Sunday, 15 April 2012

Adoption and the Social Network

Like it or not social networking is a big part of life nowadays. It's a great invention because it offers you a way of easily keeping in touch with people.  I use it for keeping contact with friends and family around the world and maintaining links with other mums that I've met at toddler groups and out and about.  It's also been useful for connecting me with people that I met at school and work many years ago.  I often joke that Facebook is a way of keeping in touch with people without actually having to speak to them.

What are my concerns as an Adoptive Parent?

There is a ying to the yang, as there is with most things.  There are many anxieties that parents share about social networking sites namely cyber bullying and being used as a platform for contacting and grooming young people by people whose intentions are not purely social.

For adoptive parents, and for parents who have family breakdowns, social networking sites have an added layer of concern.  Unwelcome contact from birth families and the posting of photographs of the children on sites.  This is something that has happened to us when Katie's Birth Mother put pictures of Katie on her Facebook site and also used a picture of Katie as her profile picture, after we had adopted her.  Her privacy settings were set so that anyone could see those pictures so Katie was afforded no protection.  Katie's Birth Mother has a lots of friends on Facebook.  How many of them live near us and might recognise Katie in the street and pass that information back to her Birth Mother?  What rights to anonymity does Katie have?  What rights do both Birth Parents and Adoptive Parents have?  This is a really difficult and emotional issue for everyone concerned.  We felt quite powerless to react.  If we contact Facebook administrators we reveal our identities.  We contacted Social Services and asked for the pictures to be removed and have made it clear that we will not send any pictures of Katie, as part of our contact arrangements, if they are going to be put on Facebook.  As Katie's legal parents we did not consent to those images being put on Facebook but do we have the legal power to give consent for images that were taken prior to us becoming Katie's parents?  We want contact to work and be positive for everyone involved but not at the cost of Katie's safety.  At that time I did not feel our Local Authority were really on top of the whole social networking issue although I know that this is now being discussed and examined.


A tiny confession.....

Obviously here I have to admit that I have looked up Katie's Birth Parents on Facebook and the Internet.  Is that actually fair on them when that is not a two-way option?  Fascination and information gathering was my motive however this is something that I no longer do out of respect for their privacy.

Contact and protection regarding social networking

I do not see contact as a necessary chore but actually hope that it will help Katie and her Birth Parents.  I want Katie's Birth Parents to have a record of her life and achievements but not at the cost of Katie's safety or anonymity.  Obviously I do not use Katie's real name here in my blog and ensure that I never post images of Katie's face here.

I genuinely feel for Katie's Birth Mother.  I cannot even imagine how she feels about the fact that Katie has been adopted. It must be so difficult to reconcile yourself with and accept.  Even though Katie is still very young we have said to her that she can have contact with her Birth Parents when she is older, if that is what they both want.  I would never put Katie in a position of having to choose or even feel that she has to make contact behind our backs.  I do have concerns about this being initiated via a social networking site though for several reasons:

1) There will be so many emotions involved for everyone involved in such a meeting.  I feel that Katie and her Birth Parents would need proper support to manage the contact positively.  Social Services Post Adoption Teams have the ability to put all the right professionals in place to help everyone involved in the contact.

2) If not managed properly then Katie might end up totally confused and overcome with emotions that she doesn't know how to handle.  What path might that take her on?

3) Safety.  I would protect my daughter to the ends of this earth and beyond.  I don't want anything else to hurt her.  I can only do that if I'm aware of what is happening in Katie's life (as much as any parent is ever able to do that). 

4) I want Katie to know that I will support her throughout her life and that we totally accept that her Birth Parents and any siblings are part of that life.

What can we do?

I know how I felt when I saw those pictures of Katie on the Internet.  I felt sick to my stomach and so worried about her safety.  I have the highest settings on my Facebook account so that only certain people can see the images I post of Katie.  All my friends and family know not to post pictures of Katie on their accounts.  Many other people do not have such settings however so images of our children are widely available when friends and family also post pictures on their social networking sites.  Many adopted children would be at real risk if their location was discovered.  This is an issue more generally at pre-school and at group gatherings, such as parties.  Parents freely take digital images at parties and put them on their social networking sites.  How do I protect Katie from those images being widely available without ruining her fun or making her anxious?  

