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“Thankfully, birth parents of children adopted today don’t need to go through it alone”
Published: November 10, 2016
Many of us will have been saddened by the ITV documentary “Britain’s Adoption Scandal: Breaking the Silence” which focused on a handful of the many thousands of women pressured into “giving up” their babies for adoption in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Here, Frances Coller from After Adoption shares her experience of working with today’s birth families.
Each of the people featured in last night’s documentary had their own heartbreaking story to tell. But there were common themes – lack of control, grief and loss, pain and anguish – that still surround adoption today.
Nowadays, the idea of an “unmarried Mother” being stigmatized seems archaic. Adoption, too, happens for different reasons. Children are removed from their parents due to concerns about the child’s welfare. It may be that the birth parent has failed to protect the child from an abusive partner, has mental health issues, learning difficulties or addiction problems. Many of these parents are unable to care for their child as they were never cared for as children themselves. Not being able to parent a child is not the same as not loving them and birth parents are parents for life, even if they’re not parenting on a daily basis.
The women in the film were isolated and unsupported in grieving for the loss of their children. Thankfully, in 2016, birth parents having children removed for adoption, or whose children have already been adopted, don’t need to go through it on their own. Many adoption agencies provide support and information for birth families of adopted children. Birth parents can talk in confidence to professionals who will listen and support them. Contact arrangements – between birth parents and adopted children – can be particularly difficult to manage. Teams, like mine, at After Adoption, can guide them through that process too. We also offer a confidential counselling service and arrange support groups for others in the same situation.
One of the women in the programme, Diana, talked of being reunited with her daughter after 18 years. Mother and daughter gradually achieved a good relationship but they received no support once they were in touch with each other. It’s a testament to them that they have built a positive relationship because that doesn’t always happen.
A reunion can be a very positive time, providing answers to questions and an end to yearning. But it can also be an “emotional rollercoaster”. Diana talked of an overwhelming realisation of the time and experiences that she had lost. This isn’t uncommon for both sides of any reunion.
Some agencies can also help with the reunion process and tailor support to the needs of those concerned. We don’t just search and hand over a phone number. We provide an intermediary service, which basically means that we act as the go-between to help each party work out what, if anything, they want from the relationship. We make introductions and help people navigate the complex process of getting to know this person to whom they are closely linked, yet who is a stranger. There may be difficult information to share and strong feelings and memories that impact on other relationships. Whether a reunion is successful or not, support is now available for people when they need it.
Frances Coller is Service Manager with After Adoption a national charity supporting anyone affected by adoption. www.afteradoption.org.uk