Hundreds of children who were adopted after suffering abuse and neglect are having their lives thrown into turmoil as their natural parents use Facebook to track them down.
The two leading adoption charities are deeply concerned about the big increase in online unplanned contact, which flouts guidelines on contacting adopted children and risks seriously disrupting the lives of already troubled young people.
The problem affects children who were taken into care for safeguarding in the 1990s. In the worst cases, children traced by their birth parents suffer a complete breakdown in the relationship with their adoptive family, the charities warn.
In one case, a teenage brother and sister adopted as toddlers ran away from home and cut all ties with their adoptive family after being contacted by their birth mother on Facebook. They are both now living with her, hundreds of miles from where they spent their childhood.
One expert on childhood trauma is so concerned about the threat that Facebook poses to adopted children that she has written a book about the phenomenon.
Helen Oakwater, the author of Bubble Wrapped Children, said that social networking risks “blowing adoption out of the water” with teenagers now “more likely than not” to reconnect with their birth parents before they are 18, the legal age when an adopted child can initiate a search.
The Times has been campaigning for an overhaul of the adoption system, calling for more and speedier adoptions for neglected or abused children.
Under the current law, adopted children can apply for their birth certificate and access to court records when they are 18, or 16 in Scotland. They are entitled to counselling beforehand, and if contact with birth parents takes place it is done in a planned way.
Research by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering found that 53 per cent of adopted children have used unofficial means, including Facebook, to trace birth parents. A quarter said that the outcome had been unsettling.
Ms Oakwater, one of whose three adopted children received an unexpected Facebook message from her birth mother just before Christmas two years ago, said that children needed to be prepared from an early age about why they were taken into care.
“Children are never told the truth about their past. They get a sugar-coated version of it, typically that their mummy couldn’t look after them very well, but she was a very nice person. They’re not told that they were left for days on end in their cot or buggy, unfed and unchanged, while their parents took drugs, or of the scale of physical or sexual abuse they may have suffered.
“They need to be told the truth gradually as they get older, and even see the evidence. It is usually the case that the parent will deny any maltreatment and tell their child they have been lied to.”
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