In the future, when Katie is old enough to join the social networking revolution I think we will help her set up her account and security settings; be friends with her; but hold onto her password so that she can only use her account at home in a visible area, until she is old enough to take responsibility for the account herself.  I hope that this will allow her to keep in contact with her friends and not be singled out as being different but maintain her safety whilst she takes her first steps into this world.

To help me prepare, I have today ordered the BAAF book "Facing up to Facebook" by Eileen Fursland (ISBN: 978 1 905664 98 6) in the hope that this publication might give me information and support on this issue.  I will blog about this once I've read the book.


  1. I find this post very interesting but there's something I'm struggling to understand. Not just about your predicament, but adopted children, birth parents and adoptive parents as a whole. If a child has been taken from their birth parents for his/her own safety, placed in care, then adopted by new parents, then don't the birth parents lose all rights to see or have contact with the child? And also, if it's the case of safety issues as it seems to be in this case, why would you want Katie to have contact with her birth parents at any time in the future? I'm just interested, not at all judging anyone so please delete my comment if you feel it's inappropriate.

    CJ x

  2. I read on the adoption UK website of one family who now have an older adopted child (they adopted the child at a young age and now it is getting to it's teenage years). It was via Facebook that (unknown to the adoptive parents) the adopted child had got back in touch with their birth parents and agreed to meet up (again without the adopted parents knowing).

    The result of this meeting was that once the birth father and brother had access again to this adopted child they sexually abused it (as they had done in the past before it was adopted).

    The adoptive parents are now trying to pick up the pieces yet again of the trauma in the child's life.

  3. Definitely let us know about the book Gem...looks interesting x

  4. Hi CJ!! Your comment is very valid and one that I'm happy to answer to the best of my ability. I think the best way of answering is to say that there are degrees of issues around safety. Some children would be at risk of serious physical or sexual harm on one end of the spectrum, whilst others would be at risk due to poor parenting skills possibly neglect at the other end of the spectrum. There are a variety of reasons why these issues may occur. Some birth parents may simply be unable to provide a sufficient level of care through lack of their own ability rather than for malicious reasons. Facebook creates a problem because adopted children and their birth parents can contact each other through this network (provided they are able to find out their names etc). This can lead to face to face meetings that put the young person at serious risk (in the case that Greta has highlighted above) or can cause emotional difficulties for the young person due to confusion etc. Our hope for Katie, in the future (when she is in her teens perhaps), is that if contact is desired then we can organise that in a contact centre and we can support her appropriately to hopefully avoid any contact taking place without her being properly protected and supported. We do not feel that she is at risk per say but emotionally at risk potentially. We hope that by being open with the possibility of contact in the future (if this is desired - it may not be) then this can be arranged in a safe environment where we can ensure that Katie is emotionally and physically safe and we can support her outside of this contact. I hope that makes some kind of sense. There are so many emotions involved in all these issues and I have to be the grown up (when sometimes I just want to be the mother lion and protect Katie from everything that might hurt her). Katie's birth parents are a part of her story and if she is curious about them then I want to ensure that she has access to all the information we can for her, to help her throughout her life.

    Gem x

  5. Thank you for answering my questions, Gem, I really appreciate you being so honest. It is always a person's right to know who their birth parents are/were, and I admire you for the strength you obviously possess so far as a possible meeting later in Katie's life, is concerned. I have learned something from this post and I thank you for that, too; I always thought once a child had been legally adopted by another parent or set of parents, that the birth parents lost all rights in a court of law to see the child or have any contact in future years.

    As you have highlighted however, Facebook and other social networks do pose a potential risk and I can most definitely see how it can be a dire concern. We hear of young teenagers who are confused, going through those difficult pubescent years and want to rebel against normal life and this must be a strain for any adoptive parent to face.

    Bless you for being so caring; I can see Katie is your whole life just like Amy is mine, and it's the most rewarding part of our existence as we know it.

