This week we had our 2nd independent ‘contact’ with Little Love’s Birth Family. This time we arranged it (nearly) entirely ourselves. It was (nearly) independent of any professional input. I say nearly because there was one brief intervention from the support worker at Social Services because the family member had sent a message to us via them.
Since talking quite openly about our direct contact (we prefer meet up, or family time), I’ve had a few people ask about how they can do it too. So, I’ll let you know how it works for us, and hopefully it might help others. As I’ve said, we are not professionals in this area, so I don’t want others to think that our way is the only or right way. I want to stress that every situation is different, and that’s ok. What might work for one may not for another. I would advise to seek professional support and advice. But, also to go with you intuition and gut instincts. You know your situation, your child, your family. You know what’s best for them. I’d say be careful. Really think about the risks involved for everyone. Don’t underestimate the impact it will have on you, the child, the birth family. It is exhausting, it is intense, it takes time to sort. But, it can be so beneficial. It can be beautiful. And it can be fun too.
So, we are now at a stage where we can arrange and meet our time on our own. We have a second phone we use, so as not to use our personal ones. But, to understand how we got this far, I need to take you back a few years to the beginning. When we were being considered to be matched with Little Love, we knew from the start that direct contact with a member of her family was going to be requested. This information was on her Link Maker profile, so we knew about it even before we knew very much about her at all. It was something we said we’d definitely consider, but at that point hadn’t really learnt much about how it works. It was quite uncommon 4years ago I think, so I don’t think we knew anyone else who had direct contact. This person is not a Birth Parent, but it is someone whom she lived with before she went into care.
We were fortunate enough to meet the family member before Little Love came home, and this really helped us to confirm in our minds that direct contact was going to be a positive thing (we hoped). It was lovely to meet the person we’d be seeing again, and to hear how much they loved our daughter. To hear how much they wanted to still see her and be involved in her life. To hear how they would take precautions to make sure contact worked as safely as possible. They were fully committed to direct contact, and it helped us to be as equally as committed too. At that meeting we started to build a relationship, that is still growing now.
The next meeting was arranged and supervised by a support worker from the placing Local Authority. It took place about 10months after our daughter came home, which was about 11months after she and her relative had last seen each other. It was in a place where neither of us live, about half way in between. The support worker provided transport for the relative as they can’t drive. This first meeting was really quite emotional, and the relative clearly found saying goodbye hard. They knew they weren’t going to see Little Love for another year, and that must have been so so hard for them. It was only a couple of hours, but it was lovely. Little love was initially a little shy, appropriately so. But she soon warmed up and was quite happy and comfortable with her relative. At this point we knew we’d made the right decision to agree to contact. The 2nd and 3rd meet-ups were in the same place, and took pretty much the same format. It was great to see LL and her relative pick up where they left off the last time they’d seen each other. The meet ups were each a year apart. They often felt like long years, but also seemed to pass in the blink of an eye.
At some point during those initial meetings we were informed that the LA we’re planning to withdraw their physical support for these meet-ups. They said that this was normal practice, but came as a surprise to us, as we didn’t think it hadn’t been communicated clearly to us. We were committed to continuing this invaluable family time, but were concerned about the lack of support would affect the relative. They relied on support workers not only to provide transport, but also to be emotional support before and after the meet-up. We have each other, and get to take our daughter home with us. Her relative attended the meet-up without other family, and has to say goodbye for another year. It didn’t seem fair for them to have to do it alone. The LA told us that the alternative arrangement was that the relatives son would provide transport, but that they were not to get involved in the actual contact itself. We had concerns about this as we didn’t know that person, whether they would be a risk. Yes, they weren’t going to physically be at the contact, but they would be around surely? We requested the LA to do a risk assessment, which they reluctantly did & we agreed to proceed.
