Adoption Confidentiality Being Bypassed Through Social Media
May 23, 2010 8:05 PM   Subscribe

UK adoption agencies are reporting "huge numbers of calls from 'deeply distressed' adoptive parents whose children have been contacted" through Facebook and other social networking sites, in violation of the traditional, confidential reunion process between birth parents and their offspring who have been placed with other families. Full report from Channel 4.

From the Guardian article:
Where once adoption tended to involve a young, single woman giving up her unplanned baby, now two-thirds of adopted children have been removed because their parents abused or neglected them. In many cases, the birth parents dispute the removal, blaming social services.
Additional resources:

Channel 4: Adoption Experience:

Adoption Search Reunion UK
posted by zarq (44 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Basically, a social networking site allows people to find others. The nerve!!!
posted by lattiboy at 8:25 PM on May 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, not saying this is right for the biological parents to do, but still, if I see one more story about online services actually doing what they're designed to do...........
posted by lattiboy at 8:26 PM on May 23, 2010

Ah, yes, blame the internet.
posted by Iosephus at 8:31 PM on May 23, 2010

The article isn't all GRARFACEBOOK though, it's more like "Oh snap, this not-good thing is going to get more and more common so maybe we should think about how to deal with it." Which is, you know, sensible and worthwhile reportage.
posted by No-sword at 8:34 PM on May 23, 2010 [25 favorites]

It's true that Facebook is just doing what it is meant to be doing, but I find it interesting in just how it's being used in this case. Not all parents or kids are internet savvy enough to see having a Facebook profile as a consequence.
posted by Calzephyr at 8:37 PM on May 23, 2010

It's kind of a tough problem because these poor kids are just doing what their friends are doing. And now their parents have to come down and say "Honey you can't do what your friends are doing because you're different - you have to protect yourself from your scary past." No parent wants to do that.
posted by amethysts at 8:44 PM on May 23, 2010

Hm, agreed, I thought for a moment while doing the reading that the parents were knee-jerking on the internet, but it actually sounds like everybody is going to be sensible about it in the end. I like the idea of having the birth parents sing a non-contact contract that includes social networking.
posted by Iosephus at 8:47 PM on May 23, 2010

sing -> sign
(Though contract are so dry that I can seriously go for having them agreed and legally binding only after all parties sing their pieces!)
posted by Iosephus at 8:48 PM on May 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

social services are BRUTAL. they are not always right.
posted by bright and shiny at 9:02 PM on May 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

life cannot be resolved neatly by contract, but yes, facebook etc, should be on that contract that the biological parents sign. OR, stay off of facebook
posted by bright and shiny at 9:03 PM on May 23, 2010

Forcible removal by social services AND voluntary contracts? I'd have figured that was a one-or-the-other-not-both type of situation.
posted by ryanrs at 10:04 PM on May 23, 2010

As someone who was adopted and traced my 'natural' mother, this story does concern me. I wouldn't dream of contacting a parent or child via Facebook, to be honest, it lacks respect for the other person.

Before I traced my mother, I was interviewed by social services, who looked into my reasons and motivations and gave some very good advice about how it could end up. They backed up my thoughts, that no woman easily gives up a child and she was likely to have been and still be under a fair amount of trauma.

There was also good advice about taking things one step at a time, taking into account the other person's wishes, life situation etc. It is dangerous simply to barge into aniother person's life and family.

I was also cautioned about preparing for disappointment and that, at the heart of every adoption, there's a sad, or tragic story.

Just contacting someone out of the blue says, "this is what I want", going through stages and channels says, "this is what I want, but I have to respect what you may want".
posted by quarsan at 10:14 PM on May 23, 2010 [14 favorites]

"We will have to build them into the fabric of our adoption practice and re-emphasise the importance of children knowing why they were placed for adoption and the circumstances of the birth parents," Dr Simmonds said. "There is nothing we can say to the social networking sites."

A very sensible and respectable response.

