AC - contact with birth parents - how usual is this and any experiences?(11 Posts)
Hi. DH and I have been considering the possibility of adopting. We have looked at out LA information and one point stressed is that adoptive parents are often required to facilitate regular contact between the child and their birth parent. This really shocked me. Does it tie in with anyone else's experience of adoption? And why do it? Had always understood that adoption implies that the child's relationship with their BP has irrevocably broken down. That being the case, how can it be helpful for the child to maintain regular contact?
And does it not undermine the adoptive family unit?
Modern adoption practice is different from a generation ago, when adoption was seen as a fresh start and links to the family of origin discouraged. These days, there is a lot of emphasis on accepting and respecting that all children had a first family, and that they will manage the loss of that family (and the grief/trauma involved) if that happens.
That said, I am struggling to think of any adoptive families I know where there is regular direct contact with the birth families. But in most cases there is indirect contact - meaning that adoptive parents and birth parents exchange letters, usually once a year, through a social services intermediary. (In practice, birth parents often do not do this, for reasons we can all understand.) Quite often, there is contact with other relatives - siblings who have been adopted into other families, grandparents etc.
In my case, we were offered two opportunities to meet our dd's birth mother (sadly, she failed to show up on either occasion) and we write to the birth parents every year - a short letter, just updating them on our dd's progress. I kind of see this as the least we can do, given how much grief they have experienced in losing their child. We also have a short life story, illustrated with photos, that was given to us by the social worker. I have talked these through several times with my dd (who is 3) and she now sometimes asks to see 'my story'.
I think this level of contact is quite typical. The benefits, I hope, will be that my dd feels her first family is not a taboo subject within our family, that she will feel able to discuss with me how she came to be my daughter, that she will avoid either romanticising or demonising her birth parents, that she sees me respecting where she comes from and so doesn't feel her flesh and blood parents are a source of shame.
I should add that the big exception to what I have described as typical is where you have concurrent planning - i.e. where adopters first foster a child with a view to adopting in the longer term if the birth family cannot be reunited. They will have a period of time - perhaps a year - in which they will have to take the child for regular contact with the birth parents, sometimes several times a week, while the professionals assess if it is possible to return the child to their birth family.
The advantage of concurrent planning is that the child does not have to move through foster care to adoption, so allowing them to settle early with their forever family. The big drawback is that it is of course a huge challenge to care for and bond with a child while also supporting efforts to take them away from you - and it is very disruptive to normal family life to have to accommodate frequent contact with birth parents.
Agree with Devora
I wouldn't see it as a breakdown in relationship. Some (older) children are adopted who love their birth family members very much. Birth parents nearly always love their child and don't want them to be adopted. However they can't parent safely or appropriately, so adoption is necessary. In modern adoption, there is no concept of a child being a blank slate, but an importance placed on recognising that they have another (birth) family and that this family may be very important to them.
Typical contact is one or two letters a year, which may included photographs or may not. I've not heard of letters undermining the adoptive family at all. That's not been my experience anyway.
A smaller proportion of children may have direct contact. It's unusual but when it happens, it's normally again either once or twice a year.
Also, most agencies facilitate a one off meeting between adopters and birth parents before or soon after the child is placed. You can ask the birth parents questions and they can ask you some, and hopefully you can get a photo together to show your child. The idea is that you and the birth parents can see each other as real people not just words on a page, that you can have some questions answered and some reassurance and also so the child later can see that you met each other and it was all fine. You can tell your child a bit about their birth parents from the advantage point of having met them, rather than only read about them.
The aim is to keep the lines of communication open. The birth family, if they are able to engage in contact (that's quite a big if tbh), can let you know how they are getting on, and let you know of any new siblings, any significant family events etc. On your end, you let the birth parents know how their child is getting on...letters are quite general, you might write abour how child is doing in school, their likes and dislikes, personality traits etc. Then the child when old enough can be included, so (theoretically) they can be reassured their birth parents are doing okay, that they can get any questions they have answered etc
How it works in practice totally depends on the situation. Some adoptive families do very successful contact which is very helpful for the child, in other cases contact doesn't have a lot of benefit, in some cases contact just breaks down completely. It depends on the attitude of the adoptive parents, birth parents and the childs desires and needs.
I did no contact with my oldest at her own request (older child), and letters, photos and meetings (between me and birth mum) for my younger two. The letters were very good - appropriate and helpful, beneficial for the children. It helped my middle child especially with - being reassured her mum was okay, being able to ask questions and get answers, and because she loves her mum a lot and needed to have a way of talking to her.
