Tag Archives: contact

A Birth Mum has not Received Letterbox Contact – A Problem Shared

Today we share with you an email we have received from a birth mum.  

“To whom it may concern… my children have been adopted and I don’t know how to get the ball rolling about getting my letters and photos which I was promised years ago and I would appreciate any advice on this matter.”

A Problem SharedI wonder if there are any professionals out there who may be able to advise this mum or anyone who has been through a similar experiences. Maybe an adopter can shed some light on how difficult this contact is to maintain or how valuable it has been for your family. We understand that the subject of any kind of contact in adoption can be a very sensitive subject for most, so we just ask that people are respectful of all parties when they reply.


Adoptee reflections

We have a second guest post today, this one an anonymous reflection on contact…

‘I’ve got three dads and two mums’ I hear my self saying this at work quite a lot. I use it to try and help children understand variety in family life and help feel more secure about their situation. I work in a supervised contact centre supporting children to rebuild safe relationships with parents and I have a growing number of cases where the courts have ordered direct contact to take place for children (typically ages 4-11) with a parent they have either never met or have no memory of.

Despite the legal context being different, (parents have not legally lost their parental rights) I see many similarities with the dilemmas facing contact and reunions for both adopted children and adoptive parents. For the children, it’s about having the freedom to make choices free of guilt and worry. Rebuilding relationships is a dynamic process and children experience a wide range of emotions they often don’t understand. Parents on both sides are expected to be able to manage this in the best interest of the child, yet so often their past experiences, own inability to trust, lack of support, plus fear of the future, cloud this process. We are only human after all. Emotional beings. We process everything sensory and emotionally first, before processing it rationally. It is a fine skill to be emotionally intelligent, something most people have to work at, not a given.  In my eyes we now expect people to have superhuman emotional resilience and manage these complex interactions as if second nature. What a wonderful world that would be.

Adoption in 2015, is a different animal to when I was adopted, and the question of open adoption is a curious one and something I reflect on regularly. Especially when working with thecontact letters cases described above. I was once asked by my social worker, if I had the option of letterbox contact as I was growing up do I think this would I have engaged with it? My instant reaction was ‘No, no way’ I would have found it confusing as a child, I wanted to know I had the security of my family and not have to worry the feelings of my birth parents. What happened if when I grew up, I could just run off to them when times were hard at home? (of which there were many). Now given my understanding of the effects of my adoption, I ponder if I would have. Maybe it would have helped the whole of my very large complex family let go of so many of the harmful feelings that hurt us all.

After all there were no safeguarding issues, I wasn’t taken away under a care order, I was relinquished (although my birth mother would dispute the use of this word) at birth. I later found out upon meeting her that she never even held me, her sister did before I was put in an incubator until being adopted at 6 days old. My dad said when they came to collect me I was in the middle of a big room all on my own, because all the other babies were out on the maternity ward with their families. An image that has clearly stuck with him and sticks with me.

I am only now fully realising the rippling effects of my adoption.

Despite having gone on to be a fiercely independent adult completing a BA hons & MA, travelling extensively and forming some incredible relationships, I struggle inside. I don’t see myself the way others do. I don’t have a strong sense of self, that got lost as I hit my teenage years. My adoptive parents divorced when I was 12. The conflict, tension and silence was not conducive to a healthy mind. I averaged my way through school, below 70% attendance to avoid my bullying friends, who picked up on the fact that I was indeed different.

My self-esteem can at times be crippling low, my fundamental belief being ‘I am not good enough’. It is exhausting at times, especially now I have a responsible, professional job. I see failure at every corner and blame myself so much, that if it were true I would be a god.

As for my birth parents, I made contact at age 22, they had married a year or so after having me, when they were pregnant with their second child. I have four full siblings. The consequence of my adoption for my birth family I cannot fairly describe. Our reunion has been, to date, protracted. 8 years of indirect and direct contact. Two of my siblings still do not know about me, two do, but I still have not had any form of contact with them. My understanding, openness and forgiveness (only I loth to use that term as I do not feel my birth parents need forgiving. In my eyes they were a victim of circumstance as my maternal grandfather was responsible for the adoption) cannot overcome the damage that shame, guilt and helplessness has created. Our relationship is currently on hold.