The problem here seems to come from the adoptive child not knowing the circumstances of their adoption. None of the examples seem to indicate the child not knowing they were adopted at all, which is a welcome cultural change. A person is entitled to know their biological heritage, and this will become ever more important as genetic science advances.

Obviously there's the intent to avoid trauma by not telling the kid why he/she was adopted. But the older the kid was, the more likely he/she remembers something traumatic anyway. Seems to me "You were given to us because your birth parents weren't able to take good care of you" covers a lot of situations.

There's nothing uniquely "Facebook-ey" about this. One or both birth parents initiating contact by some means presumably has been contemplated by adopting families and agencies from well before Facebook and the like existed. And there is another side to that coin - while social networking does definitely make it easier to contact people (that's one of the major purposes of its existence), it also makes it easier to keep track of people without actually contacting them, as per Chris Smith's story in the article. It does strike me as a little creepy, but if you are going to have an online stalker, and you probably do, it seems far better to have a stalker who doesn't mean you harm.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:35 PM on May 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

As an adopted person, I can sympathize. I went through a period (10-25ish) where I wanted to contact my biological parents as I always felt like something was missing - I had never known anyone I was related to (and other than my new daughter I still don't). Still, it was a shockingly late age when I let myself realize that I had been given up by people who were kids themselves. My folks didn't discuss the terms of my adoption, as I never really wanted to know that - in a way I could explain, anyways.

I'm not sure that, if the internet and social networking sites were available to me during my teens, that I would have:

a) wanted to be treated as being even more different than I already was by staying off Facebook etc. and

b) been contacted by my parents through the internet.

I don't think I'd have been mature enough to really deal with that in a way that wasn't on my own terms, as well as a discussion with my parents in advance of a meeting (that is, my adoptive parents - though I fucking hate that term now, as I really only have one set of parents, full-stop).

If I were counseling an adopted teenager, I'd simply reinforce these notions - that there's a small chance that I'd be contacted in the future by biological relations and/or their friends/investigators/lawyers etc. and that I really don't have to respond in any way to people I don't know, or people asking questions, until I've talked to people I'm comfortable with. I think, in many cases, just talking about these things openly with a kid will set their minds at ease and settle the issue in their minds. It's not like we, as adoptive people, haven't had to deal with this kind of shit all our lives. It's a hard thing to deal with emotionally, but talking is usually the right choice. Myself, I tended to bottle things up and distort them tremendously over this issue until I talk about them. I still do that, and I'm 35.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:17 PM on May 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

sorry that's b) wanted to have been contacted by my parents through the internet.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:18 PM on May 23, 2010

A person is entitled to know their biological heritage

Well, maybe. I know that's an increasingly popular opinion. But a significant number of kids don't have the father they think they have, and we haven't (for example) imposed compulsory paternity tests. So it might not be as strong an entitlement as some other considerations. Because, after all, a guide to the results of having your genes is useful, but (1) you have mutations and (2) you have a complete set of your genes, your parents only have have 50%, so tests pertaining to you will be more useful, and (3) generally a knowledge of your genetic fate will lead you to eating more fruit and vegetables and taking more exercise, right? Which will probably be something your doctor has told you anyway...
posted by alasdair at 11:34 PM on May 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

All y'all can have my parents. Plenty of nosiness, expectations, guilt, and aggravation to go around.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:37 AM on May 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

Couldn't this be avoided if the adoptee has their visibility in search results set as "invisible to anyone but friends"?
posted by anagrama at 12:39 AM on May 24, 2010

I am not adopted but my father severed contact with my mother when I was about three months old. We have had no contact in the 40 years since.

About a year ago, two of his other children got in touch with me via FB. About two weeks ago, FB offered up my father (who is in his late 70's) as a "suggested friend". His profile is open, so I've been able to go look at it via the profiles of his two children. (Mine is locked down tight.) I'm not going to contact him (his abandonment of my family tells me all I need to know about him), but I'm kind of interested to see if he'll contact me. And it was a weird moment of panic combined with curiosity to see his name pop up.

