Historic forced adoption - scoping study: final report

Research to scope the support needs of people affected by historic forced adoption in Scotland.

7. Recurring challenges and considerations


We have described several challenges associated with meeting the support needs outlined in the previous chapters. Here, we summarise other broader challenges related to planning services for people affected by historic forced adoption.

Greater consistency

Research participants emphasised inconsistencies in the types and quality of support available across different organisations and professionals. We found no clear evidence of any area-based patterns of provision in this respect; instead the types and quality of services offered by different organisations varied depending on the individual officer involved, or as a result of fluctuations in resources available. This applies to local authorities, post-adoption support services, GPs, mental health professionals and other organisations supporting people with historic forced adoption experience.

To address these inconsistencies, some interviewees urged the Scottish Government to provide guidance about the types of support that should be available for people affected by historic forced adoption. Although local authorities have a statutory obligation to deliver post-adoption support for children living with adoptive families, there is less clarity over the help that should be available for people affected by historic forced adoption.

Service capacity and funding

Many organisations emphasised a lack of funding and capacity, which constrains the support they can offer people with experience of historic forced adoption. Lack of capacity and long waiting times in local authorities, NHS services, post-adoption support services and other organisations was a recurring theme in this research. Nearly four-fifths of local authority survey respondents (15, 79%) and many interviewees said more availability is needed.

“One of the problems that we have as an agency… is we're a very small charity and our pockets are not as deep as we would like them to be.” – Stakeholder

“The capacity of different local authorities is definitely an issue particularly just now because local authorities are facing a massive staffing crisis... So there's a big unmet need, I think in terms of being able to just hold and ring-fence the capacity within services to give the time and the commitment that is needed to do this piece of work properly.” – Stakeholder

As a result, many interviewees – stakeholders and people affected by historic forced adoption - made the case for increased funding for services to support people affected by historic forced adoption.

Reservations around adoption agencies’ role

Some interviewees expressed strong reservations about engaging with agencies involved in historic forced adoption practices. Although some interviewees recounted positive experiences of these agencies’ assistance, others felt traumatised and refused to engage or access support from them entirely.

“What they see is the local authority is the one that's caused these issues. So they don't want us to be the people that are supporting them long-term.” – Stakeholder

“It is chilling to consider that a mother seeking information about her lost son or daughter, or seeking support for mental health services, currently has no option but to approach the adoption agency that took her child or an agent of that body.” – Mother

Lack of awareness of available services

Low awareness of services available is a theme that arose in several interviews. Local authority survey respondents highlighted low awareness of the services (17, 90%) and how to access them (13, 68%) as major barriers in supporting people with experience of historic forced adoption. The need for enhanced awareness-raising activity was a common suggestion among research participants.

“I found it quite difficult to get any information on how to find him. It was all quite difficult to find him until somebody mentioned [a post-adoption support service] and then everything just sort of you know went from there.” – Sibling of adoptee

Some interviewees reflected on difficulties in finding information about support services. A handful noted that skills in using the internet are required. This can create barriers in access: those without internet access or lacking digital skills may be unaware of services that could help them.

“People don't always have a phone or IT access and there's costs associated with many of those things which our most vulnerable in society won't always have the economic capacity to fulfil.” – Stakeholder

Suggestions for raising awareness of services included advertising campaigns, flyers in GPs surgeries, and, crucially, enhancing awareness among professionals such as GPs and social workers to enable more effective signposting.

“I don't know if they do, they might but I think there probably should be an advertising campaign. It's probably better if it’s a Scottish Government thing. But it would have to go national [UK] as opposed to just in Scotland.” – Adoptee

However, a stakeholder warned that support services’ capacity must be increased before any awareness-raising activities are undertaken. Otherwise, services may not be able to meet the increased demand that could be generated.

“But what I would say is that I think what needs to be put in place first, before that kind of awareness-raising is… we need to have the resources there.” – Stakeholder

Societal views of adoption

Several adoptees spoke of a perception that adoption is viewed positively among society in general. They feel adoptees are seen as children who were rescued from a difficult situation and should be grateful a family took them in. However, experiences of adoptees who took part in our in research were more mixed: many described positive experiences with their adoptive families but many also reported negative outcomes such as mental health issues that they attributed to being adopted, and a sizeable minority described cruel or negligent treatment by their adoptive families. Again, however, it is important to note that research participants were self-selecting, and feedback from adoptees in this study is not intended to be representative of all adoptees, either historically or now. As noted in Chapter 1, current adoption policy and practice differs from the 1950s-1970s period that is the focus of this study, and this must be borne in mind when considering these findings.

“The portrayal that adopted children have been looked after and loved and that for those children everything is rosy.” – Adoptee

Similarly, some mothers feel society blames them for the adoption.

“I generally got the impression that everyone believed that wicked or negligent parents abandoned kids, and they got adopted into wonderful adoptive families, and everyone lived happily ever after. So, I learnt not to say much.” – Mother

These views are compounded by portrayals of adoption in popular culture. Some interviewees referred to television programmes that showcase individuals’ attempts to find their family. They felt programmes like this place a positive slant on adoption and do not show cases of unsuccessful or unhappy search and reunion attempts. Interviewees warned this can skew people’s expectations of search and reunion activities.

“There's so much that needs to be done education-wise to educate people and represent the views and the experiences of parents who have lost their children to adoption. Because it's not represented well at all on the media.” – Mother

“I would like, somehow, that the public perception of adoption to be changed, TV programmes do little to tell the truth that is experienced by most families, that happily ever after myth is rarely the whole truth.” – Mother

Reluctance to talk about adoption

Some research participants reported that, due to the stigma and secrecy surrounding historic forced adoption, and wider societal views of adoption, people affected may be reluctant to talk about their experiences. One example involves a mother who had become pregnant because of rape. Her friends arranged support from an organisation that supports sexual abuse survivors, but the individual could not bring herself to talk about the experience.

“It's a challenge to actually get people to access the services to stick their head above the parapet and say, I am one of those people. I am one of those women. I mean, I still find it difficult… it's partly linked still, with all the guilt and shame, that's all connected all around it. Because I mean, I couldn't say, I couldn't say the word adoption for years. I just I couldn't say it.” – Mother

“Openness I think, would be a great a big step forward. There was so much secrecy around it for us. And it's not healthy because you end up getting tangled in lies and pretending and it's not healthy.” – Mother

Feeling they have no right to support

We noted in Chapter 3 that some mothers felt they were not allowed to search for their child given the paperwork they were forced to sign at the time of the adoption. Similarly, people affected by historic forced adoption may feel they are not entitled to any support with their experience. Over half (10, 53%) of local authority survey respondents identified a feeling of not being entitled to seek support as a barrier, and some interviewees reinforced this.

“One of the barriers is that for these women… they don't think that they have a right or that they're worth anything, so they're not going to go seeking help.” – Stakeholder

Lack of services for adult adoptees

Some interviewees reported that post-adoption support focuses on children, young people and adoptive families, and there is a shortage of help for adult adoptees. Some stakeholders agreed their services are focused on adopted children and young people. Adult adoptees felt they need more support, both for themselves and their children to address the inter-generational impact of historic forced adoption. Adoption UK Scotland reported it has recently established an advisory board of adult adoptee members that feeds into the organisation’s policy and approach to working with adult adoptees.

“Adoption services usually stop, they usually cater for the kids, 18 or below, so adult adoptees, we struggle to find help, and the only way we find help is with each other.” – Adoptee

“We are not set up to provide this support – we focus on families and their children. Once adoptees are adults we provide little. We don't have resources to do this sadly.” – Stakeholder


Email: Joanna.Harrold@gov.scot

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