Why Support for Adult Adoptees Must Be Adoptee-led

We feel very strongly that support for adult adoptees must be adoptee-led. Support for adoptees is in short supply, and as an organisation we are working hard to campaign for better access to counselling.

What has struck us with contact with many agencies is the lack of understanding, or the unwillingness to admit, the struggles faced by adult adoptees.

Again our voices remain unheard, as all too often support is only framed around children. Again a refusal to accept that adoptees face lifelong trauma.

What are the benefits of peer support for adult adoptees?

Some adult adoptees will have had the experience of talking to other adoptees, or of being in an adoptee-only space or group. Peer support is not only powerful but necessary. It brings moments of recognition, shared experience, and the feeling of relief that you don’t have to explain yourself. There are certain things that non-adoptees simply don’t ‘get’ about being adopted, and it can be exhausting to talk about these, particularly when we are frequently dismissed or not believed. 

What is the adoption triad?

The adoption triad refers to all parties affected by adoption, the birth parents, the adoptee, and the adoptive parents.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no cosy adoption triad. No equilateral triangle of relationships. All parties are affected by adoption but not equally. Not all parties did or could consent. The notion that something was done to us, for our good, and that our feelings about it should either be positive or not expressed at all, is frankly abusive.

Adoption social workers are not normally included when talking about the adoption triad, but they are very much involved in creating and supporting adoptions, and so are not necessarily safe people for an adoptee to discuss their feelings about adoption with.

Acknowledgment of adoption trauma

The power imbalance runs throughout assumptions and practices in adoption. And the idea of adoptees being ‘saved’ (from a worse fate) is still peddled within the adoption industry in the UK, in an attempt to ‘market’ adoption. Adopted children now come ‘with trauma’ that was experienced in their birth families but the trauma of adoption itself is regularly ignored. 

Even where adoption trauma is acknowledged, being supported by someone who has no lived experience of being adopted, and/or is involved in the adoption sector, can be deeply uncomfortable and reinforce the all-to-familiar feeling of being misunderstood.

What support do post-adoption teams and adoption support services provide?

They provide ‘support for families’, funded in some cases by the Adoption Support Fund. In practice, this means help for adopters to parent ‘traumatised children’, many of whom have additional needs, and support for the children themselves. Of course, there is a place for family therapy and specialist support, which are essential in many cases, but let’s not pretend this is actually support for adoptees. It does not always meet the needs of adoptees; it is conditional and paternalistic. ‘Support for families’ is sleight of hand: it really means support for adopters in making their adopted children more compliant. And of course, this completely erases adult adoptees.

Very often, we need help later in life—especially if we did not have therapy when we were younger. The Adoption Support Fund is not available to older adoptees but we believe adoption is a lifelong condition that we need help to manage.

What support is available for adult adoptees from adoption charities?

Adoption UK boasts that 90% of its staff, volunteers, and trustees are “personally connected with adoption or kinship care”. We believe this to be disingenuous and silencing. Being an adoptee and being an adopter are two completely different experiences. Yet adopters could be designing and delivering their offer for adoptees.

It also perpetuates the view that adopters know what is best for adoptees. The problem with this approach is that all adoptees are children in this scenario. Once again reinforcing the feeling that adult adoptees are invisible and our voices unimportant.

Adoptee-led support

Adopted adults are currently ignored or infantilised. We are left to support each other, without funds, or forced to go cap in hand to the very institutions or people that caused our adoptions and beg for some kind of support—any kind of support—and to be heard.

Where support is offered, it is under the control of pro-adoption organisations and on their terms. This is no longer good enough and we at Adult Adoptee Movement call for support for adult adoptees to be free, universally available, and provided by adoptee-led organisations without interference from adoption professionals. Or at the very least, for professionals that support us to have had trauma-informed, adoption-aware training that has been designed with input from adult adoptees, and for those professionals to be neutral.

Adopted children also need an independent space, away from the reach of the adoption professionals and adopters, to understand, articulate and process those feelings that may feel taboo in an adoption setting.

Thinking critically about who delivers adoption support and ensuring that we create safe spaces for adoptees will help us to access the support we need.