LONDON (Reuters) - British youngsters adopted after abusive childhoods are at risk of fresh emotional turmoil as some birth parents turn to Facebook and other social networking sites to track them down, adoption agencies said on Thursday.
The ease with which birth parents can use technology to get in touch with their children without warning and without following established safeguards has alarmed adoption agencies.
Families who have been contacted have described the experience as like being in a “slow motion car crash” leaving them “battered and bruised.” Some families have been torn apart.
“Social networking sites have blown things open — you can’t keep things secret,” said Julia Feast, consultant at the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), which campaigns for children in care.
“It really unsettles the whole family,” she told Reuters. “It’s like a bomb being thrown inside it and you don’t know how you are going to pull the pieces together again if children are not being prepared.”
Under British law, birth parents cannot access the adoption records of their children and usually, in the days before social networking, it was very difficult for them to make contact.
Since 2005, adopted adults and their birth relatives have had the legal right to ask for intermediary services from an approved agency to help them make contact with each other, but this can be turned down if there are concerns following an assessment.
It is not known how many birth parents are using social networking sites to get around this, but the BAAF said it was receiving “more and more cases.”
“We have heard some horror stories, but how frequently it is happening we just don’t know,” Feast added.
“I think we have to accept that this is the way people communicate these days and that more and more people will resort to this as a way of trying to find relatives.
“We can’t ignore it but we have to be pro-active so people can manage it if it does happen.”
The BAAF wants the government to put in place a system where agencies and adoptive parents can get in touch and share their experiences, learning from each other.
It is not just birth parents who are getting in touch. Adopted children, especially if they are at the age when they begin to suffer angst and are looking to rebel, are logging on.
Another agency, Adoption UK, which supports parents who adopt, suggests adoptive parents be honest with children, and not allow their previous history to be seen through “rose-tinted glasses.”
“First and foremost, we need to be more open and honest with adopted children about the reasons for their adoption and reality of the abuse and neglect they experienced within their birth families,” said Jonathan Pearce, chief executive of Adoption UK.
“Currently such life story work tends to be a sugar-coated or rose-tinted version of what really happened,” he added.
“Something closer to the truth will better protect and prepare adopted children for the destabilizing effects of unplanned contact, which often happens at a key stage in their adolescence.”
Reporting by Avril Ormsby, editing by Paul Casciato