Much more can be done to support birth parents pre and post-adoption

The adoption of their children can be life-altering for birth parents, but often they receive insufficient practical and emotional support

Photo: Gary Brigden (posed by model)

By Amanda Lodge

Adoption decisions are often made at a very vulnerable stage after giving birth. A recent report from Legal Action for Women also highlighted that mothers on low incomes, those with learning difficulties and teenage mums are particularly vulnerable to having their children adopted.

The voices of birth parents whose children are adopted can go unheard, however. In my case, as a young care leaver who hadn’t yet turned 18, there was seemingly little regard or compassion for what was the most difficult and selfless act I could have taken when trying to decide what was best for my baby.

Mothers’ voices are often silenced into the background through shame and guilt, deep regret and anger, hiding their feelings in secret from family and friends.

Their repetitious questions go unanswered in their mind, such as the location of their child and if they are being well looked after, hoping that their child will not feel rejected.

I needed support to be able to keep my baby but I was denied this. I feel my vulnerability at the time was manipulated by the social worker so I would give up my child for adoption.

The Adoption Act 1976, which was in place at this time, specified that those freeing up their child for adoption must fully understand what was involved and agree unconditionally, but unfortunately this was not the case for me. No other options were explained to me to allow me to make a decision and have the possibility of keeping my child.

Practical support

While adopters are often hailed as heroes who receive quite a lot of support from services, birth parents frequently do not. If birth parents had been given more support, the story I write today would be very different.

What would have helped me was practical support to bring up my child, such as the right information about parenting, even temporary fostering. I would also have benefited from a package including assessments, care plans, housing and financial support such as money management, and practical help to manage everyday life skills which I may not have been aware of as an adolescent.

Social workers who work with mothers considering placing their child for adoption should be aware that they may not think they have an alternative. Social workers should not ask leading questions or insinuate that their child may be better off with another family. Gathering a support network for the birth parent/s is crucial.

The birth parents should be provided with a full explanation appropriate to the age of the birth mother and their understanding of the adoption process, outlining their full rights and the legal process.

Impact on birth parents

If the plan for adoption does go ahead, the insurmountable, immense emotional pain accompanied by life-long grieving and loss never departs for many parents. Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness can also affect one’s mental health, such as depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, and self-harm, and may lead on to substance misuse.

In these cases, extended and extensive support and counselling should be put in place for birth parents. More research is needed into the long-term impact of adoption on birth parents and the statistical outcomes should be documented. Government policy must also recognise the need for more ongoing support for parents who have lost their children to adoption, wittingly or unwittingly.

This could involve not just parenting skills but living within a family type home with an assigned, trained keyworker for as long as it takes for the birth parent to bond with their child.

The Adoption and Children Act 2002 places the needs of the child being adopted above all else. But there is much more that can be done to support birth parents before and after this becomes the option to be pursued.

Amanda Lodge has worked with looked-after children for 20 years, and is a qualified counsellor and a mental health nurse.

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8 Responses to Much more can be done to support birth parents pre and post-adoption

  1. londonboy February 6, 2017 at 12:59 pm #

    Thank you Amanda.

    How in this day and age should anyone have to argue that ‘The birth parents should be provided with a full explanation appropriate to the age of the birth mother and their understanding of the adoption process, outlining their full rights and the legal process.’?

    The FRG are also carrying out a study of use of s20 that touches on the points you have made so well in your article.

  2. Ann McCabe February 7, 2017 at 8:00 pm #

    the real problem is the way the reducing money available is given out……….it is adopters and foster carers that have the bulk of funding, and nothing left for families suffering the loss of a child or children……………..time after time research has shown that losing a child devastes families including extended families………..this needs to change with more support for familes

  3. Deborah Vaughan February 8, 2017 at 1:28 pm #

    The idea that adopters have access to support funding to the detriment of birth parents is unfair. The Adoption Support Fund only recently came into effect and access to it is proving difficult as a result of the number of hoops adopters have to go through. Parenting traumatised children is enormously difficult and the help adopters need to do so cannot be overstated. Let’s not forget the vast majority of children placed for adoption are forcibly removed from birth parents due to abuse and or neglect. Incidences of relinquished babies are very much in the minority these days and that’s not to say a relinquished baby won’t experience trauma. S/he likely will be wounded by the separation from the birth mother. The focus is rightly on the needs of these children due to the trauma they have suffered and the lifelong impact of it. Social workers don’t willingly remove children and will work tirelessly to keep children within birth families in my experience. To imply the contrary, as this article does, is disingenuous in my opinion.