    CJ x

  6. Hi and thanks for your comments CJ. It's good to hear what other people have to say. You're right that once a child is adopted then their birth parents lose all their parental rights so they do not have any legal responsibility or rights for that child. Many adoptions these days have some contact arrangements with birth family intertwined as part of the adoption and life story book work so adopted children usually grow up knowing as much information as is possible about their birth family. Katie often asks me questions about her birth family and I answer as much as I can, within the parameters of a 4 year old's understanding. I do worry what the future holds for Katie and her emotions and we're feeling our way through it all and will continue to do that. My hope is that by being open with her she will feel secure and also not feel the need to make direct contact with birth family without our support and knowledge. Fingers crossed eh? Alot will be down to our parenting and trying to get this stuff right. No pressure there then!! LOL Gem x

  7. I totally relate to your post. I too searched for our daughter's birth mother and father on Facebook and got more than I bargained for. I felt sick and faint when I saw pic of our daughter as her profile pic etc. I was absolutely powerless to do anything about it. We have said no photos to be included in our letterbox agreement and like you, have been absolutely honest (age appropriately) with our daughter and are hopefully in the process of diffusing any fanatasies she may have about them so when she is an adult she MAY decided she knows enough and chooses not to meet them. Equally if she does choose to meet them, then we'll support her with the help of Soc Services.
    It's so hard to get the balance right isn't it between the right amount of info at the right time and too much info which may be too soon? And such a responsibility. FB is not helping us at all!!!!!!
    Love your blog. Thank you x

  8. Kat - I think you have written it all so perfectly. That's what our hope is too or at least that Katie is prepared enough so that she is realistic about it all and that she knows that we are always here for her to help support her. Gem x

  9. Well, my recommendation is that the child needs to know their entire life story by social networking age and in reality will be their decision of whether to friend them, email them, or not using this medium. Adoptive parents, social services, child protective services, etc need to accept that they don't have total control anymore, and if a 17 or under adopted person wants to keep in contact with their birth family during childhood and id determined to find them or wants to see them occasionally, they will. This is why it is it so important to build a strong bond as an adoptive parent and help them find answers, and for the child to understand the abuse and the reason they were taken away. Once contact has been made over a social networking medium, the birth family knows the childs new identity and very often phone numbers and addresses get exchanged quickly as CPS doesn't censor this contact (as Facebook is privately owned and most internet routers are also privately owned). This is the facts of social networking. One cannot count on one having to apply for an original birth certificate, and it is shown that some adoptees remember their old surname or identity, the one they had at birth. Stephen

  10. Thank you for your comments Stephen. I agree with you about the need to build a strong bond with your child (any child not just adopted children). This is also part of my theory that if Katie doesn't feel that information is withheld from her through her life then she may feel less curious about using social networking sites and more likely to approach the issue in an open way, and one we can help her with. That's my hope anyway. We do life story work with her whenever the subject of her birth famiily is raised so her questions are answered whenever she asks them, to the best of our ability. No-one has a crystal ball to see what the future may hold so we can only hope we do a good enough job as Katie's parents so that she feels emotionally equipped to deal with any emotions that arise for her throughout her life and so that she knows that we will always be here for her. I do think though that this is one of the issues that adopters aren't prepared enough for. I also think it's probably very difficult to prepare anyone sufficiently for this because so much of the outcomes will depend on all the individuals involved. Gem

  11. Oh my god. I take it Katie was forcibly adopted from her birth mum? Sw are currently trying to forcibly adopt my baby boy , and this disgusts me that you freak out that her own MOTHER can't have her daughter as her profile pic ? I will fight til the end for my son but I pray to god if he was adopted he won't end up with a heartless cow like you.why should me and all the other birth mum's suffer for your infertility? How is that fair?

