TUE July 10, 2018 TUE July 10, 2018
10:30 am 10:30 am
Cartier I Cartier I

Krystal Cashen

Graduate student in psychology, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Ruth McRoy

Professor, School of Social Work, Boston College School of Social Work

Harold Grotevant

Professor, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Addie Wyman Battalen

Graduate student in social work, Boston College

Christina Sellers

Graduate student in social work, Boston College

Montserrat Fargas Malet

Research Fellow, School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work, Queen's University Belfast

Dominic McSherry

Research Associate, School of Social Sicences, Education and Social Work, Queen's University Belfast

Adam Pertman

President, National Center on Adoption and Permanency

Paper session: Internet / social media

The Role of Tech-Mediated and Traditional Modes of Communication in Adult Adoptees' Contact with Birth Mothers and Birth Fathers

The present study aims to understand how adult adoptees use traditional and tech-mediated modes of communication in their contact with their birth mother (BM) and birth father (BF). Relationships between desire for increased use of traditional or tech-medication modes of communication with satisfaction with contact, closeness, and psychological presence of birth relatives were also examined.

Participants were selected from a larger study on openness in adoption. All participants were adults (Mage = 31) who had been adopted as infants through private domestic adoption (N = 90). Participants reported on their current contact and desires for future contact with their BM and BF. Participants were asked about their current use and desired future use of 15 communication modes: 6 traditional modes (e.g., phone calls) and 9 tech-mediated modes (e.g., text messaging). Participants also rated their satisfaction with contact, current closeness, and desired future closeness with their BM and BF using Likert scales. Psychological presence of BM and BF was measured as how frequently the participant thought about their BM/BF.

Of the 60 participants who had current contact with their BM, 90% used 1+ traditional mode of communication and most used six modes (28.3%). For tech-mediated modes, 91.7% used 1+ modes and most used two modes (33.3%). Of the 19 who had current contact with their BF, 94.7% used 1+ traditional mode and most used four modes (26.3%). For tech-mediated modes, 78.9% used 1+ modes and most used one mode (57.9%).

Those who wanted to increase both tech and traditional modes of communication with both their BM and BF reported lower satisfaction with contact than those who did not want to increase use (all p’s < .022). Those who desired increases in traditional modes showed higher psychological presence of BMs and desired greater future closeness (all p’s < .022) while psychological presence and desired closeness did not differ between those who desired increases in tech-mediated modes (p = .554). Alternatively, psychological presence of BFs was higher for both those who desired increased traditional and tech-mediated modes (all p’s <.023). Desired future closeness with BF was greater for those who desired increases in tech-mediated modes (p = .033), but did not differ based on desired increase in traditional modes (p = .128). Current closeness did not differ for those who wanted increases with BM/BF and those who didn’t (all p’s >.096).

These findings suggest that adult adoptees use both traditional and tech-mediated modes of communication in their contact with their BM & BF. Our finding that psychological presence and desired future closeness was higher in those that desired increases in traditional but not tech-mediated communication with BMs may suggest that traditional modes of communication play an important role in these relationships. Differences between BMs and BFs may a result of fewer participants having contact with their BF.

Mixed feelings, curiosity, or indifference: Birth family contact and searching for young adults adopted from care and care-leavers

In several Western countries (e.g., UK, Australia, Sweden and USA), Looked after and adopted children’s contact with the birth family has been a controversial, challenging and complex issue for several decades, as a result of a policy and practice shift towards more contact. The current legal framework in the UK (Children Act 1989, Children (NI) Order 1995) actively endorses contact with birth families. This has led to a rise in contact and its frequency for children in care and to the promotion of a more open approach to adoption.

The Northern Ireland Care Pathways and Outcomes study is a longitudinal study that has been following all the children who were in care in Northern Ireland and under 5 years old on 31/3/2000. Half of the children were eventually adopted. The study has examined a range of issues across the different types of placements the young people ended up moving into (i.e. adoption, foster care, kinship care, returning to their birth parents, and Residence Order). We are currently in the study’s Wave 4, and data collection is ongoing with the young people (now aged 18-23) and their parents or carers. This presentation will focus on the complexity of feelings and types of contact the young people have with their birth families, as well as their attitude and experience of searching in a digital age (dominated by social media). We will compare these within adoption and the other types of placements.

So far, we have found that the young people’s experiences, attitudes and feelings regarding contact with (and searching for) their birth families can be summarised as follows:
• Regular ongoing contact with specific members of the birth family, which does not involve any major problem for the young person in terms of their feelings of belonging to another alternative family and their identity;
• Feelings of curiosity towards the birth family, which have led to the young person to search for a particular birth family member or members (mostly on social media), but has not led to an interest to have contact with them;
• No interest in the birth family, although there might have been contact whenever they were younger and eventually stopped;
• Birth family members searching for the young person (sometimes through social media) and getting in touch, causing difficult issues and complex feelings on the young person; and
• Young person making contact with birth parent (or the other way round) as they turned 16/18 (behind family’s back), leading to young person living with their birth parent for a short period of time.

Some young people would be included in more than one of these categories, as many young people’s experiences were quite complex. The analysis presented will be based on the semi-structured interviews of over 30 young people and/or their parents/carers (data collection is ongoing, and this number is likely to increase). In this presentation, we will also be discussing implications for policy and practice.

Untangling the Web: The Internet's Transformative Impact on Adoption

The Internet and its components (social media, search engines & many other communications tools) are transforming adoption practices, challenging laws & policies, and offering unprecedented opportunities & resources. They are also raising critical ethical, legal & procedural issues about which professionals, legislators and the personally affected parties have little information or understanding. Most pointedly, despite the sweeping impact on virtually all aspects of adoption, scant research has been conducted to provide knowledge/insights with which policies, practices & uses of these tools can be shaped to best-serve all involved and, in many cases, to help protect them.

The two most-comprehensive examinations of this historic phenomenon & its repercussions were conducted by the Donaldson Adoption Institute at my instigation and under my supervision: “Untangling the Web: The Internet’s Transformative Impact on Adoption” and “Untangling the Web II: A Research-Based Roadmap for Reform.” The first primarily investigated what was occurring on the Internet and its implications. This ICAR presentation will offer a glimpse of that paper for background/context, but will focus mainly on the second paper, which presents the most-comprehensive study to date on the impact of the Internet – in particular, of social media – on adoption as an institution, as a process and, most of all, as a daily reality for tens of millions of people.

The core of the research was an extensive survey of over 2,000 adoptive parents, adopted people, birth/first parents & professionals who reported on their adoption-related Internet uses, concerns, and praises. The resulting data provide the first research-based knowledge/support for what had been only anecdotal, little-examined evidence about the Internet’s scope & impact. The study’s many findings include: growing “commodification” of adoption (some bordering on baby-selling); finding birth relatives is becoming increasingly easy & common, with significant implications such as the likely end to closed adoption; a growing number of adopted children have contact with birth relatives without guidance or parental knowledge; more sites are improving the adoption prospects “waiting” children; more sites offer information, education, supports, networking, etc.

The implications of this research & its findings are significant & extensive, including: as a predicate to further research; for professional & family training/education; to (re)shape policy & practice, and to inform the best uses of the Internet & its tools; and to inform implementation of protections against harmful, unregulated web-based activities. The latter include offering financial incentives for pregnant women to relinquish their babies, enabling parents to “rehome” their children without professional involvement, and endangering adoptees (and children in foster care) emotionally & perhaps physically by giving adults who maltreated them easy access to them.