We sent off our 2nd letterbox contact letter today, and it got me thinking about contact in adoption.
When we were being assessed to adopt, the subject of contact (with birth family) was discussed. It was explored both in our home study with our social worker, and in our group sessions.
I think that contact (whether direct or indirect) is a strange concept to people who don’t know adoption. Some people may think why should you continue a dialogue with (sometimes, but not always) the very people that the child was removed from. Surely in adoption all links to birth family are cut? What’s the benefit of continued contact? What form can contact take? I’m sure that all these questions were once on my mind too.
Because there was already adoption and fostering in our family before we were approved, we could see firsthand the benefits and challenges of several different types of contact. We’ve seen how occasional direct contact in one case was actually not very beneficial, and caused stress and anxiety (and associated behavioural challenges) for the children involved. This also had an impact on the wider family who experienced the challenges second hand. In another case, regular direct (in that it is Skype) between siblings is really beneficial, and it helps those children have a sense of identity and understanding of where they have come from. They can share joint experiences as they grow up and can be a support to each other (if this is what they decide they need). In another case letter box contact between siblings (well their adoptive parents) is about to start, and again, this will hopefully be helpful for both the children and their families as they grow up.
In our case we have yearly letterbox contact with two birth family members, and once yearly direct contact with one. This arrangement although not court appointed was discussed very early on during the match as the social workers needed to know that the adopters would be in agreement to it. We thought quite a lot about whether we would be happy with this. We decided that as long as it was beneficial and not causing our child to be harmed/hurt, we would at least agree to start it and see how it goes. We thought that hopefully it would help her to understand more about where she had come from, and help her to form a strong identity in herself. It may help her to understand about her adoption, and she would know that we didn’t want to erase this other vital part of her life. We felt that the direct contact was more unusual, and more a risk, but we were reassured that it was low risk. Again, we felt that for now it was really important we keep links to birth family, and when our child is old enough, she can decide for herself what she wants to do. This person was significant in her life before (and also whilst) she was in care, and we didn’t want to take this relationship away. We are clear though that we agree to this as long as its in her best interest, and not just to appease others.
We had the opportunity to actually meet members of the birth family, and for me this was such a valuable experience. It helped to bring these people that we’d read about on paper to life, and it enabled us to think of them as people who have thoughts/feelings rather than just those people that the child wasn’t able to live with. What we learnt and heard from them in that hour is so important, powerful and helpful. We have photos from the meeting, so can show her and talk about it when she’s ready. What could have been a very difficult meeting was actually very positive for us as well as them (I hope). I think they were relieved to see who their precious girl (and she was (still is) loved by them) will be equally loved by us. We were able to tell them about some of our hobbies and interests, so they could know what sort of life she will have, and how her interests would fit right into what we already enjoyed doing.
So, to our letterbox contact, I’m so grateful we met who we are writing too. It really helps me to think back to that meeting, and to try to imagine how they might be feeling when they receive our letter. It means that we’re writing to real people, and not just names we’ve read about. Its strange writing about and sharing our child with people who are still strangers really. Sharing milestones, photos and achievements makes me very proud, but also sad (for them) that they are missing out on watching this gorgeous girl grow up. It’s helped me realise just how well she is doing, how well she has settled and how much she has changed. As I write, it’s 5months today since she moved here, which makes it about 6months, a whole half year since they saw her for the last time.I can’t imagine how they feel about this. It also makes me feel very privileged and honoured that we do get this experience (to raise this child), and it makes me determined to do as good a job as we can.
Now we wait (hopefully) for a reply, which I’m sure will bring up another who set of feelings and emotions (whether we get a reply or not).