Mixed feelings, curiosity or indifference: Searching and birth family contact for care-leavers and adopted young people

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    Looked after and adopted children’s contact with the birth family has been a controversial, challenging and complex issue in different countries for several decades. 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. 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 all the types of placements.

    So far, we have found that the young people can be classified into four groups based on their experiences, attitudes and feelings regarding contact with (and searching for) their birth families. Some of the young people would be included in more than one of these categories, depending on their different types of experience with different family members. The groups are:

    • The 'content' group, who are satisfied with their current arrangements for keeping in touch (or not) with their birth family members. Most are still seeing them or/and talk to them via text or social media.

    • The 'curious' group, who have searched (usually online via social media) for certain family members.

    • The 'no interest' group, who have stated a clear lack of interest regarding their birth family, even in cases where they did not know much about them.

    • The 'mixed or troubled feelings' group, who expressed a mixture of feelings towards the birth family, often including anger and/or guilt.

    In this presentation, we will also focus on the role of social media in searching or being in touch with birth relatives during early adulthood. We will also highlight the trend of some of the young people making contact with birth parent (or the other way round) as they turned 16, 17 or 18, leading to young people sometimes living with their birth parent for a short period of time.

    The analysis will be based on the semi-structured interviews with 43 young people and/or their parents/carers. Data collection is ongoing, and we expect to be interviewing at least another 100 more. In this presentation, we will also be discussing implications for policy and practice. One of them being the need for Social Services to be aware and prepare young people searching and contacting birth relatives through social media, and its implications for young people's mental health and wellbeing, regardless of the placement they grew up in.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages24
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018
    EventXV Conference of the European Scientific Association on Residential and Family Care for Children and Adolescents (EUSARF) - Porto, Portugal
    Duration: 02 Oct 201805 Oct 2018


    ConferenceXV Conference of the European Scientific Association on Residential and Family Care for Children and Adolescents (EUSARF)
    Abbreviated titleEUSARF 2018

    ID: 158239357