hear comments from the parents about recording their meetings with social workers. This prompted comments from the lawyers present that they could see no objections to this practice. You can read her article here.


Recording and more specifically covertly recording

This is a guest post by Jacque Courtnage who runs the TaKen UK website which campaigns against the wrongful removal of children by the State. She has experience of the system both as a parent and a lay advisor to other parents in the family court.  Here are her views about what appears to be the growing practice of parents recording their interactions with social workers.

is becoming the norm and in some cases is being accepted as evidence by the courts. This is matter that does need further consideration and exploration by more of the courts.

I say this for a number of reasons as I have been present on many occasions where professionals, and in particular – social workers, have relayed pertinent information to the parents/carers and have then denied all knowledge of having said these things whilst giving evidence. I refer to conversations where either social workers have given the carers reassurance that no action will be taken or they have no concerns, and then when their witness statement has been produced, the complete opposite is stated. Because many of these parents all come before the courts disadvantaged, they are considered to be lying.

On the opposite side, we have also had social workers being aggressive and intimidating to carers and indeed some of the children involved, and when complaints are lodged, the parent is considered to only be doing so for vindictive reasons. Again the same with telephone calls. A lot of misinformation is being populated to parents by some social workers to ensure they either miss contacts or behave in certain ways that can then later be used against the parents in court.

I have attended many meetings as a mediator where communications have broken down between parents and LA. I have challenged where things were stated as fact but the professional would not go on record with their statement. I have challenged some of these individuals when they were giving evidence and their uncanny manner to feign amnesia is laughable. Had some of these things been recorded, many cases would perhaps be less detrimental to families involved.

Having said all of that, many parents also do lie. If recordings became the accepted norm, it would ensure there is no miscommunication or fabrication of events and that everyone involved will be forced to take responsibility for their actions and accountability will be able to become part of the transparency needed. If the individuals have nothing to hide and are behaving in a manner they would consider to be lawful, then there should not be any problem. The UK is full of CCTV that records everyone’s movements without the public going on a full riot, so why can this not then be rolled out to include public law areas?

Simply put, it protects everyone from unsavoury behaviour and starts to help making the system work the way it was meant to. There is just too much suppositions, speculations and individual personal perspectives involved in family law. Taking this to the next level, recordings will also help diffuse a problem as emotions are always heightened at times of intervention, and much is either misunderstood or misinterpreted. The recordings will allow for the individual who is aggrieved at the time, the opportunity to review the recording and see if they had perhaps initially overreacted.

The other matter is the recording of hearings and judgments. Whilst there must be legislation as to the use and availability of the recordings, the issue of getting transcripts is a rather problematic.  Despite Munby’s PD on judgment transcripts, these are still not being produced many weeks and months later. Many families involved in care cases do not have the finances to afford the exorbitant costs of transcribing 3 to 5 days Fact Finding hearings let alone a judgment. Recordings of hearings can be used to help progress cases for the Court of Appeal or indeed when they carer acts as as litigant in person because they do not qualify for funding.


A view from a family barrister

For discussions about the pros and cons of recording interactions from the family bar, please see this useful post on Pink Tape.  There are serious concerns about recording children and a warning that this can often back fire on the person responsible for the recording, particularly if the child is distressed. But with regard to recording interactions between parents and professionals, this has the potential to be helpful:

There are lots of reasons why a parent’s understanding, experience or perspective of a meeting might be very different from the professional – they may well not be a “reliable” historian in any forensic sense simply by virtue of the fact that emotions are high and the stakes are high also. But the truth of the matter is that sometimes social workers are also less than reliable – sometimes even untruthful.

I know that many parents would suggest that social workers are routinely and regularly untruthful, such is their desire to meet their targets to have children removed and secure their adoption bonus. Leaving that aside for one minute (I don’t think that is really what happens) I have met plenty of social workers who are just not great with detail, who don’t recognise their own emotional involvement and how it alters their own perspective and responses to a situation, and who are see, record and retell the history in an overly negative light. I have met social workers who seem to be prepared to gloss over the specifics of a particular conversation for the “greater good”, which is to secure the outcome that they genuinely think is best for the child.

I have sometimes suspected dishonesty on the part of a social worker but have rarely proved it. There are cases in which social workers have been caught out lying, but they are infrequent. Here is a notorious example of a case where the honesty of a social worker became a really big issue : Bath & North East Somerset Council v A Mother & Ors [2008] EWHC B10 (Fam) (22 December 2008). Here is one recent example of where a recording was crucial : Man Wins Compensation After Recording Saves Him From Prison.

