In a very interesting article published by the Guardian last week, the suggestion that social media is responsible for adoption placements breaking down once children find their birth parents online and causing those children emotional harm, is both seductive and on the face of it rational, but is it right?
The piece, which reads like it’s been written by a social work comms team (if the sector actually had one) attempts to examine the issues social media raises for adoptive families.
The article, prejudicial as it is, opens with a description of a young girl’s experience trying to find her own birth mother, when we are told that she chooses to describe her mother as a Disney princess and the social worker in her life (probably one of many given the transient nature of this kind of service), as a snake. The young girl blames the social worker for losing her mother. Predictably, the journalist places all the blame, for what she describes as a disastrous reunion, on the social media site that brought mother and daughter together.
But the journalist is wrong – and here’s why.
When a child is removed from a biological parent, regardless of whether the parent was able to care for their child or not, and often regardless of whether that child ends up in a loving and steady placement (again, the data tells us this does not happen as much as it should), every child needs to know about their personal, and cultural heritage. Social workers are supposed to make up scrap books for adopted children which tell them about their birth parents, but in our experience, many don’t get one and when they do, they are often superficial at best and at worst, fabrications of the truth.
So little attention is given to the fact that adoptive children do not simply start to breathe, live and experience the world upon adoption – they are alive the moment they are born and building memories and experiences which will shape who they are, for the rest of their lives. That our current adoption process is so crude, so short-sighted when it comes to support for these children, is galling in the face of all the scientific evidence and research we now have available to us about child development and how early life experiences impact us well into adulthood.
The piece goes on to blame social media and the part it played in the reunion between mother and daughter for the subsequent deterioration of the girl’s relationship with her adoptive mother, but fails entirely to question whether the adoptive mother’s bond with her daughter was strong and crucially, whether the adoptive mother was given all the information available about the biological parents and so able to fill in the pieces for her daughter and support her in the discovery process.
This brings us on to the deceptive nature of adoption itself and the conflicts of interest inherent within the adoption industry. We already know that children are sometimes unjustly removed from birth parents but adoptive parents often don’t know the background of the child they’ve adopted, either. In the UK, a full and frank disclosure of a child’s background and biological parentage is encouraged in theory, but in practice, where anything that threatens an adoption succeeding is considered fair game, this kind of disclosure is rare. So, what we have, long before social media kicks in and offers an outlet for self-discovery and, perhaps, a chance at being truly loved, is a system which sets adoptive families up to fail.
To the adoptive mother’s credit in this story she realises, after bitter experience, that honesty should have been the best policy all along, and that it may well have prevented her from losing her adoptive daughter entirely. But she is a lone voice, in an article filled with scaremongering spin from the social work and adoption sectors, busy demonising an inanimate object for the deep pain and confusion their flawed processes inflict on already vulnerable children.
If we are ever going to provide meaningful support for children who have suffered neglect and abuse, we are going to have to wake up to the realisation that their lives, like the rest of us, begin when they’re born. That they need to know how they came into the world, and who their birth parents are, and most importantly perhaps, have access to these parents in an appropriate and structured way, so that they and they alone can make the decision about whether their parents should be in their lives or not. And whilst this idea burns at the heart of the adoption industry – an arrangement that would put off most adoptive parents and see the industry, and its profit margins, shrink overnight – it is the only way forward.
Social media is not the enemy within the adoption process – it is just offering us a warning sign that the system is riddled with problems, and in desperate need of reform.