I have written before about my expectations and thoughts on what in the adoption world is currently called “contact”. My views haven’t changed a great deal, but it is something that I am forced to reflect on twice a year when I write a letter to my children’s biological parents.
Every six months I write a letter, I write a brief update on what our children are doing, what they like, how much they’ve grown and a little bit about what their favourite things of the moment are. Then I ask a small question. Nothing big, just a little question to try to trigger a response. To give whoever is reading the letter something to begin their response with. It has only ever worked once.
Each time I sit down to write a letter I wonder why we do this the way we do. I write, we send, we then question where the letter has gone. We get no feedback. None. Not even from the adoption agency. We have no idea if they have received it, no idea if they have passed it on to the intended recipient, and no idea if we will ever get a response.
In my work I am a software developer, specifically I create web applications, with logins and secure environments that separates data so that only certain people can access it. My mind automatically starts to think of ways which this whole process could be improved using technology. Making it far more accessible and transparent to both us and the birth family of our children.
The problem being that social services, at least from my experience of them, seems to be frightened of technology. We’re warned to stay away from social media, never to look up our children’s birth family despite the wealth of otherwise missing knowledge that we might gain. Of course social media can be a minefield, but if handled correctly it can also be a valuable resource.
That’s my perspective. One thing that adoption (or maybe just becoming a parent) has certainly done to me is to enable me see things from the point of view of others. To put myself in the shoes of people who ordinarily I would shy away from. Specifically whenever I write a letter I put myself in the shoes of the people I am writing to.
I think how hard it must be to receive these letters, how hard it must be to even think about responding. But it’s more than that. Social services are generally the instigator of contact. Birth families of adopted children removed from their care simply do not have a positive relationship with social services, for the most part at least. Yet the parents are expected to put that all to one side, ask them for help to write to a child who they removed. It’s a different department, sure, but all under that ‘Social Services’ umbrella that is such a huge and scary entity for any parent to get on the wrong side of.
I was recently in a room full of social workers, I was the lone adopter, we were all there for training. The issue of contact came up, specifically the final ‘goodbye contact’ – this is usually the last time parents will see their children after a decision is made for them to be adopted. It was commented how birth parents find this extremely difficult as they are not given the same kind of preparation and support as adoptive parents are.
I had to speak up. “Is there not scope within social services to give them that support?”. It wasn’t why we were there but I couldn’t leave that lying there.
It was explained that they try to give the support but there is little take up, and so they ended up cancelling any support groups they had going.
So, not only are they not offered support, there is NO facility to do so any more in our local authority. That is NOT what I was told as an adoptive parent, I was told that birth parents were given support and were given help with writing back.
“But they don’t engage with us. By the time we get to that stage it is too late to build a relationship.” That’s a paraphrase, but essentially what I was told – and my mind was crying “So find someone, anyone, who they will engage with to offer them support earlier!”. But that wasn’t what we were there for, and I was a lone voice in a room filled with professionals.
The scales certainly seem to be tipped against the birth parents at this point. For the most part I trust the family court system, certainly more than birth parents probably do. Even if the parents acknowledge it was their action or inaction that resulted in the children being removed, it is going to be hard for them to put aside the animosity they feel towards social services and the family court. There will always be an element of blame attributed to them.
Yet social services are the ones offering help and support. I see a problem there.
With that in mind are social services the right people to instigate contact? Are they in the best place to encourage and support this from both sides? Can the history between social services and birth families be successfully put to one side for the benefit of the children?
This isn’t about what IS. This is about what people feel. Where there is no trust, there will never be a positive relationship. Without that relationship why is it expected that support will be offered and accepted?
As an adoptive parent I want my children to know where they come from. I want them to know who their biological mother and father are. I want them to know about any siblings they have and what they look like. I want them to at least have the choice when they’re older to write to their birth parents and ask what they feel they need to ask.
I ask this though. If birth families aren’t offered useful support, support which they feel they can take up, by someone who they feel they can build a positive relationship with; how can my children, OUR children, ever hope to get the answers they might need in seeking their identity should they wish to do so?