Philpot laments the lack of help for people who have been in the care system
and want to find their birth parents.
England and Wales, the legal right for adopted people to search for birth
relatives has been established since 1975 and post-adoption services are
extensive and well developed. In fact, an entire research industry has been
founded on the need of those adopted people to journey into their past.1
many people who were in care, but not adopted, know little of their past or how
to find out about it.
the older you get, the worse off you are. Increasing attention paid to children
and young people in care has left people in their 30s, middle age and old age
neglected. Officially, the implication is that they don’t have needs but even
if they do, there are few services to cater for them.
a million people went through the care of the major voluntary child care
agencies. The Children’s Society alone has 130,000 records of those who have
passed through its care in its 121-year existence. Seventy-five per cent of the
inquiries made to its post-adoption and post-care project, set up in 1993, are
from adopted people wanting to contact birth relatives, even though only 20,000
of the society’s children were adopted.
searching services are patchy. If you have been in the care of a voluntary
agency, it will very probably offer a service, including counselling. Go to a
local authority and you may have difficulty accessing your records – if they
still exist – and there will be few, if any, dedicated workers.
general disparity between adopted people and others who have been in care is
evidenced in research. There are only two studies of searches by people who
have been in care. And the dearth of research, suggest the authors of the
latest study,2 can be linked to the under-development of services
for this group, particularly compared with their adopted counterparts.
Elizabeth Webb, supervisor of the Children’s Society’s post-care project and
co-author of recent research on the subject, says: "People who have been
in care are very much second class citizens. Counselling for adopted people is
very common, yet they will often have had stable backgrounds with two parents,
which is very different from the experience of most people who have been in
Julia Feast, leader of the project, believes that just as there are well
rehearsed life-long issues about being adopted, so we need to recognise that
this is also the case for people who have been in care, whom she describes as
"a whole community of people who slip off everyone’s agenda".
it may take an hour for some adopted people to go through their records,
someone in care may be presented with the accumulated evidence of 18 years:
school reports, parents’ letters, and correspondence between the agency and the
various homes where the person lived.
early research study in the field, by Gillian Pugh,3 was a small
scale, qualitative study of former Barnardo’s children. The most recent is an
analysis of 157 files of people formerly in the care of the Children’s Society,
mainly from the 1920s to the 1970s, who had access to information between 1989
to 1999. It also makes comparisons with adopted searchers.
are marked differences in the ages at which adopted people and the "in care"
group start their search – adoptees start looking around 30, while those who
have been in care tend to wait until they are nearly 50.4
thinks that this may be explained by the differences between the two groups.
"It may be that adopted people start their search at the stage of forming
their family and feel safe in being able to look back and want to complete a
jigsaw. People in care do it after that when they have had their family – they
now feel safe and it is more of a reflective process.
you were adopted, most people know that at one time single birth mothers were
not encouraged to keep their children and the law severed all contact. With
contact severed, in some ways the birth parent is not to be blamed – they could
not have a relationship with their children had they wanted one. But if you
were in care up to 18 and your mother never visited then my hypothesis for
those people is that they can have a greater sense of rejection and it takes
some courage to search.
people want to search for their birth families and the discovery of information
is secondary; people who have been in care primarily seek information."
quoted by the authors, perhaps reflects this. At 60 she retired after a
successful career and "she felt that she’d reached a point in her life
where she had the time and the emotional strength to revisit her childhood and
satisfy her longstanding curiosity about her background."
Webb goes on to say that "we have to be careful because a lot of this is
anecdotal and we are often working with hypotheses – society has never asked
people what their experiences of care were like and what we can learn from
them. This is definitely not the case with adoption."
per cent of in care searchers were black (most of mixed ethnicity) and almost
all were born after 1935. Female adoptees search at a ratio of two to one
compared to men; in the in-care research there was a small majority of male
research offers the reasons for contact: 86 per cent wanted information, 69 per
cent had a "curiosity about their origins", 49 per cent wanted help
in tracing their relatives, 34 per cent sought reunion, 13 per cent needed
medical information, 11 per cent wanted help to trace "a significant other",
and 12 per cent had other (unspecified) reasons.
Kirton, lecturer in social policy and social work, University of Kent, thinks
that one of the most interesting findings is the widely divergent careers in
care for black and white inquirers.
per cent of white people who made inquiries entered care under one year of age
but the figure was 73 per cent for those who were black. Sixty-nine per cent of
black children had three or more moves in care against 47 per cent of their
white counterparts, although this may be because they spent longer in care.
Black inquirers were much less likely to be in contact, or be united with their
birth families. They were more likely to have jobs but less likely to be
married and to have children.
all inquirers 30 per cent returned to their birth family when they left care,
25 per cent went into lodgings, 10 per cent entered domestic services and 9 per
cent joined the armed forces – a reflection of the age group studied.
the government’s belief that adoption is the answer for children in care imply
that those who are not adopted are rejected – or rejected for a second time? As
the stigma moves away from adoption, does it apply the more for those in care?
what is the relevance of research about people who were in a vastly different
care system governed by very different assumptions than exist today?
says: "Could you say that the lives of children and young people in care
are very different today? Have the pathways in care changed so much? No one is
asking those questions and if they did how would we compare them but by
experience? Are we asking what have we learned?"
For example, most recently, D Howe and J Feast, Adoption, Search &
Reunion. The Long-term Experience of Adopted Adults, Children’s Society, 2000
D Kirton, E Peltier and E Webb, "After all these years: Accessing care
records", Adoption and Fostering, January 2002
G Pugh, Unlocking the Past: The Impact of Access to Barnardo’s Childcare
Records, Gower, 1999
D Kirton, E Peltier and E Webb, as above