Edinburgh Social Work Students at Birthlink.
In our two weeks at Birthlink we’ve learnt so much about adoption in Scotland and the difference between the experience now and that of a few short decades ago.
Following the documentary ‘Britain’s Adoption Scandal: Breaking the Silence’, which aired on ITV on 9th November 2016, adoption is again very much in the public forum. The documentary highlighted for us the vast changes which society has undergone in the past century. To us as four unmarried twenty something females, the idea of becoming pregnant and not having the option to choose the best outcome for our child seems an alien concept. In the UK prior to the 1980s, moral and religious beliefs were intertwined with the fabric of society. It was unacceptable at the time for child to be conceived outside of wedlock. This social stigma led to many unmarried couples feeling as though they were left with no other choice but to give their child up for adoption. Many birth parents affected by this have spoken of how they felt they had no voice in this situation due to parental and professional pressures. Birth mothers in particular felt that they had suffered maltreatment by staff at the numerous mother and baby homes across the country and elsewhere by medical professionals. During our placement, we had the opportunity to read through some emails enquiries that came to Birthlink; these were varied in their content but overall followed a pattern. The majority were from individuals who had been on one side or the other of the adoption process, and it was clear that the effects of the adoption process had a longstanding impact on the emotional and mental wellbeing of the individuals concerned.
We also spent time looking at closed files that recorded adoption reunions. This task meant looking at records from the past twenty years and we found it interesting to note the differing professional skills involved in these cases. We had the opportunity to see social work skills in action over a long period of time and how these skills have changed and developed over the years. In browsing through these files it was clear that some birth mothers had still not felt able to open up about the adoption and their families were unaware that this had happened. Moving through the files we could see the changing attitudes in birth mothers regarding this and their beginning to open up to family members. We noticed that some of the initial contact occasioned by a link on the Adoption Contact Register came as a shock to family members although the people contacted in the majority of the files we came across were accepting of this. This we believe is a sign of the changing times.
We had the chance to sit in on a team meeting at the service. We found this interesting as it gave us a more holistic view of the day to day running of the services and the individual staff tasks. It also provided us with another chance to ask questions about the service while the whole staff team were present. We also got a better picture of the dynamics of the service seeing the whole team together. After the team meeting we did some more work on the Reunions research and we found this much easier as we had gotten into a pattern of how things worked a lot more and began enjoying the task.
We found it especially interesting to shadow the social workers in practice. They talked us through current cases and we felt this gave us a feel for the role as well as greater context for the historical files that we had been looking at. We had the opportunity to view files on the microfilm reader. These dated from when Birthlink was an adoption agency. We found incredibly insightful as the files we had been looking at until this point dealt with seeking adoption records from other agencies, therefore it was good to see this practice in its entirety. One of us, Louise, had the opportunity to sit in on a meeting with a ‘walk in ‘service user and felt this to be a powerful experience. Louise reflected that she found it helpful to see a social worker’s empathy in action and could relate this to our University-recommended reading. Furthermore, we had the opportunity to visit the National Archives to view court process paperwork be opened for the first time. Court Process is the legal name for the legal adoption papers. Kate talked us through the procedure and details on the court process paperwork and what this meant. We had the opportunity to observe Kate work and have her share with us what she was looking for and what the individual who had actioned the procedure was hoping to achieve. We also had the opportunity to ask questions and found this extremely helpful as we felt it added an extra element to our learning and made the process feel less abstract for us.
Kate encouraged us to arrange visits to current adoption services and we secured a visit with St Andrews Adoption Agency. The social worker we met at St Andrews talked us through adoption as it is now and showed us some of the preparatory paperwork perspective adopters must fill out. We found out more about ‘adoption activity’ days and learnt that this was a beneficial practice only recently initiated in Scotland. It was also interesting to learn about adoption in the current climate and how lengthy the adoption process can be. We felt this to be a fascinating contrast to the historical documentation we had been working with where adoptions seemed to be passed in a matter of weeks.
During our time at Birthlink we were fortunate enough to attend the annual Christmas bash. We got the opportunity to meet with volunteers who spoke to us about their work in the thrift shops, we also spoke with one of Birthlink’s volunteer searchers who discussed her role and talked us through the searching process, we found this information useful as tracing is such an integral part of the adoption search and reunion. We also met with some individuals on the board of directors who spoke to us a bit about their role within the organisation. Unfortunately, we did not get the opportunity to speak to any of Birthlink’s service users.
While at Birthlink we felt we learnt a lot about the adoption process as it was then and as it is now, the thing that stood out most for us was hearing the personal stories of staff and their experiences of the adoption services. We felt that this brought the placement alive for us and having the opportunity to ask question of people who had experienced the process first hand was invaluable to us. We appreciated the staff taking time out of their days to have these conversations with us and open up about their personal experiences.