The influence of adoption on sibling relationships: Experiences and support needs of newly formed adoptive families

By Sarah Meakings, Amanda Coffey and Katherine Shelton 

British Journal of Social Work, 50(5), pp. 1324-1344
Review written by Dr David Wilkins

What question does this study focus on?

This paper looks at how sibling relationships, in their various different forms, are affected by adoption. 

How did they study it?

The case-file records of 374 children recently placed for adoption in Wales were reviewed. In addition, 96 adoptive parents completed a questionnaire, and 40 of these parents were also interviewed. The questionnaires were completed four months after the child was adopted, and the interviews took place another five months later. 

What did they find?

Analysis of the case-file records found that most of the children placed for adoption (n=325, 87%) had at least one brother or sister, and one-third (n=122, 33%) were adopted as part of a sibling group. From the questionnaire sample, nearly one-third (n=29, 30%) were placed for adoption as part of a sibling group, while the majority (n=81, 84%) had at least one sibling living elsewhere. New sibling relationships were created in nearly one-third of the families (n=28, 29%). Sibling relationships were reported to provide the child with companionship, reassurance and comfort. However, parents were also concerned about unexpected levels of sibling discord, and perceptions of harmful dynamics. Several described sibling relationships as being characterised by fierce jealousy. There were some reports of physical violence between siblings. For adopted children with birth siblings living elsewhere, parents spoke passionately about the importance of maintaining meaningful contact, although a smaller minority did not want this because of safeguarding concerns in relation to birth families more generally. All the parents who did want to promote sibling contact felt they needed help from the local authority to facilitate it. Some said they had to prompt social workers to help, while others noted a distinct lack of support. 

What are the implications?

The process of adoption does not just have the potential to sever and create child-carer relationships, it also severs and creates child-child relationships. Social workers need to recognise and value the importance of sibling relationships for adopted children, while local authorities need to think carefully about what support they offer to adoptive families to promote and facilitate sibling contact. 

Dr David Wilkins