Would letterbox or possible contact as I grew up have made a difference to this, would it have opened up a dialog to share what had happened to all of us? Would my birth parents been able to forgive themselves? Would it have helped me understand my identity, given me stronger foundations and would we all be more resilient?

As for how my adoptive parents would have managed this I don’t know. My mother said she supported me to find my birth parents, up until I found them. When I sent her a photograph of them, she ripped it up. When I met them, she asked me to stop. I don’t agree with the way she has acted, but I also don’t blame her. The reaction she had is the same I see in so many of the parents I work with in the contact centre.  Having children fulfils an emotional need, to detach the child’s needs from your own is not an easy feat for everyone. Not when their past or culture pollutes this. All I could offer my mother was the reassurance that my need to contact my birth parents wasn’t about a rejection of her. It wasn’t enough.

When I was adopted I don’t think there was any pre adoption training, certainly no post adoption support. Information on attachment theory, let alone adult attachment theory would have been scarce. I doubt it came into assessment. Life story work was not around, nothing to help my parents or me think about how the past effects the future.

I simply don’t talk about it with my mother anymore, it’s too painful. I can’t bear to hear the anger. Another closed door.

My dad is different, he’s supported me throughout, but again, it’s a rarely spoken about topic these days. I think he’s frustrated and upset with how the reunion has turned out. He and many others say their loss. I don’t feel that way, I think OUR loss, all of us. Nobody is a winner in this.

My social worker now wants to research the topic of letterbox and opening adoption and I said I’d contribute. I think 8 years on, considering all of my experiences so far, I have to conclude that something would have been better than nothing. None of us have dealt with it. We all hold it as best we can, unhealthy in the majority of our cases. Despite my pressing for openness, it appears that it’s too late 30 years on.

I now work hard at trying to support parents so they can help their children have the opportunity to learn about their histories, to develop relationships, to learn openness and to learn how to talk about and manage emotions. I have learnt that those are the things that are important, it’s challenging and very messy, but the alternative I think is even messier. The effects hit you years later and it’s far harder to work backwards.

Weekly Adoption Shout Out #WASO Week 126

Well what a week it’s been here on The Adoption Social.waso126

We’ve held our second Adoption Sore Points week to talk about #contact – letterbox, direct contact, with siblings, with foster carers, with birth families, positive and negative. We’ve brought you a whole host of guest blog posts from different people, we’ve brought you a twitter chat, and alongside today’s WASO, we’ve brought you a resources post too. We’ve been really pleased to see lots of talk on Twitter about your opinions, views and experiences, and hope that you’ve found it interesting, useful and informative too.

Today it’s time for the Weekly Adoption Shout Out, and in keeping with the rest of the week, our theme is of course #contact. So whatever you have to say about contact, please link your blog up. But if you’ve got something else to link up, that’s OK too.

Please, as usual, share your favourites, comment on those that you read, and let the blogger know that you found them through #WASO.

Resource information on contact

We have collated a resource list, which may be helpful in relation to contact. Whilst we believe the content to be of use, we suggest that individuals carry out their own research to ensure it will be of use to them. Websites, Web Pages and Helplines Guidance on writing letterbox – a guide published on The Adoption Social. Here’s an example of a successful contact letter that you might find helpful. And in contrast, an example of a contact letter that was rejected by the Letterbox Social Worker. An interesting post on the pros and cons of post adoption contact from The Child Protection Resource website. The Adoption Contact Register – you can add yourself to the government register here to help you make contact, or note that you don’t want to be contacted. Contact – a list of relevant articles on Be My Parent. Direct and indirect contact – an explanation of contact on Be My Parent. Types of contact – an overview and more information from Adoption UK. Writing Your Letterbox Letter – Cumbria County Council have advice for adoptive parents. Adoption UK Helpline 0844 848 7900 All agencies should have information about their letterbox agreements available. Many are published online, so you could try searching online for your local authority/voluntary agency agreement. Books and Television Programmes Facilitating Meaningful Contact in Adoption and Fostering – this is a review of a book available from Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Supporting Direct Contact After Adoption – a book available from BAAF.

