Types of contact
Who will the contact be with?
Contact varies depending on the situations of all involved.
The contact can be with either, or both, birth parents, with grandparents or with other relatives. When a child is adopted separately from any birth siblings, contact arrangements may be put in place in order for the siblings to stay in touch.
How will the contact work?
There are different levels of contact. It can range from the exchange of letters, updating the birth family on the child's progress, to direct, face to face meetings between the child and their birth family.
When a letter is sent, whether by the child, adoptive parents or the birth family member, it is delivered to a third party, the letterbox co-ordinator.
The co-ordinator will check that the letter contains no information that has not been agreed.
Normally only first names are used, and adopters would not include any identifying information such as the child's school.
After the letterbox co-ordinator has checked the letter it is passed on to the child, adoptive parents or the birth family member.
When a child is placed, a written agreement is drawn up stating the content and frequency of any letterbox contact, and signed by all involved. It is not legally binding and anyone involved can ask for a review of the arrangements at any time.
- Maintains links between the child and their birth family without the problems of direct contact.
- Adopters can share information from the birth family with the child at an appropriate time and help them if they have any questions.
- Adoptive parents have more control over what is written or read than over what is said in face to face meetings.
- Birth families can receive information about their child, allaying some of their worries about their child's welfare and happiness.
- Letterbox contact can become disheartening if the birth family contact stops writing.
- Birth family members may be unsure about what to write, concerned about what the adopters think of them, worried what their child might have been told about them and lack confidence in their ability to write things down.
There can be good and bad direct contact, too much or too little. If ordered by the court, direct contact can get off to a bad start and undermine potential relationships between adopters and birth relatives. Adopters can feel that they are being compelled to enter into the arrangement and cannot be trusted to do what is in the child's best interests, or even that the child is not really theirs.
- Dispels fears and preconceptions, reassuring the child that their parent is OK, preventing the child from building up fantasies about their birth family, and assuaging worries that they have been forgotten.
- A chance for everyone involved to ask questions, confront issues. Read our suggested questions to ask at a meeting with your child's birth parents.
- Counters the child's feelings of rejection when they know the birth parents still want to see them.
- Reinforces the child's sense of identity, especially with transracial/cross cultural adoptions.
- Children can see that their birth parents accept the adopters as their permanent carers.
- Can help birth parents understand that they can still have a significant, though different, role in their children's lives.
- Helps the child to move on and so enhance attachments in the adoptive family.
- Can be a reminder of past trauma.
- Birth relatives can undermine the new placement's stability, e.g. "I want to have you back".
- Confidentiality can be breached – the child could accidentally give away information that could enable the birth parent to find the adoptive family.
- Exchange of gifts can become competitive and send out confusing messages – is a more extravagant gift evidence that the birth parent loves him/her more than the adopters do?
- Adopters can be drawn into supporting birth relatives.
- Bad timing can cause contact to interfere with the process of attaching to the new family.
It is important to realise the implications of telephone numbers/email addresses being exchanged between children and members of the birth family - this inevitably means less control over what is communicated.
Once a young person has a phone number, there may be little the parent can do to monitor calls.
With children increasingly using social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, these can also pose risks. Children are able to make unsupervised contact, and also breach confidentiality.
Further information and resources
If you have questions about contact you'd like to ask why not contact our Helpline?
Alternatively, you can post a question on our Forums. Here are some existing threads on the topic: