Parenting adopted adolescents – the challenges of unplanned birth family contact

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Young people in transition
To report findings from a doctoral study exploring the impact of birth family contact on adopters’ experience of parenting children adopted from care, focusing in particular on the evolution of contact throughout adolescence.
This qualitative study was conducted with 31 adoptive parents, representing 17 families, recruited via the longitundinal Northern Ireland Care Pathways and Outcomes study, whose children were adopted from care between 2000 and 2006, and were aged 10 – 15 years at the time of the research. Data from semi-structured interviews was analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis.
New contact emerged in adolescence initiated by birth parents, by the adopted child or by older birth siblings, most commonly via social networking sites such as Facebook. Adoptive parents were concerned that the timing of the new contact was inconsistent with the child’s developmental needs. Negotiating changing birth family relationships was seen to be more complex than the normative changes encountered in adolescence by non-adopted peers, and adopters were concerned that their child’s history of early adversity rendered them less well-equipped to cope with this challenge. They worried that birth parents’ continued difficulty with the issues that led to adoption e.g. alcohol and drug misuse, would negatively influence their child’s lifestyle choices at this transitional stage . For adopters, the new contact threatened to undermine the investment they had made in the child’s well-being, and called into question their parental status and influence. However, they supported the contact motivated by a commitment to their child’s rights.
The focus of UK adoption policy is on delivering stable, permanent new families to children in care who cannot live with their birth families. Adoptive parents are crucial to successfully achieving this aim. This study provides insight into what it is like to meet the complex developmental needs of adopted adolescents within the context of the growing practice of post-adoption contact. This will help inform policy and practice in relation to adoption support.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Event8th Congress of the British Association for the Study and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect - Belfast, United Kingdom
Duration: 15 Apr 201218 Apr 2012


Conference8th Congress of the British Association for the Study and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect
CountryUnited Kingdom


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