For Peer Support

The Open Nest – forward thinking adoption support charity. The Potato Group – parents of traumatised adopted teens organisation

Direct contact between siblings

Today we are bringing you a positive post from adoptive mum Dorothy on direct contact between siblings and their adoptive families…

In June 2009 I was sat on our front lawn, watching our 3 year old daughter in her new paddling pool, relaxing in the sunshine and chatting to her social worker. P had been with us since January and we were just waiting for the final court date to make things official. Everything was right with the world. Then the Social worker dropped the oddest of bombshells. Hearing that P’s birth mother was pregnant was not something we had contemplated so soon after placement. To be honest I was stunned and didn’t know how to react…. it’s not a feeling that is easily described – in fact it’s a whole bunch of mixed emotions.

We were due to meet birth mum and her parents in a few weeks so the powers that be decided that we had better be told before seeing her so we could prepare ourselves. Meeting birth parents takes some preparation in itself so why not add a pregnancy into the mix!

The baby was due in November and SW’s were conducting assessments to see what would happen when the time came. We had all the reports stating that BM should never be allowed to parent another child….. but we all know that new baby means new assessments….. Our first concern was that yet another child would suffer as our daughter had….

Learning that your child is to have a new sibling is very confusing – She already had around 6 others, ranging from 15-3… in fact birth dad (now married to a new partner)  had two other children born to different women,  within 2 months of P. Somehow a new baby brought different feelings than those I felt for existing siblings – maybe because of the potential risk to the baby? Maybe because previous siblings were born before we even knew about P?

Fast forward to November….. our adoption had been finalised in the September, things were slowly starting to feel normal and we were getting into the pattern that our lives would form now we had a bubbly 4 year old. I had been trying to get in contact with the SW team for a few weeks to find out what was happening with the baby….. We were pretty sure that our circumstances meant that we wouldn’t be able to cope with another child – P was still in the process of being diagnosed with what would turn out to be a rare medical condition and our financial situation was the same as anyone with a new child – stumbling but pretty flat.

In the December the phone finally brought the news we had been waiting for…. Baby L had been born in the middle of November. He was a healthy weight (unlike P)…… I had to drag any more information from the SW who was very haughty and official…. speaking to me as if I was an unruly birth parent or a small badly behaved child – the baby had stayed in hospital with BM for 4 days and had been discharged into local authority care. We were very relieved…. and sad…. and confused and happy and emotional.

Within the blink of an eye a year had passed – every attempt we made to find out more was met with a brick wall. One day a SW rang and asked – ‘how are you fixed for another one if things don’t work out with BM? ‘ Blunter than I was expecting at a school day tea time with P stood in front of me….. I explained that we weren’t in the position to have another child but that we would like to be kept informed.

When we eventually told P about L she was overjoyed. Her first questions were – did BM feed him? Is he small like me, is he healthy, happy, alone? At 5 years old P had managed to sum up our feelings in one long scrambled sentence.

It became clear that L wasn’t going to be going back to BM – she had several mother and baby placements, never managing more than 4 days at a time…… but still the SW tried, still they allowed him to be ferried back and forth between foster carer, Children’s Centres, units and BM.

L was adopted just before his second birthday.  His family are French, but live in London, they have two older boys aged 9 and 11. L is as loved and cherished as P. We found this out by raising a level 2 complaint against the placing authority. His SW eventually said that she would consider allowing us letterbox with his new family but would have to have a meeting about it. In October 2012 a month before L’s 3rd birthday we received an email stating that direct contact had been decided and that we should meet twice a year and arrange it ourselves (!) Decided! It was ordered that we should contact each other to arrange this and that they would not need to be involved….. I was furious that SW were still making decisions that affected our lives and pronouncing their judgements  about children that were legally ours.

As it happens, L’s family had been fighting to be allowed to contact us too. They, like us, believed that contact with the siblings was very important for their future mental health. They were interested in their child’s sibling – adoption had cut us all off from the other siblings in their lives but adoption could also ensure that now our children could safely get to know each other. P and L share the same birth mother but L’s birth father is unknown. They share one other sibling, an older boy – 16 now, who still lives with BM (with SW involvement).

Emails flew thick and fast between L’s parents and us….. We share the same beliefs on contact – that given the right circumstances, it can only be a positive thing for our children. Dominique, L’s mum says that contact gives them back a sense of roots and history that adoption can take away.

We met in 2013 in P and L’s birth City. The meeting was probably more emotional for us parents than the children – all four children flowed into a natural and loving relationship within 30 seconds of meeting. P calls the boys her nearly brothers and from the start felt a connection with all the boys, not just L. The adults watched on in wonder as the children played together. Adoption meant nothing at that moment. Family meant everything…. and that’s what contact has brought us – a new French branch of our family tree. We have met at least twice a year since that first meeting and exchange endless emails and phone calls. It is not for SW to decide what is best for our children, it is for us, their parents.