The view from CAFCASS

See para 2.27 from the Cafcass Operating Framework

We should have nothing to fear from covert recording. Our attitude should be, “I am doing my job and I have nothing to hide. I can explain why I said what I said or why I did what I did”. This is within the spirit of transparency in the family courts. We should always be transparent in our work, to meet contemporary expectations, including being able to defend whatever we say or write in a court under cross-examination, because we are working to a professional standard on behalf of a child. In this sense, we should expect that everything we say or write could become public knowledge

Some service users ask in advance of an interview whether it can be recorded. Advice on handling advance requests from service users to record interviews is available on the Cafcass Legal intranet page. In cases where no advance request has been made and the practitioner subsequently becomes aware that they have been recorded without their knowledge, they should tell the court. In some cases, however, the practitioner may not become aware of the recording until the service user presents the recording, or a transcript of it, at court. In such situations, the practitioner should make clear to the court that the recording was made without their knowledge. The practitioner may ask for the opportunity to listen to the recording or read the transcript before it is admitted into evidence, if the court is minded to take this step. It is a matter for the court to decide whether the recording or transcript can be included in evidence.

Helping a Family Member through Care Proceedings

One of our contributors shares her story of how she became involved with Children’s Services as a support to her brother

The sister’s story

My brother became a father when both he and his girlfriend were teenagers. Due to this they both stayed living in their parent’s homes (where I also lived). Not long after their child was born their relationship disintegrated, in part due to domestic violence towards my brother. At this point the child was living between both homes 50/50.


After they split my brother sought legal advice and was informed that as he had no proof of the living arrangements (child benefit had always been paid to the mother) or the violence it was inadvisable to pursue legal proceedings which would likely mean no contact until the case was resolved and then every other weekend and one overnight per week. At this point my brother thought it best to continue with the arrangements in place.


After 18 months or so things became more complicated, my brother was having contact more and more frequently and when the child was supposedly in his mother’s care he was staying with various family members and being taken out of bed at 11 or 12 at night to go and stay with the mother’s partner. We all noticed serious changes in his behavior, running away whenever the phone went, screaming and defecating  whenever  a member of the maternal family arrived and generally appearing withdrawn and worried whenever he knew he would soon be returning to his mother’s care.


At this point my brother and myself seriously considered contacting social services but were worried about contact being withheld (as had periodically happened before) and felt that as he was spending so much time with us it was better to bide our time. The maternal family also shared many concerns with us and one day his maternal grandmother turned up and asked my brother if he would look after the child full time if she could persuade her daughter it was for the best. My brother readily agreed and 3 days later his mother turned up, said she was too busy with her partner and his children and asked if my brother could have him full time and she would see him at weekends.  He again sought legal advice and was told that he was best to leave things as are for now unless he could persuade her to sign over the child benefit.


For a year this continued and he grew in so many ways, was relaxed happy and settled. The weekend visits reduced and his usually saw his grandparents instead. During this time his mother had moved out and had a social housing property. Financially things were difficult; my mum is disabled and can’t work, my brother was prevented from working as a full-time parent but only receives JSA, which left me in a situation where I stayed in the family home much older than I perhaps would have liked in order to support the family. Ultimately though, we were happy.


However, his mother split up with her partner and one day just decided not to return him after contact and told my brother she never planned to let him see his child again. At this point he became angry and said that he would break her door down if that’s what it took. She then reported him to the police and he received a caution for threatening behavior. He again sought legal advice and went to court where her and her family disputed that she had always been the main carer. A joint residency order was made with her having the majority of time.


She then resumed her relationship with her partner. Around 3 months after the court date my brother received a letter out of the blue inviting him to a child protection review meeting. He was shocked and worried. When he managed to make contact with Social Services he learnt that his ex and her partner had had a domestic dispute with her child present which resulted in the police being called. It also came to light that she had downplayed the incident and that her partner had had several children removed from his care due to domestic violence towards other partners.


Since then both my brother and us as a family have worked closely with Social Services and have been able to show them proof of the child living with us and she has seen through working with the child how much he’s been affected by what’s gone on. They placed him on the Child Protection list due to emotional harm as well as risk from domestic violence. As time has gone on his mother has been told that he is to have no contact with the partner and that she is expected to end her relationship. This has not happened and more has come to light that she is bullying and coercing the child into telling the Social Worker certain things. The police have also been called several times due to violent incidents. We have all been so relieved that they have been able to see through the lies and listened to both us and most importantly the child.


