A new report by the British Association Of Social Workers has concluded that children should have contact  with their biological families before, during and after adoption proceedings. The country’s leading social work body is also calling on the government to overhaul adoption law in line with this recommendation.

Whilst the view isn’t groundbreaking – anyone who has spoken to an adopted child will tell you the harm severing contact does them – it’s an incredibly brave position for BASW to take. The recommendation if implemented, and it must be, is likely to damage the already ailing adoption and fostering sectors, which have seen huge reductions in uptake, both for foster carers and adopters over the last five years. A significant number of prospective carers are likely to be put off  by the idea of ongoing contact with birth families.

The study was led by Professors Brid Featherstone and Anna Gupta, and included evidence from more than 300 individuals and organisations. The BASW page on the report tells us that social workers, birth families, legal professionals, adoptive parents and adults who were adopted as children offered thoughts for the study.

We know birth families around the country will be thrilled with this development. Whilst the myth persists that birth families are ‘bad’, and don’t care about their children, the exact opposite is true: most are families in need of support and understanding who would do anything to be able to take care of their children.

Researching Reform has campaigned for contact between children and their biological families for several years and like Professor Featherstone, we take the view that whilst legislation can be helpful in changing social work practice, a significant amount can be achieved, and much faster, through a shift in culture. The Children Act 1989 already provides a solid backdrop for social work practice to ensure working policies benefit children and bolster their development.

This latest recommendation is a wonderful step forward, and we hope it includes the need to ensure the voice of the child is faithfully recorded in these decisions and properly understood, to avoid the pendulum swinging too far one way or another, yet again. So whilst contact should be given, it should always be with the child’s best interests in mind.

Community Care has offered some quotes from the study and the lead social workers who produced it:

“Adopted children denied contact can experience serious identity issues and when they are free to seek out their birth families at age 18, adoptive parents can be ill-prepared for the emotional consequences.” 

Professor Featherstone:

“You should start from the assumption that direct contact with birth parents ought to be considered… Usually, adopted children go searching when they get to 18 and it can store up trouble if they haven’t had previous contact, enabling them to see their birth parents for good or ill.

They can stop having fantasies about these wonderful parents that they were stolen away from, or equally that they were absolutely terrible people. It’s about their identities. Adopted people told us that identity is a lifelong issue for them. Where do I come from? Who do I belong to?”

The report doesn’t appear to be publicly available, so we have emailed the contact offered on the BASW page to request a copy. The BASW have published their response to the report, which you can read here, and which includes the recommendations from the report:

Recommendation 1: The use of adoption needs to be located and discussed in the context of wider social policies relating to poverty and inequality

Recommendation 2: UK governments should collect and publish data on the economic and social circumstances of families affected by adoption

Recommendation 3: The current model of adoption should be reviewed, and the potential for a more open approach considered

Recommendation 4: There needs to be further debate about the status of adoption and its relationship to other permanence options.

Recommendation 5: BASW should develop further work on the role of the social worker in adoption and the human rights and ethics involved

Many thanks to Maggie Tuttle for sharing the Community Care article with us.