I do think the key here is "intrusive and unplanned". I note that one of the children whose situation was profiled at length was 7 when she was removed from her birth home. She's going to remember quite a lot about that situation, and her original parents. I suspect that the situation is the same for many of these children. The real solution here is more education about how the privacy setting work, and not to ban the children from social networking sites, but simply give them and their parents the tools necessary to enable them to share with only the people they actively choose to share with.
posted by anastasiav at 5:12 AM on May 24, 2010

Couldn't this be avoided if the adoptee has their visibility in search results set as "invisible to anyone but friends"?

Well, except for the fact that Facebook keeps changing the defaults to "visible to everyone."

Those briefed at Facebook's headquarters in the US say the company is to introduce a "master control" that would simplify users' privacy settings. Users would then be able to choose which groups of people they wished to share information with – everyone, friends of friends or just friends.

Golly, what a good idea. Bet Facebook doesn't really make it that simple.
posted by mediareport at 6:22 AM on May 24, 2010

The article makes it sound like the process in the UK is somewhat different from in the U.S. How much information do parents whose kids have been removed in the UK get about their eventual placement?
posted by dilettante at 7:22 AM on May 24, 2010

The article raises a significant issue that adoptive parents of children removed from their birth families as a result of abuse or neglect struggle struggle to settle. How much information do I give my child and when do I give it? If you adopt a toddler, for example, who was beaten, molested, starved, etc, at what point do you transition from saying "you birth parents couldn't take care of you properly" to "your father molested you"? If the child is older when removed from their birth family, they will remember their history in ways that infants and toddlers won't. Depending upon where the adoption occurred, the adoptive family may have that information or they may never have even been told. So, in those cases it is not information that the parents are keeping from their child. Where I live, we have much of this information; but not all. The adopted child can, in their late teens, visit the agency office and ask for access to their file. This is not true of every jurisdiction in the US and I have no idea if it is the case in other countries.

I know it is a controversial move, but many adoptive families change the names of the children. They don't just change the child's last name. They may go so far as to completely rename the child. Depending upon the age of the child at the time the adoption is finalized, the child may be participating in choosing their new name. Given that the child has at least a new last name, I'm concerned about how the birth families are getting this information. Again, I don't know what the laws are elsewhere, but I know that the parents of the children I have fostered are NOT allowed to know anything more than my first name. They may not even know what town I live in. Regardless, it seems that adoptive parents who allow their kids access to social media should proactively teach the children to hide their identity as much as possible. Personally, I think it wise even if the child is not adopted.

Finally, I just wanted to point out that social media is not just a tool for the birth families to track down the children. It is also a tool for the adoptive families to track down the birth families. Frequently, this is done just to keep tabs on them. The adoptive families learn, for example, if another sibling has been born or if new charges for new crimes are pending. I've even heard from other families who have read the MySpace or Facebook pages and seen something that moved them to report an issue to CPS.
posted by onhazier at 7:27 AM on May 24, 2010

dilettante, keep in mind that even in the US, there is not a standard approach to case history disclosures to the adoptive parents. Each state has a different policy and each jurisdiction within that state may implement the policy a bit differently. Frequently, potential adoptive parents are not allowed to get copies of pages within the case histories even if they are allowed to read them. They may be allowed to take notes, however. Beyond that, there's always the issue that the entire scope of the abuse suffered by the child may never be known. In the case I'm personally involved with, that's a fact we have to deal with. We will never know what all happened to this child.
posted by onhazier at 7:33 AM on May 24, 2010

onhazier, it's not the information the adoptive parents have I was asking about, but what the birth parents are told.
posted by dilettante at 7:42 AM on May 24, 2010

My apologies. Hopefully someone from the UK will be able to answer.

