Supporting face-to-face birth family contact after adoption from care: learning for trauma-sensitive practice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Downloads (Pure)


There are recent calls to consider face-to-face birth family contact for more children adopted from care. Given that the threshold for this authoritative intervention is significant harm, post-adoption contact should be sensitive to the possible impact of early childhood trauma, and be adequately supported. This article draws on adopters’ reports of face-to-face contact with birth relatives, and their evaluation of social work support to suggest an approach to practice informed by principles of trauma-informed care. Twenty-six adoptive parents participated in focus groups, and seventy-three completed a web-based questionnaire, all from Northern Ireland where face-to-face post-adoption contact is expected. Findings are structured thematically around principles of trauma-informed care: trusting relationships; physical and emotional safety; choice and control; and narrative coherence. Most families had a social worker attending contact, and help with practical arrangements. Less common but important practices included: deliberate consideration of children’s perspectives; safeguarding their emotional well-being; and facilitating communication outside of visits. Findings suggest that visits are a context in which trauma-effects may surface, and social workers supporting contact should be sensitive to this possibility. This article suggests a systemic approach to helping all parties prepare for, manage and de-brief after contact, attending to both adult-to-adult and adult–child interactions.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberbcaa121
Pages (from-to)1060-1079
Number of pages20
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number3
Early online date24 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - 18 May 2021


  • Health(social science)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of 'Supporting face-to-face birth family contact after adoption from care: learning for trauma-sensitive practice'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this