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.
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.