An adult adoptee and ex social worker describes how it feels to be a ‘service user’ as she attempts to access her adoption file

Adult Adoptees and Identity: the adoption process is currently under government scrutiny, getting it right is so important for adoptees futures. However, getting it right is not just about policy and procedures; it is also about social workers being professional and flexible in their approach. An adult adoptee, and ex social worker, describes how it feels to be a ‘service user’ as she attempts to access her adoption file.

(this is the 1st of a series on the ‘adoption file’, read ‘Lost Families’  if you want to see what happened next)

Whether who we are is determined by some invisible invention of science called genetics or the parenting skills of our parents is commonly known as ‘nature vs nurture’ and is the subject of much research. The truth is we may never know the exact ratio of influence, it may well vary from individual to individual, but it is fair to suggest both play a role in making us who we are. Whilst for many this is just an interesting debate for some, like me who have been adopted, it is a significant factor in shaping my understanding of who I am and how I feel about myself.

This blog is not written by me as a social worker or academic but as ‘adoptee me’. I was adopted over fifty years ago and have been trying to find information about my genetic family and my birth mother for thirty four years. Many years ago I accessed my adoption file in the hope it would provide me with information that might lead me to her. Unfortunately, it did not, although it did give me some useful information regarding the circumstances of my adoption.

Fast forward thirty years to August 2011 when I decide to have another look at my file in the hope that being older (possibly wiser?) it could still hold something useful that was missed before and might take me a step closer to finding my birth mother. And so with high hopes I contact the local authority where my adoption took place, hence forth known as ‘Never Never Land’. After being diverted to several departments I eventually reach the right one and speak with someone. The first question asked at this point is “why do you want to see the file?” Although taken aback, and to be honest rather annoyed to be asked this, I answer “because it’s about me and who I am, my family history”. The social worker explains the process to me. No I can not contact ‘Never Never Land’ direct to access my file I have to go through another authority, hence forth known as ‘La La Land’, and they will request access to my file on my behalf. Okay, why a third party needs to be involved is not explained. When I asked if I can have a copy of the file the response is guarded “possibly, but no third party information would be shared unless the third party agreed”. Okay, what if the third parties are dead i.e. my adoptive parents…..no reply, it felt like the worker was following a script and this question did not appear on the script, we end the conversation with one last question ”why do you want to see your file?”, “because etc etc etc……”.

My main concern at this point is who is going to decide what I am allowed to see, and will they leave out that one vital piece of information that might lead me to my birth mother? I feel powerless.

To say my first contact from the other side of the fence, so to speak, was unsatisfactory is an understatement, even after one phone call I felt frustrated and disempowered. It was clear there were hoops to be jumped through, and I was going to have to jump! I felt I had to fit the system regardless of whether it fitted me, or was appropriate.

Next step, phone call by me to ask how long the process might take, “No idea!”, followed by explanation they only worked part time, was going on leave and this was non urgent so would not be prioritised, expect a minimum of 6 months, that’s not including any delays in ‘Never Never Land’ responding. Further contact with social services is equally unsatisfactory, and still they asked “why do you want to see your file?” ………….”because…etc.etc!”

I eventually meet my adoption social worker and am pleased to report they are experienced and professional, they do not appear to stick to any particular agency approach and make me feel I am listened to as an individual, I do not feel like a service user with this social worker, this is an equal partnership.

So, have I seen my file? To cut a long story short the file is still in ‘Never Never Land’, however, it is going to arrive in ‘La La Land’ soon. Reasons for delay range from workers and mangers going sick, people working part time, supervision being cancelled and window repairs (don’t ask!!!). In all honesty, I am not interested in knowing any of this it only serves to heighten my annoyance and sense of powerlessness.

I do understand the pressures in practice, and of course the protection of vulnerable children must always come first, however, whilst not urgent it is actually very important to me. Seeing my file again is a desperate measure on my part because I’ve exhausted all other avenues, my mother is approaching eighty years of age, time is not on our side. An acknowledgement of how important this might be for me on my first contact with services would have been nice.

How does all this make me feel? Angry, powerless, frustrated, sad. My contact with services is minimal and time limited, unlike many others. The professional social worker in me knows the pressure systems, and people, are under and how my request is insignificant in the scheme of social work practice with Children and Families, but, it is important to me. Whilst at an organisational level it is just an old file, for me it is my life and about who I am. This process has made me reflect on my own social work practice, I’d do things differently now!

(This is one of several blogs, if you would like to read the complete story of what happened in my search for my natural mother you can read it in a free ibook here <a href="here“> You will need an ipad to read it)

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About digalpin

I gained my social work qualification from the University of Southampton and worked for 14 years in mental health, disability and older people services. I am currently a senior lecturer in post-qualifying social work at Bournemouth University and am conducting research on government and societal attitudes and responses to the mistreatment of older people in health and social care provision for my doctorate. My views are my own.

12 thoughts on “An adult adoptee and ex social worker describes how it feels to be a ‘service user’ as she attempts to access her adoption file

  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences. It’s really interesting and useful both personally and professionally to understand what it is like to experience services ‘from the other side’. I’ve had experiences from both sides in very different context and would love to read more.

  2. Di, I was not adopted but have experienced similar dificulties tracing/contacting step-siblings. Yr story/journey is of real interest & I hope you will be able to continue it online

  3. I gave up a son very reluctantly for adoption in 1966. I have always hoped he might one day get in touch. I am therefore dismayed to learn how many obstacles he might face if he ever tried.

    1. Hello, not sure if you remember me but you very kindly commented on my adoption blog about a year at where I described trying to access my adoption file, in the search for my natural mother. I am at the end of that particular journey and written a very short booklets on what happened (it’s long enough to enjoy with a cup of coffee and biscuit!). If you have access to an IPad you can download it for free by going into iTunes, then books, then in the search bar type The Adoption File.

      It’s a positive read. I hope is all is well with you.

      Di

      1. Di, thank you for yr email, not read yr journey’s jottings yet but it’s downloading on the Kindle. Glad you found time to do that as was wondering a while ago how it was all going.

      2. Hi James, thanks for taking an interest. I find It really moving that people take time to read and comment on my jottings!

        Hope you enjoy, it’s a short read but should last for a coffee break. I did not know it was available on Kindle!

        Take care and thanks again for responding.
        Di

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