Undoubtedly, the act of adopting a child is a transformative experience. Although it may be appealing to think of the child’s new life with their adoptive family as a “fresh start” it is increasingly acknowledged that children may benefit from maintaining ties with their biological family.

The court will be requested to consider whether granting contact with the child’s origin family is appropriate in order to facilitate post-adoption contact when evaluating a petition for adoption. In the past, it was customary to either severe all connections with the child’s biological family or mandate “letterbox” contact (letters exchanged sporadically annually, with the frequency of the correspondence determined by the court). However, current thinking has evolved to recognise the advantages that children can derive from maintaining face-to-face interactions with their biological family.

The beneficial effects that contact has on adopted children

Adopted children have, on average, not had the most favourable beginning to their lives. Their traumatic upbringing from their youth is irretrievable. Experts in infant psychology have determined through research that traces of early traumatic experiences will persist indefinitely in the brain’s primitive structure. Although it may be alluring to believe that preventing a child from seeing his or her birth family is the most effective way to prevent repeated trauma, doing so will not prevent the child from being reminded of previous traumatic events. Many child psychologists now believe that, in the majority of instances, it is likely to be in the child’s best interest to acknowledge and address the emotions associated with these past traumas. It is not uncommon for children, irrespective of any history of maltreatment or neglect, to develop a profound emotional bond with their biological parents. Child psychology authorities have acknowledged that contact can:

  • Advocate for the child’s consistent placement.
  • Assist the infant in adjusting to separation and loss.
  • Assist the child in comprehending the reason for their placement in care by offering them with an opportunity to directly observe the circumstances that prevented their origin family from providing care.
  • Assist the child in reconciling their past experiences.
  • Assist the infant in developing an awareness of their own identity.

Effective communication management

For communication to occur, it must be effectively managed. It is essential to notify the child beforehand that they will be visiting their biological family, and all pertinent details regarding the arrangement, including the location, participants, and duration of the visit, should be explicitly communicated to them. They should have their concerns and inquiries attended to. As necessary, the infant should be supported throughout the interaction. Subsequently, the child ought to be granted a debriefing opportunity wherein he or she can express any emotions or inquiries pertaining to the encounter with his adoptive parents or another reliable adult.

Guidance for adoptive and biological families

Not solely the child will necessitate assistance prior to, during, and subsequent to the interaction. Adoptive and biological families may also require support. Practical assistance, such as aid with transportation arrangements to the location where contact is being established, may be required for the birth family. Additionally, they may need direction regarding the manner in which to communicate with the child. In an ideal situation, direct communication between the origin family and adoptive family will be utilised to organise the session. Other professionals, such as counsellors, may be required to advise the adoptive parents on how to best handle the child prior to, during, and subsequent to any interactions. All parties must be “on board” to ensure that the child has a positive experience during the contact for it to be successful.

The court must prioritise the child’s placement with his or her adoptive family; therefore, any contact that could compromise that placement should not be taken into account. Additionally, contact should be halted if it is probable that the child will be re-traumatized or subjected to additional abuse or severe neglect, or if it will likely result in the child becoming further traumatised. In all contact matters requiring the court’s and those entrusted with the care of children’s consideration, the child’s welfare is the court’s highest priority.

Additionally, the phrase “birth family” has been employed consistently throughout this Insight article. Not only the biological parents are permitted to initiate communication with their offspring. A court may order sibling contact between a child and another child if it is in the best interest of the child to do so. The gradually implementing provisions of the Children (Scotland) Act 2020 will establish unequivocally that whenever practicable, the unique bond between siblings should be maintained.