Written by Dotty Winters

Voices

Think Before You Share

If you see a Facebook post where someone’s trying to track down a family member who was adopted and you share it, you might be doing more harm than good. Adoptive parent Dotty Winters explains why.

In recent months I’ve seen an increase of people sharing Facebook posts designed to reunite family members separated by adoption. Most are from a member of the birth family, seeking to track down a child/sibling/cousin adopted years ago.

I can completely understand why people share these but, as an adoptive parent, every time I see one it makes me worried for everyone involved.

In the UK, as an adopted child approaches 18, a range of options open to them. By this age they should have full awareness of the circumstances of their adoption. (Social Services help adoptive parents with this.) Gone are the days when your best bet of making contact was to persuade Daddy Warbucks to help you appear in a radio commercial for toothpaste. Adopted people who’ve had letter box contact (a common arrangement where birth and adoptive families keep in touch through letters sent via Social Services) will already know a lot about their birth families and, even if there hasn’t been such an arrangement, there are ways of making contact, with the support of Social Services.

Being tracked down through Facebook can be stressful, unmanaged and traumatic. It removes choice for adopted people as to when, if or how they reconnect with their birth family.

As one social worker, Leslie*, explained: “Facebook is incredibly tempting for people dying to trace a relative. People often have a Surprise Surprise happy ending in mind, so they race to do a quick search, find their relative and send them a message all in the space of a few minutes”.

Most of the posts I’ve seen circulating on Facebook relate to adopted people who, based on the year they were adopted, should have access to effective ways of tracing and contacting their birth families if they chose to do so. Even people adopted before November 1975 – before this date birth families were told they could not be traced – can now make contact with birth families if this is something both parties want to do. The Adoption Act requires that adoptees talk with a counsellor in this circumstance.

Adoption stories are often more complicated that you can imagine

Leslie added: “Unfortunately most adoptions these days are the result of a child being removed from their birth family as it was not safe for them to be there, so 15 years on the same or similar risks may still exist.”

I spoke to Nicola*, who was adopted. She explained: “I would be quite shocked to be contacted via Facebook. As a teenager, I felt she had no right to contact me. As an adult, I feel it is up to me if I want contact, not up to her. If I had a message on FB, I would be intrigued but angry that she is trying to come into my life in that way – also a bit scared.

“I would feel it was a total intrusion of my life and would probably push her away more.”

Adopted people reuniting with their birth families can be a valuable and wonderful experience. Great adoptive families will support this where it’s in the best interests of their child, but it’s important each adopted person is able to make their own choices about the timing and tone of contact.

Unexpected contact of this type can be equally disruptive and upsetting for birth families traced by children who have been adopted. Social workers I spoke to said this scenario is more common, but told me of cases of harassment, trauma and upset from both sides.

One of them, Jennifer*, said: “Most birth mothers who have had a child removed and adopted carry the pain of this all their lives and so a message from this child is likely to knock them off their feet.

“How well they manage this can depend on what support they have in their lives. There are often a whole host of other people also affected by such an approach including the adoptive parents, adoptive siblings, the birth mother’s current family, including any other children she may have, and other birth particularly those who remember the child being adopted.”

A number of the posts I’ve seen on Facebook are from birth siblings, but the date they mention for the adoption suggests the birth parents involved would be able to express an interest in making contact through social services. These requests for contact from a birth sibling may be being made without the knowledge or consent of birth parents.

Adopted people reuniting with their birth families can be a valuable and wonderful experience. Great adoptive families will support this where it’s in the best interests of their child, but it’s important each adopted person is able to make their own choices about the timing and tone of contact.

The chances of this experience being positive and sustainable increase when all involved can access appropriate support in order to help:

• Understand why they are making contact at this time and what they hope to get out of it

• Access at the adoption records to clarify the circumstances of the adoption

• Work through any unresolved feelings they may have in relation to the adoption

• Consider how their approach might impact on the relative they wish to trace

• Consider a range of outcomes, including possible disappointment, further loss and rejection

• Consider the complexities of the situation and the needs of everyone involved

• Prepare for GSA (Genetic Sexual Attraction), where people are surprised to find themselves attracted to a relative they have just met

• Contact the relative and so act as an intermediary – which gives each person more space as they are not communicating directly at first.

That post you are about to share might remove someone’s choice. Before you hit the “share” button, remember there may be another side to the story you are sharing.

* All names in this story have been changed.

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Written by Dotty Winters

Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.