A new study calls for a major review of U.K. adoption law so that children who have been adopted could retain much closer contact with their birth families.
Researchers call for an expanded role of social workers in the adoption process and a revision of many practices that appear antiquated, given the rise of the Internet and social media.
Currently, direct contact with birth parents is rarely allowed in England, Scotland and Wails. Moreover, the standard alternative of “letterbox contact” is often poorly enforced.
Researchers now believe that adopted children denied contact can experience serious identity issues. Moreover, when they are free to seek out their birth families at age 18, adoptive parents can be ill-prepared for the emotional consequences.
These are among the factors that emerged during a study commissioned by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW).
The study was led by Brid Featherstone, a professor of social work at the University of Huddersfield. Professor Anna Gupta of Royal Holloway University of London, and Sue Mills of Leeds University also participated in the research.
The investigators interviewed social workers, birth family members, adoptive parents, and adopted people plus lawyers and other professionals. Upon conclusion of the investigators, the team issued a wide-ranging report, launched in London.
Now, the researchers plan to hold similar events around the U.K., so that interested parties throughout the country have a chance to hear and discuss the issues.
The investigators proposed five key recommendations, and these have all been accepted by the BASW in its published response.
One recommendation was that the current model of adoption should be reviewed, and the potential for a more open approach considered. This led the BASW to call for “a review of adoption law in all countries of the UK, into whether the assumptions about severance of connection to families of origin is ethical.”
Also, it is questioned whether the “assumption of severance” is sustainable in the age of Internet and social media, making it much easier for adopted children to trace birth families.
Featherstone said the debate about more open adoption is very important, but instead of legislative change her preference would be for a change in culture and a case-by-case approach involving social workers.
“You should start from the assumption that direct contact with birth parents ought to be considered,” she said. “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 background to the report and the BASW response is that adoption has been promoted strongly by governments across the UK, particularly in England, as a “gold standard” approach to children who are considered at risk within their families of origin and who have been taken into care.
Around 5,000 children are currently adopted annually from care across the UK and this nonconsensual adoption has sparked disagreements between judiciary and government, criticism from many birth parents whose children have been adopted against their wishes, and ethical debate within the social work profession itself.
Featherstone and Gupta have made a series of recommendations — all of them accepted by the BASW — on topics such as the part played by poverty and inequality in adoption. They call for government to collect and publish data on the economic and social circumstances of families affected.
It is also urged that the role of social workers and the human rights and ethics surrounding adoption should be explored.
In response, the BASW has called on local and national government to support “the ongoing development of professional autonomy, independence and confidence in social work practice and decision making” and to “support better ethical and human rights practice in improving the experience of all affected by adoption.”
Source: UUniversity of Huddersfield