P and L look very much alike-  I understand how special  it is that that they have can see this, that they grow knowing that there is someone in their family with whom they share a resemblance and can see as often as they can. Last month they were sat on P’s bed together, lounging around and L turned and stroked P’s face, touching her nose and her hair and said – ‘you look like me’. Dominique and I held each other’s gaze and silently wept.

There is an acknowledged sadness between Dominique and I. We are mothers who share our children. P slots as easily into L’s family as he slots into ours. We are overwhelmingly grateful for our children and for each other. I have found a friend who understands feelings that neither of us need to explain. It is a powerful bond we share.

L and his family have now moved back to France. Distance has made spontaneity a little more difficult but has widened our horizons. Plans are afoot for a Christmas meeting in France and a summer holiday here in England. Emails and photos whizz around the internet and Skype calls are being scheduled. Discussions about family at school are complicated – but more so for the teacher than P and L. Our children are happy. Our family is bigger.

We are lucky; we have found people who hold the same beliefs as us, found out that a little bit of our hearts are now French.  P&L contact guest post

Feelings on contact

We’re always pleased to have opinions and guest posts from a wide variety of people. Today’s post is from Suzanne, whose grandchild was removed and placed for adoption…

I personally think it (contact) should be facilitated. Adoptive families and birth families, if parents are not suitable then other relatives. In a mutually agreed venue, preferably not too public, but DEFINATELY not local authority. If only the once. But more often if agreeable. After all we are talking about a child’s identity. Letterbox is sterile and not a trustworthy form of contact if the birth parents have had a bad time with Social Services.
With only a letter it could just as easily be fabricated. While I have heard stories for and against this idea, the ‘for’ camp wins as far as I cannot trust what I am told by anything Local Authority.

Our son, his brother, sister and us wanted contact initially with the adoptive mother, perhaps IMG_1014over the years starting with our son; the father so that she could build up a relationship and as she felt more sure of us to include ‘the daughter/grand daughter/ niece later as she grew older. So she could come to know us as an introduction for the future. To see we are not the monsters we are sure the adoptive mother at least has been told. We have absolutely no assurances that this is not the case just meaningless comments to the contrary, “why would we want to paint your family as monsters?” To us it is painfully obvious from the way we were all abused before, throughout and since the court dates. Or is that just the way they do it in the Home Counties?

Our hopes for the future were dashed as a result of malicious and inhumane dealings with social services. How much of the denial of photographs or other items such as cards was a spiteful recommendation of Social Services we will never know. I have been in a caring profession for almost 40 years. Not in my wildest dreams did I think that there were people who also are supposed to care but are like the ones we have dealt with. Heartless and spiteful and for all we know that includes the adoptive mother we have no term of reference. All we have is bad experiences.

As an RGN I have a code of conduct, duty of candour and care. To have made all this up is an offence. I also made the police and hospital aware of my concerns they did nothing. A critical incident happened while in care of the Local Authority and nothing was done. I brought that to everyone’s attention and it was covered up Their internal inquiry gave enough for the SCR.

All I wanted was for my Grand daughter to be kept safe and given good care while in Local Authority care. They did neither. Two Social Workers should have been disciplined for their inactions. They were not. Yet with all the information I gave them to point them in the direction of problems it was me that was the problem to be eliminated from my grand daughter’s life. Yet all I get is letterbox. I have wondered if they think I would tell my son where any contact happened. That is against my code of conduct!

I appreciate not all experiences will be the same. I think my professional status and knowledge did not help any party most of all us. I can see the Social Services viewpoint but if the SGO had worked we would have walked the line and my son would not have jeopardised the arrangement  as they all said he would. Too late now. Our son lost a daughter but saved from maintenance payments  and same situation of no access at mercy of her mum. So adoption not the worst outcome for father or daughter. ‘Silver lining ‘ perhaps.

Fran Proctor – One Adopted Person’s Views on Contact.

I am a mum of two and an adult adoptee. I work full time and I’m a trustee of The Open Nest Charity. I hope that by sharing my experience I can support, inspire and champion others.

