Contact. Part 2.

My son has lost a lot of people in his short life. Birth family, yes of course. But others too – foster carers, family of foster carers, foster siblings, social workers, friends of mine and also members of our wider family left behind when we moved.

Whilst of course we remain in close contact with family and most friends, it seems odd to me that contact with the other people in his life before adoption was not encouraged or promoted.

Take his first foster carers. They looked after him whilst he was a tiny baby, but he lived with them the same amount of time he lived with his birth family. I was told that his first foster carer bumped into him shortly before he came to live with me and that she burst into tears upon seeing him – his two foster carers blubbed together over him, in united grief and a sort of joy that he had a new family, in the reception area of the LA! This first foster carer also passed on a book to us through his old SW about his time with her family and a disk with about 50 photos of him at that time. But we have no contact or way of contacting them to say thank you. I can’t ever ask the names of the other children in those photos and so every time my son asks, ‘who’s that?’ when we look at the pictures, I have to say, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t know’.

Then there are his foster siblings. One foster sibling in his last placement was only a couple of months older than him. My son only had a few ‘proper’ words when he came home, but with this foster sibling he had a whole special language and they could understand each other – a bit like twins – it was thoroughly bizarre to watch. At nursery, my son would seek out his foster sibling and stay by their side. When the foster sibling was moved up a class a head of him he looked everywhere for them. It wasn’t all idyllic – in the foster carers journal are accounts of squabbles, punches flung from both sides, stolen toys, banged heads, biting, all sorts! And yet, during introductions I saw a great deal of joy between them too – dancing together in the kitchen and bursting into fits of giggles at the same time for absolutely no reason that anyone else could see. My son lived with these siblings for a long time in his short life – much longer, again, than he lived with his birth family – but again we have no contact or way of contacting them. When he asks me when he gets older what happened to them, again I will have to say, ‘I’m sorry darling, we just don’t know’. At the LA Summer party last year I looked out for them in case they had been placed with a new forever family and I could ask if we could exchange details, but they weren’t there and its unlikely we’ll attend another.

I understand that biological relatives are all that is considered important in contact. And they may well be all he considers important as he gets older. But I do wonder if it is time to be a bit more embracing of the whole of an adopted child’s past and all the losses they have experienced. Yes my son has a birth family, but he was also a part of other families too – who also loved him, cared for him deeply and who also experienced a loss. Why does there need to be a severing of those ties? I know it wouldn’t be right for all families and I know it would be a nightmare if it was made ‘official’. But if, as I have been told repeatedly by professionals, contact is really meant to be about supporting his identity and helping him to piece his story together, then I believe the opportunity some sort of wider informal contact for my son could have been really beneficial in helping to minimise all the losses he has had.

Advertisements

Contact

One of the single most worrying things for prospective adopters preapproval is the thought of contact. In my prep group there were those who didn’t realise this was the reality of adoption these days and were shocked that they were expected to maintain indirect contact with birth family. Periodically most adopters are required to write one, perhaps two letters and often for various family members. Sometimes children are required to have direct contact with siblings in other adoptive families.

I had read lots (and lots) of books about adoption, so for me it wasn’t a shock. In all the adoption books Contact is presented as a positive for the child in order to maintain a link with the past and understand who they are and where they come from. It is often written in those books that most birth family are either sporadic in their contact or never reply at all. All this, still so far so good, understandable even. I was even up for direct contact with siblings. During prep we were assured about security risks and inappropriate content and about the ‘agreement’ that the parties must sign in order for it to be official (though not often legally binding). My attitude was still positive – I actually had a bit of a ‘heated’ discussion in favour of contact with another couple on the prep course.

At the same time, I also heard ‘horror stories’ from other people on Twitter about their contact experiences. Inappropriate letters that should never have been sent on, inappropriate cards and poems and photos, information shared that was difficult to read and so on. It all sounded terrible, but my LA had done such a good job at reassurance that I was confident in the arrangements.

Wind forward a few months. Within weeks of my gorgeous boy coming home, the contact agreement arrived and I dutifully signed it. Amongst other things, the birth family are required to call themselves by their first names, none of us are allowed to send or receive photos and we have to send our letters in set months. That is what I signed and agreed to – and so should the other parties too.

However the requests soon began – requests to send Christmas cards, for photos, for being allowed to send letters at unagreed times, requests to be asked to call themselves familial names (i.e. ‘Daddy’ or ‘Mummy’) rather than first names. And the promise of letters that never arrive or do arrive at the co-ordinators office but are too inappropriate to send on.

Every couple of months the letterbox co-ordinator has been on the phone telling me how upset his birth family are and could I just let them do ‘xyz’. Most of the requests I did not agree to but in saying ‘no, please stick to the agreement’, I have felt like the bad guy. It isn’t easy knowing and constantly being reminded that another family are in pain over losing the child you now love and adore and consider your own. But their pain is not my fault – although I parent him now, I wasn’t the one who took him into care, I also wasn’t the one whose actions caused him to be taken into care in the first place- and being reminded of their loss doesn’t help me in trying to bring up my son. In an effort at compassion and a recognition of how difficult it must be for them to put letters together I did agree to them sending letters outside of the set timeframe. But then came the agonising wait to see if they were actually going to show…and if so when. It has now all become too stressful and intrusive. I understand now why there are set months for contact and how if the agreement is implemented it protects adopters from this unnecessary stress.

And now my son’s former SW has been in contact to say a couple of members of birth family have been in touch and sent on something inappropriate and that I have to decide what happens to it. As it contains things not allowed by the agreement, in my opinion it should have been placed straight on file. However yet again, I have had to make a decision.

My opinion of contact, managed well, has not really changed. But sadly that has not been my experience thus far. For my family I still feel that as long as it is useful for my son (and he is too young to voice an opinion quite yet) I will continue with contact but I will insist on every part of the agreement being stuck to.

It does, however, make me wonder if the actual agreement is worth the piece of paper it is written on as it only ever seems to be the adopters who are required to stick to it.