    • Lyn Pollard February 9, 2017 at 10:29 pm #

      Deborah Vaughan, I am at a loss at your response to the article, which essentially is more than that; it’s an account of Amanda Lodge’s devastating experience and opinions formed because of it.

      When any loving parent feels forced to; as you said, relinquish their child, especially when they are ill informed of the decision they are making, they will expect that the family the child is placed with will be made up of parents willing to love, nurture, provide and protect the child. The thrust of your argument is mainly because you didn’t want seem you were getting support funding to the detriment of birth parents. If you were the adoptive parent who received Amanda’s child, then, yes, you would have been someone who received funding, when she received not even counselling. Call it by any name it currently goes by, the adoptive parent generally does receive monetary aid.

      The truth is that a mother can give a child up and the Social Worker walk away and never look back at her unless she presents herself before them again. There is no extra funding for a mother who has given birth and has to buy sanitary items. There is no extra funding for a mother who became ill and had to relinquish her children as the best way to ensure care for them, Nor is there funding for the drug addict who is unable to kick the habit in time to stop the forcible removal of a child, the examples are somewhat endless.

      Traditionally there is no extra funding for birth parents. If that is to change, adoptive parents, out of love for the new child in their care, can make sure the parent who allowed the newfound loved one to come to them are recognised by the Social Services, etc, then in years to come, when the child inquires about their birth parent, you can say you did your best to check whether they parent was going to be OK. Incidentally, when someone agrees to adopt and they are not financially stable, the money has to come from somewhere. Lastly, a newborn baby, like Amanda’s, would not have experienced trauma and someone ill equipped to provide the emotional stabilty to make sure the child grew up in a loving, stable home, able to go into the world and look for their birth parent if they want to when they came of age, should not have adopted the child in the first place.

  4. Londonboy February 8, 2017 at 5:10 pm #

    ”The idea that adopters have access to support funding to the detriment of birth parents is unfair.”

    I do not believe this was Amanda’s point? Who could argue against acknowledging that birth mums are likely to be very vulnerable, and removing their children is likely to leave them more vulnerable.

    SW”s should never leave themselves open to a charge of manipulating these vulnerable women, so what is the problem in asking for all to be able to evidence that they have not done so?

    Are mums like this to be treated as less than human, less deserving of help than the rest of us?

    • Deborah Vaughan February 9, 2017 at 9:47 am #

      Amanda’s point is that more could have been done to help her parent her child whereas what I am saying is that in my experience social workers spend an incredible amount of time and effort working with birth families to keep children within the birth family. Therefore I’m shocked that she was not supported and can only think it was decades ago or she was/is a victim of very poor practice. Birth mums are vulnerable but their children are more so and if it comes to sharing out an ever dwindling pot of funds my money would go on the children. It’s not about birth mums being less worthy than “the rest of us” – I’m not talking about “the rest of us” just birth mums/Looked After Children/adopted children and who mentioned “less than human”? – certainly not me. That’s melodramatic and doesn’t reflect what I said. If it comes to divvying up an ever dwindling funding pot the lion’s share should be directed to parenting traumatised children and focusing on their needs. In an ideal world there’d be funding and support to wrap around the birth family, particularly birth mum. But there isn’t.

  5. Londonboy February 9, 2017 at 1:30 pm #

    Many of the young women whose babies are removed have been in Care. They may still be receiving a care leavers package of support yet get no support with parenting. They may be traumatised children themselves. They may lose baby after baby. Whose interest is that in exactly? How humane is that?

  6. Solmon Ahmed February 13, 2017 at 6:50 pm #

    I read this article last night, very touching, made me think how we treat patients and don’t think of others that might also be affected. Providing information or support at the very vulnerable time that might improve their well-being.

    Well-done, you have worked hard to improve yourself , and now sticking up for the most vulnerable in our society who often have no voice. I attended meetings with care co-ordinator discussing adoption/fostering consideration by children’s services before the child birth due to mother’s mental health and drug addiction. They planned to put them in mother and baby unit for 12 weeks, if they don’t bond or baby at risk, then they follow adoption/fostering route. This time wider Family involved to support the mother.