Handling Unplanned Contact

Part of the adoption process considers what contact, if any, children have with members of their birth family. For obvious reasons this needs to be carefully coordinated and with the child’s best interests of paramount importance.

This is most commonly handled by the adoption agency or local authority social services. Methods may include “letterbox contact” — where letters are exchanged indirectly between birth parent and child on a regular but generally infrequent basis — or closely controlled visits to a contact centre.

It can also be highly beneficial for siblings not placed in the same family to be allowed to meet, where practical. However, this still needs to be managed by parents or professionals.

The biggest risk the Internet poses is the potential ease by which these official channels can be bypassed. Birth parents may seek direct contact with a child. Curious children may do their own research to try and find out more about their birth family, inadvertently or purposefully making contact with biological family members. Both situations are far from ideal and potentially volatile.

The risk of direct birthparent-to-child contact can be minimised by having an appropriate plan in place. If it does occur, my advice would be to contact social services immediately. Depending on the current stage your child is at, and what their feelings are towards their birth family, they may be intrigued or ambivalent about such attempted contacts. Regardless, it’s important that any unofficial contacts (successful or attempted) are reported so that steps can be taken. Your child’s safety is paramount, even if you feel they’re not at risk.

The risk of child-to-birthparent contact will hopefully be minimised by the way you parent your children on an ongoing basis, how you react when the conversation turns to their birth family, and how you seek to answer questions they have about their family history and why they are adopted. Though you can’t eliminate the risk of a curious child/teen seeking out information on their own, maintaining a warm, open and honest approach in your parenting style should dramatically reduce their need to look for answers on their own.

It’s also important not to react angrily or with disgust if you discover they’ve been attempting to research or contact their birth family. Doing so carries the risk they’ll simply drive their attempts underground in an attempt to hide it from you.

Instead, have an age-appropriate conversation about any concerns they have, what they want to find out about their birth family, who they want to contact and why. It may be that they simply want to know what their birth family are doing, and they don’t really want to be in direct contact at all. This is possible if letterbox or other contact arrangements have broken down in the past. In this case, promise and follow through on doing what you can to find out about the birth family.

It can be hard for parents not to feel insecure when children seem to be seeking out birth family, but it’s a natural part of them discovering who they are, where they came from and how they fit into the world.

Bear in mind that many of the issues and behaviours are not specifically to do with the Internet at all — it’s simply that the Internet has made it easier to connect with people, both wanted and unwanted. You will most likely find that the parenting methods you’ve already put in place will be sufficient, and can be easily adapted, to cope with your child’s curiosity, whether or not it’s worked out online.