"Being" and "doing" - adoptive parents' experience of parenthood in the context of open adoption : an interpretative phenomenological analysis

  • Amanda Jane MacDonald

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This is an interpretative phenomenological study that explores what it is like to be an adoptive parent in the context of open adoption. It focuses on the dominant form of adoption in the United Kingdom which is domestic non-kin adoption of children from care. The focus of UK adoption policy is on securing the welfare of Looked After Children when their birth family cannot care for them effectively. Adoptive parents are crucial to achieving this aim and this study explores their subjective lived experience with a view to informing adoption policy and practice.

    Open communication with the child about their adoptive status is now widely accepted as important for their identity development. Coinciding with increased use of adoption for children in care, arrangements for ongoing contact between the adoptee and their birth relatives have also become more common. The need to understand adoptive parents' perspectives on these practices of open adoption was identified as a research priority by the Care Pathways and Outcomes Study, and is the origin of this PhD project.

    Twenty nine adoptive parents participated in semi-structured interviews. Joint interviews were conducted with thirteen mother/father couples, and individual interviews with three adoptive mothers. This purposively selected sample was identified via the Care Pathways and Outcomes Study and recruited through the five Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland. Ethical approval was granted by ORECNI. Detailed ideographic analysis of interview transcripts was carried out following the principles of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis.

    The findings convey the sense of 'being' an adoptive parent, or parental entitlement, derived from 'doing' parenting, and demonstrate the complexities of communicative, structural and public openness as relational experiences. Dominant themes include the constraining cultural importance of blood ties, stigma, family boundary work and the child's life course. At an interpretative level, the sociological concepts of family configuration, family practices and family display are applied to explore how birth relatives are positioned as kin. The thesis concludes with suggestions for research and social work practice.
    Date of AwardJul 2014
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Queen's University Belfast
    SupervisorDominic McSherry (Supervisor) & Greg Kelly (Supervisor)

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