In the US, this also depends upon jurisdiction. As I mentioned, we have only our first names shared with the families. In other areas, the families get name, address and phone numbers. From there, the families can track a lot more down.
posted by onhazier at 7:50 AM on May 24, 2010

My late (lovely) father died very young in a car accident (he was 41) never having traced his birth parents. He'd been very unhappy with his adoptive parents and had wondered - with a lot of quiet sadness - why his birth mother had abandoned him as a baby & why she had never tried to trace him.

He decided it was probably better if he didn't try to find her either.
(He had been told - as a little boy - his real parents had died in a house fire, of all things. His adoptive mother claimed the "authorities" had insisted this story was kinder. But she'd later informed him he was simply a common bastard).

Long after he died, my youngest sister tracked down his birth mother - using smart old-fashioned sleuthing based on the limited information we had. Unfortunately, his mother had died herself just 3 years earlier in her nineties. But her still grieving husband - with whom she had had three more children - was still alive, very much compos mentis, and in his nineties himself.

At first (and this was awful), the widower thought our family was pulling some sort of bizarre & wicked scam about his much missed late wife when my sister first contacted him. He told us - angrily - that they had been extremely happily married for 60+ years. The notion that his beloved wife had never told him she'd had a baby boy before they met was, he said, out of the question. They'd never had any secrets and our "story" was an insult to her memory.

Then, this amazingly decent elderly man gradually remembered he had been puzzled when he was first courting his wife, why she had taken so long to become qualified as a nurse. She had once vaguely mentioned some "heart illness" which had interrupted her studies for a year after she left school but this ailment had never recurred.

He started to accept that our story might have some truth.
There never was any illness. Just six months in a home for wayward girls.

Our documents proved the facts - but it was the photographs we exchanged (we all lived on different continents) that clinched it.

His late wife and our late father could only have been mother and son.
They were two peas from the same pod, both striking handsome with jet black hair, enormous brown eyes, long, lean jaws, identical, wistful smiles and big matching Roman noses.

In what turned out to be the last five years of his long life, this remarkable gentleman was able to treasure his wife's memory even more. He understood that she had remained silent about the illegitimate baby - our dad- she'd had so very young, probably because she was simply scared at first - then decided telling him later would be too hurtful to him.

He decided she was terribly mistaken - but acknowledged how rigidly unforgiving polite society would have been at the time!

He wrote our family the most gorgeous letters about his late wife's life (& long career as a hospital matron), welcoming us as his missing step-grandchildren - and told his own adult children about their late older half-brother with great tact and tenderness. His own eldest son admitted he had long wondered if his mother had lost an earlier child (through a very late miscarriage) because he had a feeling he wasn't the first born himself!

The widower thanked us for bringing him closer to her memory - by allowing him to think about her in a new - if very poignant way- after such a long marriage.

Of course, we all wished our dad and his birth mother had found each other in time.
We never found out who his real dad was.

But I still remember the warm flooding feeling of connection when I first saw the photograph of my dad's real mother as a young woman. I hung a copy of her portrait beside the one I have of my late father. It's meaningless, of course, but they seem to gaze at each other with such yearning.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:49 AM on May 24, 2010 [146 favorites]

All adoptions should be open, and open source for everyone, and that means you too!

(Adoptee, married to adoptee, with a brother who specializes in adoption law--kinda famous, actually, but no blood between us--and many friends with adopted children)

Also, Facebook is stupid and everyone there should vacate, but that's just my opinion, and you know what they say about those--Everyone's gotta have one. Have a nice day.
posted by emhutchinson at 10:49 AM on May 24, 2010

All adoptions should indeed be open. I have zero use for Facebook and was thisclose to deleting my account. Back in January of this year, I ran yet another net search for the son I gave up for adoption 28 years ago.. I knew roughly where he was, but had never tried to contact or find him until after he was an adult, at the adoptive parents request. (doesn't mean that I didn't think about it..) FWIW the State of NY was no help, as they seal adoption records.

