Contact with birth relatives after adoption is an important decision which should be made on a case by case basis. Our social work academics have developed a practice model to help practitioners around the UK devise contact plans that are positive for everyone.
In the past, adoption usually meant that an adopted child and their birth family would have no contact with each other once the adoption had taken place; this is often called "closed adoption". From the 1990s onwards in the UK, adoption has become more "open" with many children having the option to contact birth family members by letter or, in a minority of cases, through face-to-face meetings.
Based on this movement UEA lecturer Professor Elsbeth Neil began researching how these open adoptions work out in a study known as “Contact after Adoption”. The "Contact after Adoption" study has answered questions about what post-adoption contact arrangements are like from the viewpoint of children, adoptive parents and birth relatives. The study has focused on children adopted in England who were under the age of four when placed for adoption.
I had worked for 10 years in social care and social work settings and wanted to use this experience in my research. The topic of adoption interested me because it brings up so many important human issues such as love and loss as well as families and identity, and it has been a great privilege for me to be able to hear from children and their families about these important matters over the years.
Professor Elsbeth Neil
This study has found that contact in its various forms can work in a variety of ways. Sometimes it can be enjoyable and seen as beneficial by everyone involved, but contact can also be disappointing or emotionally challenging and it may not be right for every child.
These findings suggest that children's contact with birth relatives should be carefully considered on a case by case basis and that support should be available to help ensure that contact is a positive experience for children.
Due to these findings Professor Neil has developed a practice model to help practitioners around the UK make and support contact plans that are positive for children and their families.