Despite the numerous attempts and disappointed looks from professionals when they tried to get me to engage in the “Wouldn’t you like to find out where you come from.” “What about the family you don’t know about.” Contact was never an option for me, at least in the end not for the reasons one might think. I have all the family I need and honestly, I have never had those questions and no amount of “What about your origins” will ever change that.

So why did I end up arranging contact? Some would call it Restorative Justice, I would call it taking my life back. I spent so many years frightened. Trying to control everything so nothing unpredictable happened to me incase I couldn’t cope. Constantly wondering what would happen when the lights went out, or if I’d be found and harmed. After following through on the options I had been given, initially that didn’t involve contact – which by the way only made the way I felt about myself and how I perceived the world worse. I eventually realised that the only person who could change those things were me. After quite a few years, being in a much better place within myself and a trip to my Adoption agency to receive yet another fantisisied letter. I still found myself questioning ‘Why was this person even allowed to do this, contact me in anyway.’ When it was chatted over, I had to understand that whether this person was told that I wanted any kind of contact or not, they were never going to get it and maybe the only person who could say no, no more was me.

Contact wasn’t something that I went head first into, I had to consider if doing it would damage my life more and also was I strong enough. It was a year or more from the time I decided to go ahead with it to the initial meeting, I made it quite clear that if at anytime, even right at the last I wanted to change my mind, I would do just that. In that time, my Adoption Support Worker and I worked so hard. I was forever asking myself questions such as, ‘What might the worst case scenario be.’ ‘How might I feel six months after.’ ‘What if my coping mechanisms start to take over again.’ ‘Who can I call upon if I need support and whose going to show up for me.’ Then we worked on those. We went back over information that we had, we gained access to new information, we talked, we pictured and we planned. For the first time, I felt like I was saying what I wanted and those around me were agreeing.

In 2010 I had contact with my biological mother, also a convicted murderer. If I could describe that meeting in one word it would be surreal. Did I learn anything, yes. That I am everything that they are not.

Extract from a letter I wrote after the contact took place with biological relative.

“Someone once said to me years ago, ‘Why do you live your life behind closed walls, when the door is wide open’ It is only now that I really realise what they mean. I have lived over the years with everything that should be yours to own, except I live it in the real world and at the same time, very much in secret. Although I can recognise that those walls have, over the last few years started to come down for me through courage, perseverance, hope and understanding. For me, if I have gained anything from this meeting it is to keep believing that all those fears I had and have, will and can change. And more importantly than anything is to keep going and to remind myself that not only can I reach that open door, I deserve to be standing outside of it.”    

The Adoption Social are so pleased and proud to support Fran Proctor in using her experiences to benefit other.

Thanks Fran x

Was it the right thing?

An anonymous post today from an adoptive mum..

Contact with birth family has been a double edged sword for me. As a good, eager new adoptive mum you want to feel you are doing the right thing for your child. Identity, links, etc…So when I heard that my new daughter had brothers and sisters also adopted in the North West I did not hesitate. I wanted to meet them. She was 2 then..

For me initially it meant getting to know 2 lovely couples whose pain and grief and loss around infertility was palpable, it soaked the atmosphere and clouded the conversation and was the endless backdrop to their struggles with their adopted children, my daughter’s birth siblings. What if, what if…My route to adoption was different. I went on to have a baby. And then I adopted again, because I am hardwired for hope.

Twelve years ago when we first got the children together and watched them with each other you couldn’t help but be struck by their physical and other similarities. The girls in particular were peas in a pod. All 3 being raised in very different families but exhibiting the same exhausting behaviours. We were all on our knees. Mine was the youngest. Over the years that we had contact I watched with horror as the other families went through hell once their daughters hit adolescence. Absconding, drunkenness, violence, self harm, shoplifting, lying, stealing, exclusion 2015-07-14 19.09.49from mainstream schools, promiscuity. We would visit and they would weep. Both older girls were returned to care at the age of 13 and ended up in specialist residential provision. I dreaded the passing of time as my own girl was becoming less manageable. Surely she would not be that bad??

Fast forward.. Became sexually active at 12. Meets boys in the park for sex. Abusive to me and her little brothers. Knocks holes in walls. Struggles to cope in a mainstream high school. Steals. Lies. Absconds regularly. We are bombarded with police and social workers for 2 years. She is officially a Child In Need. I am going under. I beg the social worker to get her into secure accommodation. I cannot keep her safe. She turns 14. She refuses to be parented.
She visits her birth sister who lives 3 hours drive away and is all grown up at 20. She flatly refuses to return home. We have the discussion with the sister. Social Services are monitoring the situation. In theory.

