Hearing from children's birth families during National Adoption Week 2021
School of Health Senior Lecturer, Emma Geddes, discusses National Adoption Week and how there is an increasing focus on raising awareness of the people affected by the adoption process.
I recently joined Leeds Beckett’s School of Health after studying birth mothers’ experiences of the loss of a child to adoption as a PhD researcher at the University of York. Adoption is a site at which many of the major themes in contemporary social policy intersect, highlighting issues around societal inequality, families’ experiences of complex vulnerability and the stigmatisation and marginalisation of parents whose children have been removed from their care. In a context in which welfare benefits and services intended to help the most vulnerable families have been progressively cut, it has been recognised that the promotion of adoption by the government raises serious ethical concerns. I became interested in understanding the experiences of mothers whose lives are profoundly impacted by the permanent removal and adoption of their children, but whose voices have typically been excluded from the stories that are told about adoption in the mainstream.
This year, National Adoption Week will run from 18-23 October. The week has historically celebrated adoption as a means of building a family, with a focus on the recruitment of prospective adoptive parents for children who are waiting in care. The almost exclusive focus on recruitment versus ongoing support has been criticised by adoptive parents and adopted adults have also spoken about the way that their experiences can be marginalised in campaigns which imply that adoption is a straightforward solution for children and prospective adopters. For the first time, this year the National Adoption and Recruitment Steering Group have commissioned PAC-UK to deliver two free online events for adopted adults and birth families during National Adoption Week, moving the focus away from recruitment and towards raising awareness of the experiences of people directly affected by adoption.
As part of PAC-UK’s Voices of Birth Parents: Loss, Hope and Change event, I was able to speak with Badge, a birth mother who chose this pseudonym to protect her anonymity and the identity of her child. Badge spoke movingly about her experience of the loss of her daughter to adoption and the way that she uses artefacts or keepsakes such as toys belonging to her daughter in managing overwhelming feelings of grief and loss, highlighting birthdays, Mother’s Day and Christmas time as being particularly difficult. Badge also shared her positive experience of taking part in letterbox contact with her daughter and the changes that have happened in her life as a result of accessing support. The impact of an adoption decision on members of a child’s wider family such as grandparents, aunts and uncles is an issue that has also received limited attention and Badge reflected on the way that the loss of their granddaughter to adoption has also impacted upon her parents’ lives. Useful post-adoption support for birth families is known to be geographically variable across the country, and Badge explained that she would like all birth parents to be able to access the help that she has benefitted from. She said: “The support network I have had has really helped me out. I wouldn’t dare to think where I would be in my life if it wasn’t for the support I have had”.
Voices of Birth Parents: Loss, Hope and Change will be hosted by Angela Frazer-Wicks, herself a birth mother to two adopted children, with opportunities to hear from other birth parents and the professionals who support them throughout the day. While there is much to be done to address the alarming inequalities in child welfare interventions across the UK, the inclusion of the voices of adopted people and birth parents in the coverage given to adoption during National Adoption Week is trailblazing and represents an important step towards the societal recognition of the complexity of adoption as a route to permanence for children in care.
PAC-UK’s online event for adopted adults- Voices of Adopted People, Messages for Change- is happening on Monday 18 October. Registration is available here.
PAC-UK’s online event for birth families- Voices of Birth Parents- Loss, Hope and Change is happening on Wednesday 20 October. Registration is available here.
Laura Anderson, a birth mother who has experienced the loss of two children to adoption, has recently written a book about her experiences which is available here.
Laura and her sons’ adoptive mother Peggy have produced a podcast- Two Good Mums describing their experience of open adoption which is available for free via iTunes.
I have recently written an article sharing research findings about the way that mothers can use artefacts in managing disenfranchised grief and ambiguous loss post-adoption which is available here.
People who are affected by adoption and in need of support can contact PAC-UK’s advice line on 020 7284 5879 (London office) and 0113 230 2100 (Leeds office). Information regarding the times when the line is open is available here.
Family Rights Group run a free, independent and confidential advice service which is available on 0808 801 0366 between Monday and Friday, 9:30-15:00 excluding bank holidays. They have a range of online resources for families navigating the family justice system.