A report published by adoption charity Adoption UK has said that support for children wanting to maintain relationships with their natural families is not fit for purpose.

The report, entitled “The Adoption Barometer” looks at the state of adoption in England and Wales. As part of its report, Adoption UK chose to dedicate a segment to adopted children’s feelings and thoughts about the barriers to contact with their natural parents and relatives.

Key findings about contact with natural family members included:

  • 80% of adopted adults and 88% of adoptive parents who were involved in direct contact during childhood were glad they had participated
  • 69% of adopted adults who did not have childhood direct contact regretted not having the opportunity
  • 17% of adopted adults recalled receiving professional support prior to childhood direct
  • contact beginning
  • 52% of those who received counselling said it felt like a tick box exercise
  • 37% of adopted adults were offered counselling as part of the process of tracing birth relatives in adulthood
  • 57% of adopted adults who had childhood direct contact described it as sometimes being emotionally challenging
  • At least 28% of 13-18-year-olds had direct contact with a birth family member, outside of any formal agreement, during 2021

The report found that 70% of prospective adopters believed direct contact should be standard for adopted children whenever possible.

The report also offers background information from adoptees which offers insight into how social workers view contact with natural families. One comment reads: “When Frankie* was 14 she discovered her birth mother’s name and made contact by herself. When she confided in her family’s social worker, she was told it was a ‘stupid decision’. “

Recommendations made inside the report included:

  • The creation of a national contact service in each nation of the UK
  • Training about contact in preparation courses
  • Every adoptive family to have a named social work professional with responsibility for overseeing support for contact
  • Agencies to conduct research about barriers to direct sibling contact
  • Specialist support for contact
  • Ensure every adopted adult has access to robust support when tracing birth relatives

Adoption UK also provides a case file, but it features only one adult who was adopted as a child. The comment from the adoptee just focuses on the support she received from a social worker when tracing her family, which is a positive experience.

Several barriers currently exist for adopted children wanting to have contact with their natural families.

The adoption process has been set up to ensure that adoption itself is as attractive as possible to prospective adopters. This includes severing all legal and practical ties with a child’s natural parents and wider family.

And while legislation exists to apply for post-adoption contact, the legal thresholds for obtaining that contact are so high that almost no contact orders in this context are ever awarded.

Current government thinking around adoption as the gold standard for children in care also aggravates this problem, with current policy actively encouraging the courts to place most of the decision-making in the hands of the adopters during applications for post-adoption contact.

The end result is that even the smallest pushback from adoptive parents will ultimately result in contact being blocked.

Once very popular, adoptions in the UK have decreased drastically following successful movements by child rights campaigners to highlight the damage the policy causes to children, and the sophisticated parenting skills required to love and look after these unique children. The adoption sector is now facing a stark reality in which many adoption agencies are struggling to survive.

The popular narrative that adoption offers a fairytale ending for a child and is itself an exclusive process without the need for natural families and with little to no complication has skewed the expectations of prospective adopters. It is also a terrible lie.

You can read the report in full here.

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