Thursday, 30 September 2010

Two tales of adoption, search and reunion

Karen

From an early age I was aware that I had been adopted. While I was always inquisitive it was not until I turned 30 that I decided it was the right time to trace my birth mother. The main reason for waiting this long was the feelings of guilt attached to my adoptive family, particularly my mum with whom I have a very close relationship.

As a result, I decided not tell my parents that I was going to trace my birth mum. It was a daunting task to take on all alone though, so I contacted an adoption agency who helped prepare me for the journey ahead.

Reading my adoption file was such a bombshell. The biggest shock was finding out that my name had been changed from Anne to Karen. Reading about Baby Anne was surreal. It felt like reading about a complete stranger. If I had not had the support of a social worker sitting alongside me at this point, I don’t know what I would have done.

From my records I read about the difficulties my mother faced in keeping me, as back then illegitimate pregnancies were not socially acceptable. I felt no bitterness or anger towards my birth mother, which when we finally did meet made things easier, although it was still very emotional. We shared photos and information about our pasts and got on well. Although we haven’t met again we do communicate through Facebook. Other than this I would find it difficult to fit my birth mother into my life, as she does not know me as my friends and adoptive family do.

I am extremely grateful for my adoption. I have had a wonderful life, meeting my soul mate, as well as an extremely close circle of friends and family. I do not want to lead a different life. I am also sensitive of the people around me, and wouldn’t want to do anything to upset them.

The thought of an adopted person searching for their birth family on social media sites concerns me, as they do not know that what they are being told is true. The internet can make adoptive people extremely vulnerable as they are often desperate for a quick answer. I was lucky, my search and reunion took only 6 months in total. During this time I was able to find out every detail of my birth, knowing that it was completely accurate. I know for other people it can be much longer, and there is the temptation for shortcuts, but I just don’t think it’s worth the risk. In all circumstances adoption involves pain and loss on both sides. Who knows what may be in your file - it could be deeply unsettling.

My advice for other adopted people is always have an intermediary such as a social worker, on hand to prepare you for all possible outcomes.


Alice

Since beginning my search for my birth mother I hae realised that there are no guarantees in life. I knew this before I started. But when you're about to search for the person that, in society, should always be there for you, I guess I thought it might be different.

I spent ten years searching for my birth mother. The reason it took so long was due to the amount of information I needed to work through. With each new bit of information I found I had to take time to process it and consider what it meant. It was a long and hard process and one where the final outcome was not positive. However it allowed me to put things into perspective with my adoptive family, my husband and most importantly my son!

My birth mother was not young when she had me - she was 26. But she came from a Greek Orthodox background, where having a child out of wedlock was not acceptable. She was sent to the UK on her own to give birth. After she had me she went to back to Greece. A year later she went to Sweden, and has stayed there for the past 35 years, not once communicating with her family back in Greece.

When I got it contact it came as a huge shock to her. She wrote a very angry and hurtful letter to me saying: "It doesn't happen this way. You don't get in contact with your biological mother and some sort of magic will change everything." Following the letter I spent a lot of time crying, and feeling very angry.

Since receiving that letter two years ago I have wondered whether sometimes things are best left to the unknown. However, for me this is very hard to accept. When you're adopted you are always searching, and have all these questions that only your birth mother can answer.

Oh dont get me wrong, I would love the answers (i.e who is my father and what is his name) especially now that the Pandora's box has been opened. Maybe one day she will write and tell me... but suspect she wont.

The experience has made me stronger, however there will always be a longing to know the answers to my questions, but one that I know that I no longer need to pursue.


If you are interested in tracing birth relatives visit www.adoptionsearchreunion.org.uk





Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Tips for adopted people on tracing birth relatives

Starting your search for birth relatives can be a daunting task. Here are some tips for adopted people to help you on your way.

Don’t start the journey until the time is right for you
Start the search and reunion journey when you feel the time is right for you. Don’t feel pressurised by others to embark on something you are not ready for or that does not feel comfortable for you.

Be aware of those involved
Most searches and reunions have a positive outcome. Welcomed and happy reunions can be exciting and consuming, but don’t forget about the other people around you. It’s important not to make them feel left out.

Prepare yourself for potential outcomes
Remember all reunions are unique, but it is good to have considered some of the potential positive and difficult outcomes that you may encounter along the way.

Consider the process from different perspectives
Sharing your thoughts and feelings, and thinking about how other people might be feeling can help you understand the search and reunion process from all the different perspectives.

Use an intermediary for initial contact
Do use an independent intermediary if you can - contacting birth relatives out of the blue can be exciting but also unsettling. Using an intermediary gives the person being contacted time to consider what the reunion will mean for them and their family.

Seek out support
Make sure you have the support you need. Talk to people you trust such as adoption counsellors, partners or friends, or join a support group to talk about your hopes, fears and expectations.