It is now 8 months on. Peace has descended on our family. My other 2 children are literally blossoming living without their beautiful but very wonky sister. I came off medication. We moved house. We adapted. And yet…

The gnawing anxiety continues for me. My daughter left home at 14 without a backward glance. I could never have predicted it. What normal kid does that? In some sense she must have felt she belonged there.

So you see for me….Contact with birth family changed all our futures. And I am not sure yet if it was the right thing to do. Time will tell.

Issues of contact

Another guest post today from an adoptive parent, sharing experiences of direct contact…
Depending on the age, relationship and what type of contact is implemented, my views sibling contactare that if contact between siblings, birthparents or birth family take place then every effort should be taken to ensure the quality and frequency of contact is in the best interest of the child.
I have six adopted children all of whom have many birth siblings and all my children are now young adults. Physical or written contact should be accompanied by discussions between the carers and the adopted child to sustain a relationship outside of the actual contact meetings.
For example I adopted a child when she was three and her elder birth brother many years later. They had very little contact with each other prior to joining my family and it became apparent after they were placed with us that not enough work had been carried out to look at the real value and depth of their birth sibling relationships.
My son found it extremely difficult to form the attachments that many children develop naturally with their birth siblings and who are raised in the same family environment.
The lack of attachment and/or quality or regular meetings lead to; inappropriate expectations, behaviours and problems with boundaries. Because the relationship between the siblings was not sustained or had not been in place at an earlier time the attachment issues, boundaries etc was only identified when the two children came to live in the same family. These issues and others like loyalty and guilt all played a crucial role in the development of my children’s relationships with each other as well as their other birth siblings who had been placed in individual families.
I think I’m saying it’s simply not enough to go through the motions of sibling contact once or twice a year, or for example to write at Christmas or other times. We need to be mindful how children worry or fantasize, about their siblings and family when they are away from them and the distress or impact this will have on young or even older children as well as on the way we parent.
From a personal perspective nearly all my adopted children who when adults sought out their birth siblings or families; experienced episodes of further rejection, disappointment and further loss after contact attempts failed through a variety of reasons. In hindsight a robust plan/attitude to contact could have consolidated relationships much earlier.  And a transparent and proactive approach to ‘good’ contact avoids some of the painful or added trauma in their lives.
I can draw upon another example where one of my eldest adopted children was so desperate to find his birth parents and his racial identity that he ignored requests for professional support and found his birth parents anyway. Managing this became a nightmare as he had shared his intention to contact the birth family despite his younger siblings were under 18 at that time and the parents continued to undermine our parenting and relationship with all our sons.  The level of aggression and resentment the birth parents levied towards us, as parents became so untenable I had to consider the involvement of the police. Again the divided loyalty my children felt towards both the birth parents and us as adopted parents exacerbated many of the problems the children/young adults had already experienced or had to cope with.
It’s been in our experience that a great deal of adopted parents feel very personally threatened about contact and therefore over protective of their adopted children and family. Our attitude to ‘good’ contact has always been positive but our son’s contact with their birth parents have continued to be so negative and difficult that slowly our sons are withdrawing from their relationships with their birth parents, more specifically their birth mother who is unwell. It is sad that things have come to this and in an idea world ‘everyone’ would get on! 
Because my children are only able to deal with one set of parents at a time, we have had to take the adult decision to ‘stand back’. This has been one of the most difficult challenges as watching the parents harmful interaction with my son’s their erosion of all the work we’ve done with them and our inability to continue to protect them from the negative side of the relationship with their birth parents has been one of the hardest challenges of raising my family. 
There are many successful and positives in contact between children, parents, siblings and their families.  Contact can when managed well and the children and families are prepared and supported can be so beneficial and a win, win for all concerned
There are many who would share very positive experiences based on the benefits of successful contact between children, siblings, birth parents, families and even previous foster carers and their families.  After all they were all part of the child’s life experiences.  Our experiences of contact are not in isolation and by sharing some of the ‘problems’ can give us; more knowledge and opportunities to look at ways of how we can improve the whole issue of contact.