    1. Wow, your comments are hurtful and obviously come from a place of anger as you fight for your little boy but you are lashing out at the wrong person. You cannot blame an adopted mother for what happens when a child is taken away -its unfair. What makes a mother is more than simply the ability to give birth but to put a child's needs before your own. To say that an adopted mum is not a real mother is untrue. I am an adopted mum and I was lucky enough to meet my daughters birth mum. She would not let me call her mother as she told me that I was now the little girls mother and that I needed to be the best mum for both of us. That meeting stays with me - she fiercely loves her daughter and we both ended up crying as she shared her feelings. I told her that she would always be a mother is some way and have a connection to our daughter and I try to think about it that way. It is not a competition of mothering - we both have a connection and we both want the best for our daughter. But it is not easy - as our daughter was taken into care because the birth mum didn't keep her safe and made choices. As an adopted mum - I see it as my role to both protect our little girl and keep the door open for future contact with birth mum - so that if one day that our daughter wants to seek her birth mum all the information and support is in place for that to happen safely. I also have collected as many pictures of birth family as possible so that she can see what they look like. The person this is all about is the child and it is their choice to make without pressure and emotional baggage from either their birth mum or adopted family. The issue of pictures on facebook isn't about who owns the child its about safety. The child has a right to be protected, to not be asked difficult questions by strangers, to be allowed to come to terms with their own story in their own time. What happens if someone recognises them and tracks them down and that child is not ready and unprepared.
      I pray you fight for your baby boy, use the support offered, objectively look at what issues the SW are highlighting. If they set out conditions to meet - do all you can to show you meet them. If necessary make changes put the child's needs before your own. But if you reach the point much further down the road where your son is adopted, don't take out your anger on the adopted parents. Work with them and more than anything keep the contact. Write the letters and send them. The SW keep a copy of everything. One day when your child comes of age (I would hope that the adopted family have by this point shared everything with the child) but no matter what they will receive a copy of all the reports, letters and photos shared through the years. I want our (adopted) daughter to see that I did everything possible to keep in contact and birth family (if assessed as safe to do so - in some cases of extreme abuse this is not possible) should do everything they can to do the same. I love my daughter fiercely and acknowledge I didn't give birth to her but don't feel any less of a mum. In fact I feel that I have to be more of a mum as I have a responsibility to help our little girl who had been dealt a difficult start have a fantastic happy childhood as well as deal with the emotional baggage of understanding and making sense of her unusual start to life.

  12. No matter what you do and how much you try to pull the wool over her eyes, you will never, ever , ever be her mother , never! You have absolutely no link to your child. You effectively stole her . It's a disgrace and hell mend you.

    1. I am very sad to hear the anger in your message and the emotions that you are currently going through and I hope that you are being supported as you go through such a difficult time. There is much sadness that is linked to the care system for everyone involved. There are many reasons why a child is taken into the care system and I do not know your story so I cannot comment on your circumstances. You clearly love your son very much and I hope he will always know that and has always known that so far. Just as I cannot comment on the experience you have had, the same can be said for you. I can understand that you want to take your emotions out on somebody else and I am an easy target to vent your emotions, however you know nothing of the experiences Katie and Pip had with their Birth Family or the reasons they were taken into care. Both were in situations of significant harm so I am at a loss to understand how that situation is preferable to a home where they are safe and cared for and loved in the way that children deserve to be loved. If I were heartless then I wouldn't love my children with all the love that I have inside or have the empathy towards their Birth Mother that I do. My children know that they will be able to see their Birth Mother if that is something that they both want when they are older and we are not seeking to extinguish their identities. As for infertility, well that is not really important. I could just as easily have decided to adopt irrespective of whether I had infertility or not. Many people do. I could have remained child-free and lived a full life without children but I wanted to offer my love to a child. I have worked with many young people in the care system and with those being abused. I have experienced myself a childhood that was very unsafe and I want to help prevent children going through those experiences. My children will have as good a start in life as I can possibly give them and they deserve that. They do not deserve to live somewhere that they are unsafe. They will be able to talk to me about their birth families and I will support them in any way I can. I very much hope that you are able to get the support you need to find your way forward and express your emotions to the people who need to hear them. I do not feel my children were stolen although I can try and understand how you feel from your perspective. Your feelings towards the system and your experiences are yours and I send you love as you deal with a clearly difficult situation.