Every three months or so, since the day he turned 18, I've tried looking for him online.. and Facebook is where I found him. I sent him a private message asking him if the words "Holly in Florida" had any meaning for him.. He knew my name and that i am his birth mom :) We trade photos and talk occasionally now :) and I have a year old granddaughter, my first grandchild. (and you bet she's the most beautiful grandbaby ever :) He'd been looking for me too for some years, but since I'd remarried, he didn't know what my new surname was.. sigh. So happy I found him finally. For once, Facebook was actually good for something.
posted by keptwench at 1:00 PM on May 24, 2010 [7 favorites]

Open records sound great if you're talking about American cases. But countries like China, where the mere act of having the child is a criminal offense, it would be difficult to do the same thing. There was an attempt a few years ago to create a DNA bank of Chinese adoptees but it failed, I'm guessing because of fears about access and control of that information. But I know my daughter would love to know more about her birth and circumstances, and perhaps some day, she will.
posted by etaoin at 6:15 PM on May 24, 2010

emhutchinson: "All adoptions should be open..."

Oh hell no. I know someone who was going to adopt, and one birthmother picked her out and the whole family was going to move to the area and want to be part of this baby's life. Like my friend said, she doesn't want to spend her life feeling like she's babysitting someone else's kid.
posted by IndigoRain at 7:23 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe it's not a good idea to have all adoptions be open ones, especially in cases where abuse was involved.

I do believe that all adoptees should have the right to know who their birth parents are, however.

It's strange to grow up not knowing who you are, where you are from, and what the circumstances of your birth are. It's strange to walk down the street and wonder if you're related to any of the people walking by.

In my case, my birth mother wanted to get in touch with me. I wanted to find her too when I was an adult. We ended up finding each other through ISRR (which still amazes me).

It is strange to me that there is a lot of hand-wringing about protecting the confidentiality of adoption. In my case the laws were protecting two people who didn't want to be protected. If Facebook helps people to find each other, so much the better. It's a controlled situation as either party can decide on what level of contact they want. I don't see this as a bad thing.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 10:40 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was adopted in a closed adoption in 1972, when I was three weeks old. I can't remember ever not knowing that I was adopted. My parents just told me that my birth mother couldn't take care of me, so she put me up for adoption.

It's worked out pretty well for me. I've never had any sort of overwhelming desire to find my birth parents. I think about it occasionally, but it doesn't seem worth the effort somehow. It actually only occurs to me infrequently that I am adopted.

If my birth parents contacted me, I'd talk to them and be very interested in their lives, I think. As far as I know, however, they don't even know my name (and from what the adoption agency told my parents, my birth father may not even know that I exist). My birth certificate has my (adoptive) parents' names on it.

So I reckon I don't have to worry too much about being contacted on FaceBook, though I wouldn't be angry if I were. I'd rather be contacted by my birth mother than be invited to play farm world.
posted by Shohn at 5:17 AM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Tangentally related, but Dan Savage's book, The Kid details an open adoption, and is well worth a read.
posted by schmod at 6:20 AM on May 25, 2010

We have applied to adopt from foster care and in Wisconsin it's a requirement that the adoptive parents provide their address and phone number to the birth parent(s). If the birth parent is able to get their shit together before their parental rights are terminated, they could be reunited with their child, so it makes sense to maintain a continuous relationship as long as it is not a danger to the child. I am not sure if it is actually enshrined in law, but at the informational meeting we were repeatedly told that the birth parents have the right to know where their child is.
posted by desjardins at 7:44 AM on May 25, 2010

You could substitute "phonebook" for "Facebook" and run this story before any of us was born.
posted by w0mbat at 8:11 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

This story is about abusive former parents who think they now have the right to force themselves into their kids' new, peaceful lives. If you abuse your kid so much that they take your kid away, you should not have the right to continually inflict yourself on that poor kid for the rest of their lives. It should be case-closed, unless the kid decides they want to know where they came from. And it's different from looking someone up in the phonebook because you can read all about what the person is doing, what they look like, what they like, etc.
posted by amethysts at 8:37 AM on May 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

You could substitute "phonebook" for "Facebook" and run this story before any of us was born.

