Configuring adoptive family relationships in the context of open adoption – adoptive parents’ experiences

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The focus of adoption policy in the UK is on providing permanent family relationships to children in care who are unable to live with their birth families, and it has become the norm that post-adoption contact with their birth family will be at least considered for most children adopted from care.
Adoptive parents are crucial in achieving the aim of a life-long, stable experience of family for these vulnerable children. However, the trend towards increasingly open adoption presents adopters with unique parenting challenges as they navigate the uncharted territory of relationships with birth family. Adoption practitioners are familiar with Grotevant’s conceptualisation of the adoptive kinship network, but this view of kinship that includes birth and adoptive family members in a joined network is still outside of social norms (Jones and Hackett, 2011), and adopters are faced with negotiating these relationships in the absence of a cultural script to guide their interactions. This paper will develop our understanding of the relationship complexities involved in open adoption by reporting on adoptive parents’ accounts of their lived experience of adoptive kinship relationships.
Drawing on relational sociology, in particular the concept of families as configurations (Widmer and Jallinoja, 2008), this paper will give an insight into how adopters configure their family relationships, the ways in which birth family are incorporated into family configurations, and how relationships with birth family are actualised. The adoptive parents’ accounts are organised and discussed under the following themes:
- Prioritising connectedness to the child
- The importance of symbolic interactions
- Negotiating the boundaries of ‘our family’ and ‘their family’
- The use of kinship labels to position birth family members
- Managing ambiguous kinship role expectations
- Risks and resources for parental investment
The findings are taken from a doctoral study that explored the lived experience of adoptive parenthood in the context of birth family contact, focusing on the evolution of adoptive kinship relationships during the child’s adolescence. 31 adoptive parents, representing 17 families, participated in semi-structured interviews. Their children were adopted from care in Northern Ireland between 2000 and 2006, and were aged 10-15years at the time of the interviews. The adoptive parents’ accounts were analysed following principles of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (Smith, Flowers and Larkin, 2009).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Event4th International Conference on Adoption Research ICAR4 - Bilbao, Spain
Duration: 07 Jul 201311 Jul 2013


Conference4th International Conference on Adoption Research ICAR4


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