Be realistic and flexible in your expectations
Think about the expectations you have about the search and reunion as well as other people’s too. Sometimes these will not match so you need to think of how you will manage this. Be prepared to adjust your expectations along the way.

Involve your adoptive family in the process
If you can, do try and let your adoptive family know about your search and reunion journey - they may be a good support for you even though they may need reassurance that they will always be your family.

Be aware of the possibility of negative response
Receiving negative responses from birth relatives can be very upsetting and unsettling. Make sure you have people around that you can talk to and who can understand why you feel hurt.
Accept your changing emotions throughout

All people affected by an adoption reunion are likely to have a mixture of feelings about the event that may alter over time. Remember it can take time to get it right and comfortable for


The following is tips about searching that has been summarised from The Adoption Reunion Handbook (which reported the experiences of adopted people who searched for information) by Liz Trinder, Julia Feast and David Howe. Wiley, 2004 and has been included on this website with kind permission of the publisher.

For further information about adoption, search and reunion visit our website at www.adoptionsearchreunion.org.uk



Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Adoption, search and reunion: when and how is right to trace birth family members

Over the years I have had contact with hundreds of adopted people, birth family members and adoptive parents, and it never ceases to amaze me how unique each adoption, search and reunion experience is. What is really important however is that adopted people who are about to embark on a search for birth relatives have time to prepare and think about their motivations and possible outcomes.

Before adopted people begin a search for birth family members, it is important to think about their motivations. Their life and those of others may be changed forever. It is vital they ask themselves a few questions at the start. For example, what do they want to achieve by tracing and contacting the birth family? Is it to satisfy curiosity, to complete a family tree, to clarify the past? Do they want to establish or renew a longed-for relationship?

It may be a combination of these questions and others. Sometimes motivations are hard to put into words, but it is helpful to be as clear about these as possible. By thinking things through in advance, the adopted person will be more prepared for what may lie ahead .

People also need to think about, and prepare themselves for, the range of positive as well as negative outcomes they may encounter. For example, how will they feel if the person you find does not respond or does not want contact? What if they learn that their birth relative has died or cannot be located? What if the birth relative does not want contact or not as much as the adopted person would like?

The majority of search and reunion stories have generally positive outcomes. Even when the contact and reunion has not worked out, it is not unusual to hear adopted people say that they are glad that they searched. Often they will have gained more background information and are now living with a reality, not a fantasy.

It is vital that adopted people have support when they are searching for birth family members. Such support can be provided by the adoption agency that was involved in the adoption. Alternatively the adoption team at the local authority where the adopted person lives can help. Adoption workers can be a good source of support when the search is frustrating, or leads to sad or disappointing information. They can help the adopted person talk through their hopes and fears, as well as the decisions they may need to make along the way. They can also act as an intermediary and make the initial approach when the birth relative has been located.

BAAF’s Adoption Search Reunion website has lots of helpful information for adopted people as well as for birth and adoptive relatives. Tomorrow we’ll be back with some handy tips for adopted people who want to locate and make contact with birth relatives.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Family connections through the eyes of an adopted child

The family connections of adopted children can be very complicated and confusing. An adoptive father shares with us how his son explained his own family tree with a drawing.

My 9 year old son was asking me the difference between step-brothers and sisters, and half-brothers and sisters, so this gave us an opportunity to sit and talk about how children are created and how he relates to his (half) brother who we have also adopted.

He then sat down and drew this picture (below). At first I couldn’t work out what he’d drawn, but then he explained; along the top row were his birth mother, birth father, and the other 2 men his mother had had children with. Along the middle line were all his siblings. Finally along the bottom, was me and my partner, and the other adoptive parents than make up his siblings families.

Despite all the training, it wasn’t until I looked at this diagram, that it really brought home the complexity of my boy’s life.


For more information on how to talk to your children about adoption visit the BAAF Bookshop.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

A Week in the Life Of...Be My Parent Deputy Editor


Felicity Francis, Deputy Editor of Be My Parent, provides insight into a typical week in the Be My Parent office.

The hum of activity in the Be My Parent editorial team always follows a monthly wave: children’s profile writing, chasing social workers for information, proofreading profiles and sending the newspaper to print, before starting the process again with booking in referrals. But all of this is mixed in with writing web profiles, writing features for the website – and this week for the November National Adoption Week issue – editing video clips, reviewing website content and doing a bit of marketing. I’ve only been here six weeks and I’m still in the process of understanding our team’s fine mechanics, but I already know that we don’t often have time to spare!