Not really. Very few minors had their own private land line at which they could be reached without the risk of (adoptive) mom and dad running interception.
posted by availablelight at 10:15 AM on May 25, 2010

This story is about abusive former parents who think they now have the right to force themselves into their kids' new, peaceful lives. If you abuse your kid so much that they take your kid away, you should not have the right to continually inflict yourself on that poor kid for the rest of their lives.

Boy, that is it in a nutshell, isn't it? Well put.
posted by davejay at 10:31 AM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

"I'd rather be contacted by my birth mother than be invited to play farm world."

Favorited that so hard.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 10:55 AM on May 25, 2010

Social services agencies do *err* and do sometimes take kids from families that they shouldn't be taken from. I'm not saying Facebook is the right way for these birth parents to contact the kids. But I think the blanket assumption that "social services says these parents did X' means that that's what they did is giving social services more credit than they deserve.

Studies find that in the "borderline" cases where the social services departments can determine whether or not to take the kids, the kids that aren't taken do much, much better. So there's another part to this story.
posted by Maias at 1:21 PM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

"A person is entitled to know their biological heritage"

A great many things that people decide they're "entitled" to, they in fact are not. This is one of them. Just because it'd be useful doesn't mean you're entitled, just as wanting it isn't needing it.

My birthmother contacted me on Facebook. It was an open adoption but we hadn't had any contact since I was 3... We moved away.

She sent me a message that started along the lines of,

"Hi, this might sound odd but, I think you're my son." There followed an apology for putting me up for adoption, an explanation and some additional details not pertinant. My sister was from an closed adoption and her mother attempted contact at 18. That caused some additional tension with mum, and I didn't want her going through that again, so I declined to respond at the moment.

I found it mainly "Lol, internet", but I can also see how someone could find it innapropriate, especially under non-voluntary adoption conditions. But I think you have to realize that lots of stuff that is "Inappropriate" happened. Hiding from it is rediculous, once you're an adult. That's the key part. But, as an early teen I would have found it appropriate to know that I was adopted because of a court order following abuse.

Frankly, I have never been anyone's son other then mum and dad. As much as I'm sure a lot of parents think otherwise, the biology is irrelevant, it's emotions that create a parent. So I have no bond with my birth-mother and I am my LEGAL mother's son. I don't need to "Find my identity", I'm not lied too (I was never lied to, I knew I was adopted and found it un-interesting) and I don't see the problem with "Your real mother was abusive and was unable to take care of you, so the state made sure to find someone like me who would love you and take care of you as my own".

Afterall, that's the case with my parents: I know they wanted me and I wasn't an accident (Like most people are), I had to be applied for ;)
posted by Quadlex at 9:12 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Quadlex, your last line is really touching and I hope my (future, adoptive) child feels the same way.
posted by desjardins at 8:08 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think anyone is saying that the biology is imporotant for who is yuor parent. As you beautifully point out, that is the folks who actually rasided you.
However, biological / medical information can help you know about predipsotispoitions to various medical conditions. It might reveal genetic issues you may be carrying that could be passed along. Just knowing your ethniciity can help nail down diagnosis more quickly at times. Knowing that your genetic line has a history of x,y,z can tell your doctor to keep an eye on ceartin things. This goes beyond eating fruits and vegies to running specific tests to catch issues early.
that is the biological information that I and others think that everyone is entitled to have. Granted, people who know their genetic line do not neccessarily have a clue about various health issues, but they have a better chance.
posted by Librarygeek at 11:39 AM on June 8, 2010

I'm guessing you either entered that message using a tiny touchscreen keyboard, Librarygeek, or you are in a very pleasant and inebriated state of mind...
posted by five fresh fish at 12:17 PM on June 8, 2010

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