Helen Oakwater* is not impressed by the recent government consultation on contact arrangements between adopted children and their birth families
As an adoptive parent, trainer and author I have given much thought to contact and how it fits into the complex world of adoption and fostering. I found the recent government call for views on contact arrangements for children infuriatingly disconnected from reality.
For starters, I was deeply disappointed it did not cover the development and impact of social media - excluding one of the most prominent and increasing issues in adoption and fostering.
Social media and technology
Facebook is transforming the concept of contact. For the government to wave this technological and societal game changer to a sideline and simply say, “this paper does not cover the development and impact of social media”, is naïve.
It does not reflect the current problems parents, children and professionals are experiencing daily. Social media and future technological developments must be acknowledged and central to planning future practice and legislation if we are to protect and empower children.
‘Legacy of trauma’
During the past 20 to 30 years the majority of children adopted from the care system have been removed from their birth families because of neglect and/or maltreatment. This legacy of trauma is carried into adulthood. Many birth parents show little empathy for their children, hostility to professionals and sometimes disrespect the law.
Do we expect these people to adhere to a ‘no contact’ agreement? What happens when they don’t? It makes the proposed “Permission Filter”, to be sought by birth parents from courts, a laughable idea. It will be impossible to enforce and, potentially, a massive court time waster.
The suggestion that “any further contact between the child and their birth parents is now a matter exclusively for the adoptive family” is again naïve and almost denies the significance of birth parents. We know birth parents always matter to children. It smells a little like the old fashioned mindset of “forget them now you are adopted”. We have massive amounts of evidence demonstrating that such a strategy is flawed.
Recourse for adopters
I am also confused as to what ‘recourse’ is being considered for adopters where informal contact by birth parents is causing difficulties. How are birth parents to be prevented from sending texts, emails or similar? I can just imagine the headline, “I was imprisoned for sending a text to my daughter”. This is unworkable and unenforceable.
Additionally; it has the potential for children to use it as ammunition against their adoptive or foster parents. Accusations like, “you stopped me seeing my Mum”, will be hurled in anger.
The best method to manage contact is by giving children 100% truth about their past in an age-appropriate way - creating a coherent, honest life story which they can digest and process as they mature. Contact should be incorporated into the process. This requires a massive improvement in post-adoption support, therapeutic work to make sense of their history and a great deal of therapeutic reparenting. It’s not a quick fix.