Adopted children kept in the dark

A child has a right to know about their brothers and sisters, but
all too often children who have been adopted are not informed about
the birth of a sibling.

Recently a child was born into a family where all the older
siblings had been adopted by other families. The baby was placed
with an agency that did not inform the adoptive families of the
birth. However, an adoptive mother of one of the siblings found
out. She told the adoptive mother of another sibling who phoned the
other families. They received snippets of information but hadn’t a
clue what to tell their children about their new baby sibling.

Months later, and still not a word from the agency. It then rang
only some of the families to say that a permanent placement was
needed for the baby. Welcome to 21st century adoption!

As a social worker and the adoptive mother of a child with older
siblings placed with other families, it is a rewarding, if not
chaotic, experience to get all the children together. Was it
naivety, inexperience, optimism, or faith in the system that led me
to assume that social services and adoption agencies routinely
notify adoptive parents of the birth of their child’s sibling? I
don’t know – but I was wrong.

Adopters tell me of great inconsistencies between agencies.
Families will be contacted within a week of the birth or within a
few months, not at all, or only when a permanent placement for the
new baby is needed. Some families are offered contact sessions with
the new baby; others are not.

Not all adoptive parents want contact with the agency
post-adoption, but this isn’t about their needs. This is about the
right of their child to have information about and, if at all
possible, contact with their younger brothers and sisters.

Any agency working with children needs to ask itself some hard
questions. In your service, are there already guidelines for this
or is there a lack of procedures? Is there a lack of agreement over
who should contact the families or a failure to recognise the issue
at all?

If you are unsure about what happens in your agency, or you
recognise some of the matters raised here, ask questions in your
work place or agency, and put the issue on the agenda. Siblings
have the right to know about each other and to grow up knowing each
other, if possible.

Edwina Langley is lead practitioner at Birmingham Education
Welfare Service.

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