We have recently reached the stage where we have had a pre-proceedings meeting. We are often aware that things are going on in the background that we don’t find out about until much later but we have found our Social Worker to be wonderful at listening and seeing the bigger picture. We haven’t always been perfect and she has brought to our attention things that we could do better for the child. What’s always been good is that we feel as if we’re working together to make life the best it can be for the child. Although as of yet there’s no resolution and there is naturally a part of you that always worries about the outcome I am confident that there are people with the ability to change things involved in safeguarding the child and ultimately making sure that he suffers as little damage as possible.


My advice to anyone involved with Social Services is to LISTEN to what they’re saying, they are not just out to get you, if they are saying it they’re saying it for a reason. And ENGAGE with them, more than anything I think they really appreciate if they see you working for the child’s benefit.

Blogs from Birth Parents

We are very grateful to the birth parents who have agreed to share their stories with us. We hope that their insights and experiences will be valuable for everyone who works in or alongside the system.

Here you will find a blog from a birth parent who was not able to keep her child.

She agreed to share with us some of her experiences of losing her child.

I am 32, and my birth daughter, who is now 7, was adopted a year ago. She was taken into care after 3 reported incidences of being drunk in charge of a child. I got her home 6 months later, but then it happened again. She never spent another night in my care, or even another hour unsupervised in my company. I continued with drinking binges after she was removed, until I conceded defeat and that I couldn’t get well for her, that Social Services should do as they were planning, which was that for her own best interests she should be placed with adoptive parents. Each of the initial incidences was reported to Social Services by my family members.

I am an alcoholic. I never signed up for alcoholism, in my life as a single parent with a successful professional career. Alcoholism is no respecter of gender, ethnicity, social class, education level or religion. It affects the way that you think. You think it won’t be that bad. This time I’ll be able to stop. It’ll never really happen to me. I’m in control, I’m not that bad, I can still take care of my child, no-one will find out. Lies, all lies, to justify that the drink is ok, and pretend that it hasn’t taken that primary place in my life above my girl, my career, my health, my finances, my God, and my self respect. I couldn’t even stop for my beautiful, creative, loving, and very special daughter. It is a madness of the mind, the emotions, the body and most importantly the soul. This is what proves incontrovertibly to me that I had become powerless to stop in my own strength.

This is the worst grief I have ever experienced. I was 9 months sober by the time she was placed. I never stopped loving her, and I have never stopped missing her, and longing that things could have been different, that my recovery could have started sooner, that I could have been the best person for her to be with. I have had to admit that, for her own best interests, it was better for her to be adopted and settled with loving and secure parents, than remain in the care system in the hope that I got well. Except that then, I did get well, and have faced losing her, in sobriety.

If I want peace, for and within myself, I must learn to live with the inconsistencies of Social Services. I know many women who are alcoholics who have done what I did who still have their children, either because Social Services never found out, or because they decided that despite the problems the children were still better off with their parents than removed from them. When I am crying “it’s not fair” I am trying to wriggle out from what I have done – and what I have done is extremely wrong and damaging to a young child who was powerless to escape from it. Children cannot and should not have to wait until their parents get well. This is the spirit of the law in this area of child protection and it is true and it was true for my daughter. However I do want to also highlight that she never missed school, was always fed and clean and bathed and we read stories, we spent endless hours making things, and there had been no other concerns at any times, Social Services could find no emotional or psychological problems, apart from the normal distress caused by separation from her mother. There is an assumption that children who are removed are unclean, unfed, absent from school, and there are concerns from all who encounter them. Not always.

And I must grieve in silence and in private. The world does not want to hear of my grief, the primal wound that results from a mother forcibly separated from her child, because it is an unpleasant story, and I am the villain in it. And yet I must grieve. In the midst of all this, I am hurting and I have relinquished the way I had learned to cope with pain, in substances. I miss her and I love her and this hurts every part of me and some days I feel like it will consume me. I cry out to God that I am hurting and that I am grieving in the midst of terrible guilt and shame and I can’t sort all this mess out. This isn’t clean grief – having lost my mum almost 3 years ago, I know that grief too – but that is right, in the natural order of things, because children at some stage should lose their parents. My mum was young, but still, it is a clean and acceptable grief. For my daughter these feelings are complicated. I love my little girl, and I miss her with a pain that is physical, in the way it eats me up, she is lost and she is gone. I am joining one of society’s most unwanted and disliked groups, but giving this process a voice, to bring my shame and grief and hurt out of the dark where it cannot resolve, into the light might help someone else, perhaps who is facing this threat. And as I continue to cry out in pain, in prayer, for my daughter, that she will grow up loved, and if at all possible secure, and healed.