Contact from a Social Worker’s Perspective

We are delighted that Sue Glogg ,Assistant Team Manager  for Adoption in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, has contributed this piece to our Sore Points week on Contact. 

contact lettersContact. The mere mention of the word is enough to strike fear into the hearts of most prospective adopters as they start out on their adoption journey listening to social workers explaining the importance of children remaining in touch with their families of origin. The usual response is one of surprise, as for the first time they realise they are expected to support their adopted child to maintain a connection with their past. Hopefully, along the way their understanding of the significance of contact will develop and with training and support they will shift from that initial fearful, anxious and threatened position to one which is more open, empathic and child-focussed. Most do, some don’t! But what are we looking for in prospective adopters when it comes to contact? It’s people who are “communicatively open” or in other words, people who are open, honest, non-defensive and emotionally attuned when it comes to thinking and talking about all aspects of adoption but especially contact.

Having spent the past 12 years working as a social worker in a busy local authority adoption team, I understand just what a complex, complicated and emotive topic contact is for all involved. I understand that given the choice many adopters wouldn’t do contact and that of those that do it, some feel they were talked (pressured?) into it by their social worker rather than genuinely believing in the benefits for them and their child. I understand that for birth parents the agony of losing your child is further compounded by the wait for an annual letter, which is often late and sometimes doesn’t arrive at all, and that for adopters there is frustration, resentment and disappointment when nothing arrives in return. I understand that adopted children and young people often have ambivalent feelings about their birth parents and mixed views about contact with them, with feelings of wanting and needing to know more to feelings of anger and sadness at having to manage the loss.

Normally, when considering contact, I am, of course, thinking from the viewpoint of the child, the birth relatives or the adopters and so when asked to write about contact from my own perspective I initially struggled because it’s not often I get time to really reflect on my own professional beliefs and views and what has influenced them. So what do I know and how do I really feel about contact?

Well, firstly, as a social worker I know that I have a statutory duty under the Children Act 1989 to recommend and promote contact between children and their birth parents, siblings and other relatives wherever possible. The prevailing culture within my team is pro contact and my own professional views have been influenced by training and research which backs the view that contact supports the development of a coherent sense of self and positive self-esteem for adopted children, and helps them to experience themselves as loved, thought about, cared for and remembered.

Secondly, I know that as a team we want to provide the very best support in relation to contact but don’t have anywhere near enough staff or resources to manage it as well as we would like to. We currently have one full time dedicated social worker who manages our contact service and a part of her job is to support almost 300 letterbox contacts and 45 face to face meetings every year. I know that without her we would sink under the deluge of cards which arrive every Christmas and that the duty social worker would be overwhelmed just dealing with distressed birth parents whose letterbox is long overdue. I know that the same duty worker will also contact the adopters to chase them up only to be told that the child’s behaviour is so difficult at the moment and they are so exhausted that they really don’t want to send a letter this year because they can’t think of anything positive to say!

I know I feel frustrated by those adopters who promised to support contact before the child was placed only to go back on their promises once the child is adopted and I feel resentful that I am expected to break the news to the birth parents that there will be no more letters and will no doubt be on the receiving end of their understandable anger and upset.

I know I feel disappointed and saddened on behalf of all the children whose birth parents let them down by not engaging in contact. 

I know that I feel exasperated when the courts expect me to make recommendations about ongoing contact before adopters have even been identified and at a point when for birth parents the fight for their children is not yet over, but I am still expected to assess their capacity to manage contact constructively in the future.  I know that plans for “too much” contact will inevitably make it harder for me to find a family for a child.

I know that many of the direct contacts I have facilitated between adopted children and their siblings have been some of the highlights of a long and fulfilling social work career spanning almost 30 years and I know how happy it makes me when adopters genuinely “get it” and are not just telling me what they think I want to hear in relation to contact.

The recent Contact After Adoption study by Dr Beth Neil reported that for adopted children their adoptive families were clearly seen as “my family” and there was no evidence of contact disturbing adoptive family relationships or affecting the child’s adjustment.

contact heart

Therefore, the final message I want to send to all adopters is to please be less insecure and more open and generous in relation to contact and more accepting of birth families because the birth family is not your enemy and shouldn’t be seen as a threat to your place in your child’s life. Remember, you have a key role in facilitating your child’s identity development, self-esteem, self-worth and happiness and helping them to maintain contact is a huge part of that.