Dr Gary Clapton, a Committee Member of Birthlink, a service which connects adoptees with their birth families, said child welfare professionals’ records of birth families for adopted children were often written more like justifications for removal than a detailed history of a child’s life before their adoption.
The books are intended to hold sensitively written information about a child’s birth family, carers and their life experiences.
In an interview with The Scotsman, Dr Clapton criticised the current practice around record keeping, saying, “Often troubling is the lack of presence of the parent, or at least their side of the story. The records tend to focus solely on the child and their prospect of an adoptive family or the system requirements of a case to be made out for removal of the child from their parents – invariably the latter is an account riddled with all the instances of parental failure. In the files we read, it is difficult to discern the human presence of a parent who has lost their child.”
Dr Clapton, who is a senior lecturer at the University of Edindburgh focusing on adoption and fostering, fathers and fatherhood, children and families social work practice, and moral panics, and a Committee Member of the Fathers Network Scotland, also mentions the importance of keeping physical tokens from birth parents.
Concerns around whether or not these children are able to access tokens and keepsakes left by parents are also raised in the piece.
The article, published today, follows alarming research carried out by adoption agency Coram and The Hadley Centre at the University of Bristol in 2015 which found that Life Story work was not being prioritised by adoption professionals and that there were wide variations in the quality of the storybooks.
The national study noted that over 30% of adopters rated their children’s life storybooks as ‘terrible’, while around 40% said they were ‘good’ or ‘excellent’.
The study also uncovered the following issues:
- Many of the books were of poor quality, and often had to be ‘redone’ by their adoptive parents;
- Adoptive parents reported that the stories were often not child-centred and lacked narrative and explanation;
- Many adoptive parents also found that the level of detail in the books was inappropriate:
- Some adoptive parents said there was either too much emphasis on one part of the story, too little detail or too much unnecessary detail;
- Other concerns centered around a frustration that the books could not be updated as the children grew up.
BBC Radio 4 covered the research in their You and Yours series the year the study was published, interviewing Coram’s Director of Operations, Renuka Jeyarajah-Dent on the findings.
Jeyarajah-Dent said, “Adopted children cannot start with a blank slate. Their past is significant and should be valued. Understanding life history becomes particularly important when young people reach adolescence and develop and define their sense of self.”
Ofsted has also repeatedly criticised Life Story work, and has noted that adoption agencies who needed to improve also needed to produce better life story books. As a bare minimum, Ofsted recommended that Life Story work should represent a realistic account of a child’s circumstances and that there should be a dedicated Life Story Worker in every adoption team.