In the early days of adoption, it was normal to cut ties between an adopted child and their birth family. Adults who were adopted as children have changed the way Adoption Agencies think about this practice, by telling us that they would have liked to have more information about their birth families in order to have a better sense of their own history and identity.
It is now more common for children who have been adopted to have some kind of contact arrangement with birth families or significant people from their past. This is sometimes agreed as part of their Adoption Order, and sometimes less formally made if it is right for the child.
Adoption Information Exchange, (also known as letterbox exchange) takes the form of written information, usually once or twice a year between the birth family and the adoptive family. This sometimes includes an exchange of photographs, but always includes an exchange of letters or cards. Birth families and adoptive families do not have access to each other’s address or personal details, so an Information Exchange is used and letters are sent to Hampshire’s Information Exchange service. All correspondence is then checked before it is passed on to ensure it is safe and appropriate for the birth family or adoptive family to receive.
If letter contact is agreed for a child you adopt, or your birth child who has been adopted, you will be told by your social worker about the details of the scheme and the kind of information you could pass on. You will be asked to sign an agreement which indicates your commitment to the contact arrangements. The arrangements can be reviewed.
For some children, direct or face-to-face contact may be part of the contact arrangements. This could be with a brother or sister (who may have been adopted or placed within another family), or with a member of the extended birth family such as a grandparent who the child may have lived with before adoption and has a close bond with.
Contact with birth parents is occasional, and is only offered if it is considered to be in the best interests of the child. Direct contact usually takes place once or twice a year. In the case of seeing brothers and sisters it is sometimes more often. Again, adoptive families and birth families are never given each other’s personal information or address details and so the contact is arranged and supported by Hampshire’s Adoption Support team.
Contact arrangements may also need to be flexible to meet the changing needs of the child as they grow, and the issues of contact arrangements will be discussed with adoptive families during assessment and preparation, and for birth families as part of the court process. Any contact agreement would be reviewed at least annually by a social worker or support worker in the adoption support team.
It is vital that, in thinking about and learning more about contact, that adoptive families are honest and open about the level and nature of contact that they are able to accept and the commitment they are able to make to contact. It is obviously a sensitive issue for all the parties involved and particularly for the child, whose needs and wishes are at the heart of the adoption.
Tel: 01489 587543