Wednesday, 7 November 2012

How adoption has changed and why it matters more than ever

Last Sunday I went along to Scottish Adoption’s Family Fun Day in Edinburgh. As chair Scottish Adoption's board it was an important reminder to me of the importance of us staying connected with adoptive families, children and young people.

Adoption has been under a lot of scrutiny lately. That’s quite right. Like any other sector we need to continuously improve. But there’s much to celebrate too. At Scottish Adoption for example we’re about to launch a new DVD on contact, a critical thing to get right for everyone involved in the adoption process.

As I came away I reflected on how much has changed since I was adopted back in the early 60s. My story was typical of its time: a child born out of wedlock. Staying with my birth mother wasn’t the done thing. I was adopted, with the minimum of process by today’s standards, by parents who thought they were unable to have children.

Luckily for me I got a soft landing. My adoptive parents introduced adoption to me earlier than I can really remember. I had been ‘chosen’.  And it wasn’t until my early 30s that I started to want to piece things together and set off on a journey to find out more. But that’s another story.

Being adopted back then was like pressing a reset button. Nothing that had happened before really counted. It was left in a mysterious box. I had an adoption certificate, not a birth certificate. There was no further contact with my birth family and all I knew was that I was from a Catholic family in Scotland.

Adoption meant being cut adrift, without the anchor you’d been born with or even an imprint of it.  Your new anchor was your adoptive family; end of. Every adoption story is different of course and whether and how much any of this really mattered varied a lot, not just for individuals but at different stages of the life course.

These days your new adoptive family is still the new anchor, but the old anchor isn’t forgotten. Life story books and contact arrangements mean that pressing the rest button is very different. Creating permanence no longer involves putting the past in that mysterious box.

The circumstances in which children are adopted now are very different too. Back then babies like me were adopted largely because of the attitudes of the day rather than the inability of our mothers to care for us. For many of them it was a heartbreaking story of enforced separation just because being a single mother wasn’t socially (or for some morally) acceptable.

Now kids are adopted, not just as babies, but right through the early years of childhood, because it simply isn’t possible or safe to leave them in their birth families. Drug and alcohol addiction, physical and sexual abuse may all be part of the story.

Back then adoption was deemed necessary even though it wasn’t necessarily in the child’s best interests. Now it often really is necessary even though parents may want to keep their children and sometimes those children may want to stay.

And while back then children were adopted because single parenthood wasn't acceptable, adoption has come full circle and it’s accepted that single people can adopt. In fact thanks to a huge change in attitudes it’s also accepted that same sex couples, older people and others can offer loving and stable homes too.

So a lot has changed. The biggest thing to strike me on Sunday was so many adoptive parents with their adopted children in one place. It was clear that they value the support they can give each other; and that Scottish Adoption matters to them long after a child has been adopted. There were adopted young people there too, another crucial facet of the after adoption work we do.

National Adoption Week’s slogan is ‘Rule yourself in’. The need for people to come forward to adopt has never been greater. So whatever your circumstances, if you’re reading this and wondering if you could adopt, get in touch with Scottish Adoption or another agency. BAAF and AdoptionUK can help you find one in your area. Ruling yourself in could make a big difference to a child's life.


  1. My experience was much the same as yours Chris. Other than I have seen my adoption papers - and know my original identity (and name!).

    I chose not to seek contact with my 'natural' parents, and I don't regret that - even though it could have been interesting, given that I have a half brother somewhere and a Hispanic American father! I suppose I felt that the potential for everything going disastrously wrong was just too great, and on balance, I had a good experience of adoption, which I appreciate isn't the same for everyone

  2. Interesting paralells here - I need to write my story in my blog! I found you post on the WASO

  3. I really enjoyed this reflective post. I have adopted friends, one of which talks of being chosen from a room full of babies by his sister. You just can't imagine it today, but then as you say the reasons behind most adoptions are now so different. No matter the reason I feel it's so important to honour your child's identity through openness and support any needs they have to explore their past in an age appropriate way.

    Thanks for linking up with the Weekly Adoption Shout Out