A sharp rise in the number of adopted children being contacted by their natural parents via Facebook has sparked concern from charities who are warning of the potentially devastating consequences.
Adoption UK has spoken out after experiencing a high volume of cases of adopted children receiving unsolicited contact from their birth parents, who continuously flout the adoption contact guidelines via Facebook.
This not only causes potential distress and disruption to the child involved, but can also trigger psychological turmoil, especially if the birth parents have a history of neglect and abuse towards the child.
According to current adoption laws, an arrangement can be made for continued contact from the birth family, known as ‘letterbox contact’, if it’s in the interest of the child. This is handled via Social Services as it protects the adoptive family’s identity and location. However, there is no legislation in place when it comes to birth parents using social media to contact their children.
The freedom of information offered by Facebook blows apart the carefully protected procedures used by the adoption agencies, as birth parents can easily trace their children within minutes, without the interference of social services.
Once the child turns 18, parents and children are legally free to arrange a reunion, but as most young people have grown up with social networking, Facebook circumvents all of this.
“Unplanned and unsupported communication, contact and reunions between adoptive and birth families via Facebook and other social networking sites has already had a dramatic effect on adoption,” Jonathan Pearce, chief executive of Adoption UK, said in a statement.
“This will only increase in the future and will mean a radical rethink of how we arrange and support adoptions from care. First and foremost, we need to be more open and honest with adopted children about the reasons for their adoption and reality of the abuse and neglect they experienced within their birth families.
“Currently such life story work tends to be a sugar-coated or rose-tinted version of what really happened. Something closer to the truth will better protect and prepare adopted children for the destabilising effects of unplanned contact, which often happens at a key stage in their adolescence. Similarly, better support, in the form of counselling and therapeutic services, need to be available to adoptive families.”
Julia Feast from the British Association for Adoption & Fostering (BAAF) offers the following advice for adoptive parents whose child has been contacted by their birth parents via Facebook.
“The key thing is knowledge. Ensure your child knows what to do should this situation occur and be prepared for it," she told The Huffington Post UK.
“Ideally, the birth parents should know not to do it in the first instance because it can cause devastating consequences to the child, especially if they are really young. This is why it's extremely important to be open with your child and tell them all they need to know."
Keeping your child's social networking pages secure is also important. "Make sure your child's settings are private and again, make sure you've told them the importance of maintaining this practice," she adds.
Feast also believes that while it's vital that parents of adopted children need to be fiercely aware of birth parents making unsolicited contact, adoption agencies need to shake up their act too.
"Agencies need to get one step ahead. A potential body needs to step up and provide advice and contact details of who parents can contact if this occurs. We've experienced quite a few cases and we predict that the numbers will only get bigger as social networking continues to grow."
While there's no getting away from the fact that Facebook can be a quick tool for curious birth parents wanting to get in touch with their children – and vice versa – it can be done constructively with the help of trained intermediaries, claim the Adults Affected by Adoption charity (NORCAP).
"When people have made contact directly through Facebook, we are often approached for our Recovery and Support service because at least one of the parties is very distressed,” NORCAP charity leader Jean Milsted told The Huffington Post.
"The problem is that when a child is adopted, the birth parents are no longer legally the parents of the child. They have no legal rights over the child.
"The adopters are the child's legal parents and they are responsible for their welfare and well being, so any birth parent who does contact an adopted child without the knowledge of the adopters is being disrespectful to the child and his or her new family, and isn’t really considering the huge impact they might have on the child."
It would be much better if they went through the adopters who have to make decisions about what is in the best interests of their children, explains Milsted.
“They cannot do this directly, and would have to go through the adoption agency to do this. Contact with adopted children always has to be about what is right for the child. It is not about what the adults want regardless of the trauma it may create for the child."