I begin Monday by writing profiles for the website as I’m waiting for the newspaper proofs. I’m often affected by children’s profiles, but one today is particularly heart-breaking. A little girl has had such a sad time so far in life that, in the social worker’s words, she appears ‘frozen’. When she’s given a toy she just sits and holds it, not knowing how to play. I really hope she finds a family soon!
Another profile is for a baby who has some complicated medical conditions. We’re lucky to have a short film clip of this boy, which Isabelle, the editor of Be My Parent, has checked and uploaded on the website. Children with video clips tend to receive more enquiries because prospective adopters can get a more rounded idea of the child.
Writing profiles for the newspaper can be really tricky, because a standard profile is only 175 words. When a social worker sends two pages of information, we just have to cut it down. But how should I decide what is more important to tell prospective families? That the little boy won a prize for writing a short story at school or that he finds it hard to give people cuddles? How should I balance including crucial medical needs with words that let the child’s personality shine through?
Tuesday begins with the first set of proofs. After Dinah, the editorial and production officer for the newspaper, checks that all the children are in the right place with the right details and photo, I proofread the entire paper. This takes some time, but I’m one of those strange people who loves checking grammar!
I end Tuesday on a lovely note; I interview a family who recently adopted a little girl. They are so happy and feel so blessed to have their daughter, and the support from their families has been incredible. The feature is for our special National Adoption Week of the newspaper, which goes out to a lot of prospective adopters, so I hope their story will encourage even more families to adopt.
On Wednesday I have another look through the proofs after writing the feature – there is a lot of to’ing and fro’ing between me and the printers to make sure everything’s right. I get a phone call from a social worker who wants to make a last minute change, as sadly a child’s birth mother has passed away. Changes will come trickling in until we go to press, as it can take some social workers a while to get back to us!
On Thursday I turn my mind to reviewing websites pages. A lot of people come to Be My Parent online for information, so it’s important that it’s up to date, well structured and fresh. I’ve got a lot of ideas for developing the website, so watch out for changes to the site over the next year!
Emily, the editorial and production officer for the website, leads the process of publishing children online, but Dinah and I do this too. It’s quite a complicated method of checking the information and photos and adding links to the glossary pages. We’re getting more and more web only referrals these days, so we need to make sure we keep on top of this.
Friday is a happy day – a sibling group got placed! We don’t always find out when children who have been featured find a family, but when we do it’s always a brilliant feeling. It can be very hard to find adopters for sibling groups so we’re particularly happy. What a lovely end to the week!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

What does an adoption and fostering press officer do?

 Jane Elston is the press officer at the British Association for Adoption and Fostering. She explains what a press officer in adoption and fostering actually does.

I’m usually one of the first in the office around 8 o’clock and, whilst I love working in an atmosphere of camaraderie and chaos that is the open plan office. I really relish the calm and peace of the first hour or so when it’s just me, my coffee and the day’s newspapers.

By 9 o’clock the phones start ringing. Along with the usual calls from journalists asking for stats or general information, there is always something that isn’t routine, with everyday bringing a different challenge.

On Monday myself and one of our consultants, have a meeting with a TV producer who is researching a documentary about looked after children. The producer would like BAAF’s input on what the most important issues are, especially as she is well aware that this is a subject that has to be treated with great sensibility and sensitivity. Through the press office, BAAF is always being contacted by programme makers of both fiction and non-fiction who are working on projects about adoption and fostering. Although BAAF won’t necessarily get a mention, we endeavour to help as we feel it’s important that the right information is given out to the public, and that the issues are treated in a sensitive way.

Tuesday sees me working on a pitch to secure coverage in regional press for BAAF’s new scheme ‘Adoption Champions’ as part of National Adoption Week (1-7 November). We have asked adoption experienced people to be ‘Adoption Champions’ and help ‘spread the word’. The uptake has been really successful and one of our fantastic media volunteers, a single adoptive mum whose daughter is now a teenager has signed up. She is happy to be interviewed by the regional press in her area so I have written a press release about our mum to send out to the local papers and radio stations. BAAF is so grateful to all our wonderful media volunteers who generously share their time and adoption stories with a wider audience through the media.

On Thursday it’s a big treat – I get to leave the office! BAAF’s Fundraising Officer, Daisy, and I go for a meeting with BAAF patron and TV’s favourite hairdresser, Andrew Barton, at his gorgeous salon in Covent Garden. Andrew is adopted and is a fantastic supporter of BAAF. He has very generously offered to host a fundraising event at his salon. It will be a glamorous evening with guests enjoying champagne and canap├ęs as they have exclusive hair and make-up consultations with Andrew and his top experts. Daisy and I became very excited when Andrew, on top of all the other wonderful things he is offering to help us with, suggests that the BAAF volunteers helping with the event (i.e. us) should be given red carpet hair for the evening! BAAF is so lucky to have Andrew and all our other patrons who are so generous with their time and support.

As the week draws to a close, I am in contact with a producer from BBC Radio 4 who is making a programme about attachment disorder. As well as arranging for our Director of Policy, John Simmonds, to take part in the panel discussion, I arrange for the producer to talk with one of our media volunteers. They agree to do a pre-recorded, anonymous, interview about her experiences, which will be used throughout the show.

This is just a glimpse of what I get up to as BAAF’s press officer, but whatever I am doing, it is always interesting and incredibly fulfilling and satisfying. I LOVE MY JOB!
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