By Brid Featherstone and Anna Gupta
Over the past few months we’ve been privileged to spend time with women and men from different walks of life who had one thing in common – they wanted to talk to us about adoption.
They came to the process from different perspectives: birth mothers, adoptive mothers, barristers, social workers, adult adoptees. Some had a number of these identities.
They agreed to share their stories as part of an enquiry we’re running into the role of the social worker in adoption, with a focus on ethics and human rights.
Listening to them, it was impossible not to be struck by how deeply this area of practice keys into our emotions as human beings: Who am I? Who do I belong to? Who are my people?
Feelings of love and loss have been an ongoing theme so far: Will my child forget me? Will they think I abused them or did not love them? Feelings of regret emerge too. Could things have been different? Did I do the right thing?
Feelings of joy at having a chance to be a parent have been tempered by concern for the parents who have lost the child and/or the siblings who are separated.
A range of experiences
It’s still early days for our research but already we’ve heard a range of experiences of the system, and social work practice, from the early stages of the child protection process through to post-adoption support for letterbox contact.
Kindness is the one quality so many of those we’ve spoken to so far appear to appreciate and indeed crave: concrete help, a word of praise, recognition that as a human being you have value.
We’ve heard concerns about practices that are too rushed: the ‘tyranny’ of timescales, the lack of time to get to know children and families, and lack of availability of flexible and appropriate help pre and post adoption.
Some barristers and social workers have raised worries that social work ethics are being compromised in the rush to get through court proceedings, in particular under the 26 week timescale in England. Many in England have also discussed the issue of consent in terms of ethics and human rights.
This has to date been a very important exercise for us both. We feel passionate about the importance of continuing to facilitate processes where we can discuss adoption as openly and respectfully as possible.
We know this is by no means easy to achieve. We have experienced first hand how much pain, hurt, shame and blame there is swirling around but we have also seen the capacity to integrate contradictory feelings, hold onto complexity and focus on developing ethical approaches to child protection and adoption.
Our inquiry was commissioned by BASW and is UK wide. We are only a few months in and are keen to hear from as many of those involved with adoption as possible.