Contacting people from your past

Initiating contact

This page deals with the delicate area of contacting your birth relative once you have traced them successfully.

Do you want to go ahead?

A quick note about adoption contact registers

The use of an intermediary

Using an intermediary for safety’s Sake

The importance of only approaching your birth relative and maintaining your (and their) anonymity

Alternative intermediaries

Making an approach directly

Contact via social media

When your birth relative doesn’t desire contact

Do you want to go ahead?

Some adopted people are keen to make contact with birth relatives while others simply want to read their birth history and to gain a better understanding of the circumstances of their adoption.

You may also be keen to search for a relative but feel it may not be the right time for you and you wish to put it on hold.

Equally, you should be aware that if you do search and are ready to make contact it is important to ask yourself if the timing is right for you and your birth relative. This is because this may influence their initial response. – For example, it is advisable and wise to avoid significant dates such as birthdays or Christmas.  

If you’re unsure about whether to proceed it’s worth returning to and considering the points we first raised in the “Getting Started – Things to consider” page, namely:

  • Is it the right time?
  • What are you hoping for?
  • What support do you have?

Even if you considered this at the beginning of the process it’s worth returning to here. It’s particularly important to reconsider what your expectations are as well as the potential outcomes from making contact with your birth relative.

These include the possibility that they may decline from having contact with you, or that you learn new information that you did not know about.

Having support during the process of making contact is vital, particularly in the event that you receive a negative response, no response at all, or discover upsetting information.    

A quick reminder about adoption contact registers

We mentioned this in the section regarding tracing birth relatives. This is often one of the first steps you should take as it may save you from spending a lot of time and expense searching. Your birth relative may have registered so it is a good way of knowing straight away whether or not they wish to have contact with you.

Using an a registered adoption support service

Assuming you wish to proceed there are two options. You can either approach them directly – either yourself or via a supportive relative or friend – or use a registered intermediary service to do so.

We would recommend using an intermediary service wherever possible for the following reasons:

  1. They may help with the initial emotional impact of the early phases of contact, whether or not the outcome is what you hoped for or not and offer reassurance and support.
  2. They can give your birth relative support and the opportunity to discuss any complex feelings and concerns the contact may have raised for them and family members. Remember that they are likely to have been taken by surprise by your wish for contact and may need time to think about how they wish to respond.
  3. Even in the scenario where they have also hoped that you would contact them one day they may still have to negotiate complex feelings the contact has raised and the implications for their family and their current circumstances.  They may, for instance, have never told their partner or children that they ever had a child they placed for adoption.
  4. Using a registered intermediary service also means that you have an experienced and skilled person making that first approach. They can do this sensitively – for example by writing a discreet letter that will inform the recipient of the situation without revealing to anyone else the nature of the enquiry. This can help in the event that a partner or someone else in the household opens the letter on their behalf.

Using an intermediary in the first instance

The intermediary can help you to be mindful of your own wellbeing and that of your birth family too.  As highlighted in the above section there is no guarantee that your birth relative has told their existing family about you and the fact that they had a child placed for adoption.  This may cause them a lot of anxiety if they fear it is a huge bombshell to drop on their partner and other members of their family.

It may also be the case that you face a situation that you decide you want to remove yourself from. For example, you may learn that your birth relative has a history of violence or is on the sex offenders register.  Using an intermediary Service means that you can have someone skilled at making introductions on your behalf in a manner where either party can back away or make an approach at their own speed.  This safeguards everybody involved.

The importance of only approaching your birth relative and maintaining your (and their) anonymity

We have touched briefly on this above but wherever possible you should try and only approach the birth relative you are intending to contact in the first instance

Avenues such as social media often provide us with the means to contact people who know our birth relatives such as extended family or neighbours, but to do so takes the control of the situation out of your hands and may result in unpleasant or even dangerous outcomes.

Cultural attitudes towards adoption can differ and it’s important to consider that your birth parent’s community may react differently to the knowledge of your adoption than the community you were raised in.

It’s crucial therefore not to reveal the reasons for your approach to anyone else other than your birth parent to protect the privacy of both of you. Ensure you maintain your privacy (you may wish to use a different address for contact for instance) and avoid revealing compromising details about your birth relative to other relatives who may be unaware of aspects of their past.

Once again, the use of intermediary services to make a considered, sensitive introduction is suggested and, even if you choose not to use them, you should ask their advice on how to draft an initial contact letter that doesn’t compromise your birth relative’s privacy.

Alternative intermediaries

Although the use of a professional is recommended, an intermediary can also be a partner or friend. If so, however, it is vital you trust and have confidence that they’re able, comfortable and prepared for taking on this role.

Contact can generate a huge range of responses and feelings from those contacted, including happiness, fear, sadness or even silence.

You should be confident that they can manage the range of responses they may receive and can negotiate a way forward in an impartial way – which is why it is often preferable to use a professional with no connection to the situation wherever possible and who can act as an independent mediator.
Your friend or partner still has a vital role as a source of support to you during this challenging time.

Also, remember that if you used a professional family researcher or agency to help you to trace your birth relatives this person cannot act as an intermediary unless they are registered with Ofsted to provide an intermediary service.

Making an approach directly

Although using an intermediary service is advised, some individuals do not feel comfortable with handing over control of the process, or not proceeding immediately with the contact information they have.

If you do decide you wish to pursue a direct approach just be aware that, although it can work, the birth relative may feel that they are put in a difficult position as they are not given the space and time to reflect how they want to respond. It may make them feel under pressure and anxious about whether or not to go forward with having contact with you. It’s important that your birth relative has support, information and the advice they may need to make an informed decision.

Contact via social media

We cover making contact via social networking sites in our searching section on this page

When your birth relative doesn’t desire contact

It might be that at the stage you make an initial approach the birth relative doesn’t wish to be contacted.
This can be very disappointing news for an adopted person and may be difficult to understand and accept.

There are many reasons why a birth relative declines contact, including:

  • Feeling like they need more time
  • Pressures in their life outside of the contact
  • That the approach reminds them of a difficult period
  • Worries over the reaction of families, friends or community – who they may not have told about the adoption

Sadly, you have to come to terms with their decision, regardless of whether you believe it’s right or wrong– establishing contact is something that requires the agreement of both of you.

If you are faced with the situation where your birth relative does not want contact, then if you have an intermediary, you should discuss the possibility of them asking if your birth relative would be prepared to answer any specific questions you may have such as medical information or background information about wider family and possibly share a photograph too.

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