I recently came across a tweet from an adoptee regarding the concept of curiosity and adoption. Unfortunately, I can’t find it anymore, but it made me think. If I remember right, he/she argued that it is not curiosity that makes adoptees search, but it is about much more than that. It is about the need to know/search and it is about rights too. People (children, young people and adults) who have been separated from their birth relatives have the right to know about their origins and life histories. In this study, a few of the young people we have interviewed so far have talked about this intense need, this craving to know about their past, about the reasons why, and about the life circumstances of different family members. This is not just the case for adopted young people, but also for those who were in foster/kinship care or subject to Residence Orders.
So far, we have had 57 young people and/or their parents carers taking part in the study. We haven’t been able to speak to all of them yet (with some only having completed a questionnaire in our first visit, and others where we only interviewed their parents or carers), but we already have many stories regarding their relationships with their birth families. We have categorised young people depending on their experiences of contact/relationship with birth family into four groups, with some young people falling into more than one group. This analysis can be found in the presentations we did over the summer. Of these young people, eight have searched for specific relatives (3 were adopted, two in foster care, two subject to a RO, and one in kinship care), and a few others had been interested in their birth families in the past, but not anymore.
Most of us have pictures of ourselves as newborn and growing babies. However, the young people we interview often do not. This might not be an issue for most of them (or even just a tiny one compared with all the others they are faced with), but when asked, a few told us they would really like to have those pictures. My daughters love seeing themselves as babies in our photo albums, but many other children and young adults do not have that fortune. In some schools, children are asked to bring baby photos to create timelines, etc. We have listened to young people telling us this turned out to be an upsetting experience for them.
Olivia was told that she would be able to meet her birth parents when she would turn 18. However, shortly before she reached that age, her birth mum died, and that had a big impact on her.
Moved by the need to know more, young people have searched for birth parents and birth siblings on social media. Sometimes, they have been successful in finding the people they were searching for, but other times they haven’t. After finding people in social media, young people did not always make contact with them, as they only wanted to see what they looked like, or what was going on in their lives and if they were ok. When they did make contact, sometimes it didn’t go as they were hoping to, and it affected them deeply.
In eight cases in our study, this need to know more (or sometimes a sense of responsibility towards their birth families) has even brought young people to move in with one or both of their birth parents in their late teens, but many of these moved out shortly afterwards. The move came about instigated by either the young person, the birth parent or both.
On the other hand, not everyone in the group we have interviewed have felt this deep need to know and to search for birth relatives (at least not yet). For some young people, this need had already been satisfied in that these youths felt they knew what they wanted to know, with many having been in regular contact with birth relatives throughout their lives. Sometimes, they didn’t like what they knew and felt they had to distance themselves from their birth family members. It also might be the case that some young people will feel this need later in life. For instance, people might begin to search when they are about to become parents themselves. This is the case of well-known people like poet Jackie Kay, as she tells her story in her autobiographical novel ‘Red Dust Road’.
Whether young people feel the need or not, it is thus a crucial task for adoptive parents but also for foster/kinship and Residence Order carers to tell and retell the children and young people their life stories, and support them in their journeys, and (if they do so, and whenever they decide to do so) in their own searches and encounters. Social Services also has a role in terms of keeping families well informed, and supporting young people in the challenges that they may encounter while searching online (via social media) or offline, and finding/making contact with estranged birth relatives.