Thursday, January 5, 2012

It Came from CyberSpace: An Epidemic of Epic Proportions!

The headlines are alarming:  "threat to adopted children;" "lives turned upside down;" "adopted kids at risk."  So what's so scary?  Why, birth parents, of course!  Or maybe it's facebook. . . . Or maybe it's birth parents on facebook. Or maybe what's so scary . . . is the truth our kids deserve.

There are a slew of articles out of England today about the scourge of birth parents contacting adopted children on social media:

Social media threat to adopted children grows in UK -- Reuters

Hundreds of children adopted after being abused have lives turned upside down as natural parents use Facebook to track them down -- [yes, that's a headline!] the Daily Mail

Adopted kids at risk from Facebook -- the Sun

Facebook allows natural parents to track down adopted children, charities warn --the Telegraph

OK, laying aside this popular meme of predatory birth parents stalking their children on social media for a moment, just how serious is this "growing" problem?  What evidence is there that HUNDREDS of adopted children have been contacted in this way, much less contacted to negative effect?

According to the Reuters article, "some birth parents" are contacting "some children" and tearing apart "some families."  This is as specific as they'll get:
It is not known how many birth parents are using social networking sites to get around this, but the BAAF said it was receiving "more and more cases."
"We have heard some horror stories, but how frequently it is happening we just don't know," Feast added.
Well, then, since the Daily Mail specifically mentions "hundreds of children," they must support it with data, right?  Not so much.  First, the only hard data point offered is a study about adopted persons contacting birth family, not the other way around:
A study by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering found that 53 per cent of adopted children have used unofficial means, such as Facebook, to trace their birth parents. A quarter said that this had been unsettling.
OK, I don't mean to completely minimize the potential problem of unexpected birth family contact for an unprepared child of a young age (why they'd then be on facebook is another issue). But if you're going to treat it like an epidemic, shouldn't you have a few more data points?!

The one helpful thing that the articles do offer is advice about preparing children for possible contact, especially if poor parenting choices led to involuntary termination of parental rights.  As the Daily Mail says:

Mr Pearce [executive director of AdoptionUK, a support organization for APs] said that it is now necessary to prepare children in advance of possible unplanned contact from their birth parents.

‘Currently adopted children tend to be told a rose-tinted version of what really happened,’ he told The Times.

‘Something closer to the truth will better protect and prepare children for the destabilising effects of unplanned contact, which often happens at a key stage in their adolescence.’
Which is why telling our kids the truth, even hard truths, is the best policy.  In an age of social media and other internet content, we can't very well insulate them from all information, and truth will out. So maybe the hysterical nature of these stories will have a salutory effect -- maybe more adoptive parents will see the value of being open and honest with their kids. . . before it's too late (cue the scary music!).

How to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, even when it's hard?  Here are the Ten Commandments of Telling as a starting point.


Anonymous said...

"A study by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering found that 53 per cent of adopted children have used unofficial means, such as Facebook, to trace their birth parents. A quarter said that this had been unsettling."

Malinda - do you have a link to the actual study? Could they perhaps be using the stereotype that never seems to die that all adoptees are "adopted children" no matter if they are 12, 20, 40, or 75?

Oh - about about 25% find it unsettling - unsettling how - reunion is unsettling - how could it not be?

Anonymous said...

i think contacting adoptive children without including AP's is horrible. shame on the birth parents for not thinking of the best interest of their bio child.

StephenH said...

I think we are going to have to be prepared for adopted children who are 17 and under having direct contact with birth relatives, and some children will search online and other places and find them, and some of them even remember their former parents names, or sometimes a friends list search of a known friend of the child who has not been adopted will reveal the adopted child's new name. I think it is best to let the child manage this contact if they want it and block it if not, and to accept that Letterbox is not the only way people who are adopted communicate with their former families today, and not all contact will be censored. We also have to accept the possibility of self arranged visits and even some breakdowns and reunions especially if the birth families live close.