The first non supervised meeting went ahead about 4months after then previous meet up. We thought that as we weren’t restricted by when support staff would be available, we would increase the number of times we see Birth Family from once a year to 3-4times a year. This seemed like a more ‘normal’ wider family relationship, and we might as well whilst we still can. Our brilliant support worker at the LA was really helpful, and acted as the ‘middle man’ to help arrange it. She even provided a contact number for the day (at the weekend) should we need it, so we felt well supported. The meeting went brilliantly, it was everything we’d hoped for and more. Everything ran smoothly, and everyone had a great time. We spent around 4hours with each other that day. It was so nice to have the freedom to take the time we wanted with each other. Although the support workers had been lovely at previous meet-ups, it was lovely to not feel watched or supervised. We were free to relax a bit more, and to really start to build a meaningful relationship with each other. We realised that the relative’s son was sat in their car waiting whilst we spent time with them. We went with our gut instinct, and decided that even though we didn’t know this person, they were keeping their end of the deal. They were keeping out of the way, whilst still being committed enough to drive their relative to see us. We decided to let them join in and meet our daughter. We’re so glad we did. It wasn’t planned, but it was ok. It was beneficial. They hadn’t seen little one for over 3years, so they were delighted to see how she was doing. They are part of her family, so we felt she should have the chance to grow up having the opportunity to start to get to know them. It might lead to contact with more birth family members, it might not, and either or neither is ok.
Between meet ups we do send texts and pictures with updates of how our daughter is getting on. We sent each other Christmas greetings, and we were able to send them a picture of her with the Christmas present they bought her (they send a voucher via letterbox, and we choose the gift on their behalf). Previously we had to wait until the next letterbox to tell them what we’d bought, but now we could tell them in real time. This is amazing, and much more normal. The relative doesn’t always reply, which can be frustrating when we’re trying to sort arrangements, but we have to be patient and appreciate that they have a life to live too. They’re also not so tech savvy, so it’s not so easy for them to use their phone. We do know that they read the texts though, so they do get updates. Every time they send a message back I still can’t believe that we get to do this.
The most recent meet up was again a great experience. Because of the weather, we couldn’t go outdoors, so we went to a pub for a meal. It was a good opportunity to spend time chatting, and getting to know each other a bit more. We had the chance to fill in some gaps from Little Love’s time with them. We heard stories of things they did together. They shared their precious memories with us. The relative’s son joined us for the whole time, and it was comforting to see that they are well supported buy him.
During this time we were able to film a short video with the relative. We help to deliver our Adoption Agency’s training session about ‘Contact with Birth Families’ to prospective adopters. We tell our story about contact, in the hope that it will encourage them to think about it being an option for their families. We share the positives and benefits, as well as the hard bits and challenges. We show a video of our daughter talking about her experience of seeing her relative. It’s very well received. We think it’s vital that the adopted child’s voice is heard. We as adopters and professionals are usually the loudest voices, and we didn’t want the adopted persons voice to be missed. We thought it was important that Birth Family are given a voice too. It’s their story as well, and without them, we can’t do this level of contact. I rang the relative a few days before to explain and asked them to think about it. They agreed to do it, and seemed to appreciate being included. Hearing them tell their thoughts and reflections is powerful. I really hope it helps others to be more open as to what they could offer their children and their families.
So, that brings us back to the present time. It’s been a journey these last nearly 4 years. It’s not always been easy. There has been worries and every emotion there is. But, it’s been so incredibly positive. It’s been so beneficial to everyone, and has really helped to build on life story work. Meeting up with family has given us a natural reason for us to chat to Little Love about her family, her story. It’s made it an easy, positive conversation to have. It’s absolutely the right thing for our daughter, us, her birth family. We have been two families coming together, with a shared love of our precious little girl. We only want what is right for her. I wish we’d done it sooner, but then, maybe we wouldn’t have been ready. We certainly haven’t done it on our own. I think it shows that these sort of things absolutely do need professional support and guidance. When others have asked me ‘how do we do direct contact?’, it makes me realise that we’ve been very fortunate. It was set up for us, given to us on a plate. Yes, we’ve actively engaged in it, but it was thanks to the social workers who were forward thinking and proactive that it got started in the first place.
As we move forward, we plan to meet up every few months, nothing confirmed yet for the next one. But that’s ok because everyone trusts that the others are equally as committed to make this work, and so it will happen. We plan to ring the relative a bit more, because they might manage this more than texting. When I rang them prior to the last meeting, they told me it had made their day! I am excited to share the videos, and get those voices out there. I hope it encourages more people to consider direct contact for them too.