This year’s annual adoption lecture was courtesy of Dr Mandi MacDonald from Queens University Belfast talking about adoptive parents’ experiences of birth family contact.
The lecture focused on Dr MacDonalds own research in Northern Ireland where the adoption landscape differs from that in Wales (and England). In Northern Ireland most of the children adopted last year, were adopted by their Foster Carers, which might go some way to explain why there is also a much greater prevalence for face to face birth family contact. Similar practice in New South Wales in Australia was mentioned, where more formal birth family contact arrangements are made as part of the adoption process.
Research conducted in partnership with Adoption UK in Norther Ireland, produced statistics on birth family contact rates across the UK. These clearly show that Northern Ireland is leading on face to face contact, with over 70% of families having some face to face contact. Where as in England and Wales this face to face contact arrangement is minimal, with the primary contact being ‘letterbox’.
Findings from her study show that broadly speaking adopted parents thought it was much better for the adopted child to have contact with their birth family, although it wasn’t easy to arrange or manage. One comment from an adopted parent included, that the most helpful contact is when the children get a realistic view of the birth families, warts and all, to help keep fantasies at bay. Another highlighted that sometime their children wanted to check up on their birth families just to make sure they were okay. A key message from the research was that we need to think about children’s experience of adversity and trauma and how that plays out in contact. There needs to be family-focused informed contact with support before, during and after.
After a thoroughly engaging and interesting lecture there was time for a few questions form the audience before the lecture finished with quotes from young people.