Now, DD and mum have regular meetings as she is 17 and they are 'in reunion' as it were. Facebook as well, the whole shebang. This is unhelpful for her (IMO), and causes problems, but it is what it is, you just cope with it. It isn't what happens when a child is first adopted, it just might happen in teenage years/young adulthood in this 'facebook age'. Contacting is easy online.
ps. You can specify what kind of contact you are willing to consider, and this can vary between different birth family members.
For instance, you can specify that you do not wish to adopt a child who comes with direct contact twice a year, but you will adopt a child who has direct contact with their siblings up to twice a year. Or you can say that you are only willing to consider up to 2 letters a year with any birth family members.
1. Most children have a plan in place for 1 or 2 letters a year, so if you say 'no' to any kind of contact, you are quite seriously limiting the number of children you could be considered for
2. And also that some children begin expressing a desire for more contact as they get older, and obviously depending on the situation, you may find yourself trying to start or increase contact following adoption if your child wants that and it is safe and appropriate to do so.
3. Be honest - do not pretend you are willing to do a certain amount of contact if you aren't. Even if it means you have to say no to a child you would otherwise have adopted. If the level of contact is too high, they aren't a good match
4. When you adopt you sign a contact agreement, which is not binding in any sense except morally. And some parents therefore continue sending letters yearly even when birth parents never reply (a common situation) because they promised, and also so that when their child is older, the child knows that their adoptive parents made an effort and that it was their birth parents who did not contact them.
Sibling relationships are the ones where direct contact is more common, I know quite a few families who do visits with brothers and sisters (who are in foster care or have also been adopted) but not with any other birth family members.
I can't say that contact has been easy for me emotionally. Although they have stopped now, previously letters have been very helpful for my DD2 - but that doesn't mean they were easy for me to write.
So yes, contact can/does impact on you, even when it is not impacting, or even helping your child. It brings up lots of emotions - people feel everything from confusion, sadness, anger, frustration, hope, worry....even when contact is going really well and being very helpful, it brings up a lot of complicated emotions for everyone (how could it not, given what adoption means and the childs past?) and it can be tricky to navigate. But you have to be able to seperate what is your feelings, from what is the best thing for your child. If writing is in your childs best interests, you have to put away your own feelings and write anyway.
In addition to Lilka's great posts (mutual fan club) I would add that once the adoption is finalised YOU are the parent and YOU get to decide what is best for your child. If you feel contact is undermining the family, you can refuse to do it.
But I think you should go into the adoption process with an open mind and a preparedness to learn how contact can work in practice (as part of the preparation you will hear adoptive parents talking about it, as well as social workers). And, frankly, though Lilka is right that you shouldn't lie about what level of contact you are up for, I think the social workers will raise an eyebrow if you go into the process with a closed mind on the issue.
I think of myself as a well informed person, and didn't expect to actually learn anything new during the adoption process. I learned LOADS. Just keep asking questions, and listening, and thinking through what it all means for you and your dp - there's plenty of time to reach a view on contact.
My DD has direct contact with her BM twice a year. We fostered DD from birth before adopting her at 3 years old. As Devora said we were able to build a relationship of sorts with her birth family. It is rare for adopted children in general to have direct contact but much more common with those that have fostered first.
I take DD to meet her BM in a cafe. We have a cuppa and cake and catch up on her life. DD tends to spend most of the time playing in park outside the cafe. Her BM is not able to concentrate on DD she spends most of the time updating me on her very sad chaotic life, although while DD is in earshot I make sure the conversation is light and about her. It's useful for me to talk to her BM. She has recently made contact with two of her other children who were also adopted and are now adults. My DD is only 6 so the information I get is stored for the future.
DD understands that she has two mums and that the first couldn't look after her (severe learning difficulties). She has no bond with her first mum, she calls her by her first name. Her BM is not able to empathise or show anything like love to my DD. Although she is kind and always brings her a small gift.
There are no holes in her history. It works for us but only because I was able to get to know her BM very well over several years. Had I just read some details on paper I doubt I would have wanted direct contact.
We have no contact whatsoever with our DC's birth parents since letterbox contact broke down about 18 months ago. Whilst this makes our family life easier at present, there is always the thought in my head that one day the BPs may try to find the children, and that some kind of contact will prepare them for that.
Thanks so much everyone for all your replies. I really appreciate your time in doing so, and its really helped put the contact issue in perspective.