Mixed feelings, curiosity, or indifference: Birth family contact and searching for young adults adopted from care and care-leavers

Montserrat Fargas, Dominic McSherry

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


In several Western countries (e.g., UK, Australia, Sweden and USA), Looked after and adopted children’s contact with the birth family has been a controversial, challenging and complex issue for several decades, as a result of a policy and practice shift towards more contact. The current legal framework in the UK (Children Act 1989, Children (NI) Order 1995) actively endorses contact with birth families. This has led to a rise in contact and its frequency for children in care and to the promotion of a more open approach to adoption.
The Northern Ireland Care Pathways and Outcomes study is a longitudinal study that has been following all the children who were in care in Northern Ireland and under 5 years old on 31/3/2000. Half of the children were eventually adopted. The study has examined a range of issues across the different types of placements the young people ended up moving into (i.e. adoption, foster care, kinship care, returning to their birth parents, and Residence Order). We are currently in the study’s Wave 4, and data collection is ongoing with the young people (now aged 18-23) and their parents or carers. This presentation will focus on the complexity of feelings and types of contact the young people have with their birth families, as well as their attitude and experience of searching in a digital age (dominated by social media). We will compare these within adoption and the other types of placements.
So far, we have found that the young people’s experiences, attitudes and feelings regarding contact with (and searching for) their birth families can be summarised as follows:
• Regular ongoing contact with specific members of the birth family, which does not involve any major problem for the young person in terms of their feelings of belonging to another alternative family and their identity;
• Feelings of curiosity towards the birth family, which have led to the young person to search for a particular birth family member or members (mostly on social media), but has not led to an interest to have contact with them;
• No interest in the birth family, although there might have been contact whenever they were younger and eventually stopped;
• Birth family members searching for the young person (sometimes through social media) and getting in touch, causing difficult issues and complex feelings on the young person; and
• Young person making contact with birth parent (or the other way round) as they turned 16/18 (behind family’s back), leading to young person living with their birth parent for a short period of time.

Some young people would be included in more than one of these categories, as many young people’s experiences were quite complex. The analysis presented will be based on the semi-structured interviews of over 30 young people and/or their parents/carers (data collection is ongoing, and this number is likely to increase). In this presentation, we will also be discussing implications for policy and practice.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Event6th International Conference on Adoption Research (ICAR6) - Centre Mont-Royal, Montreal, Canada
Duration: 08 Jul 201812 Jul 2018


Conference6th International Conference on Adoption Research (ICAR6)
Abbreviated titleICAR6


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