How best to support birth relatives – what the experts say

Lizette Nolte, Hannah Morgan, Caoimhe Forbes

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In the UK, the 2002 Adoption and Children Act increased birth relatives’ rights to support services when their children are adopted (Department of Education, 2014). In line with this, the Department of Education (2014), in their document Adoption: national minimum standards, states that there is a duty to consider the welfare of all parties in the adoption process, that is the child, the adopting family, and also the birth relatives. This document goes on to specify that there is a requirement to provide support and counselling for birth parents and other relatives, before, during and after adoption. It is therefore now a legal requirement for Local Authorities to provide independent counselling and support to birth relative where adoption may be the plan and Local Authorities are inspected on this area of work as part of their Ofsted inspection. Yet, there is much evidence that these guidelines are not being consistently implemented and birth relatives’ needs are not being met (Lindley, Richards & Freeman, 2001; Slettebø, 2013, etc.). While there is a powerful, and necessary, focus on protecting children within the United Kingdom (UK) child protection system, birth relatives and their wellbeing continue to be neglected. Where there are initiatives to support birth relatives, we know very little about whether these interventions work and whether birth relatives find them helpful. Therefore, there is an urgent need to implement the government’s standards for supporting birth relatives more comprehensively and thoughtfully to meet birth relatives’ needs (Broadhurst & Mason, 2013). Yet, staff involved in child safeguarding have said that they lack knowledge about the psychological and emotional needs of birth relatives, making it difficult for them to know what support is needed or how best to offer it (Marsh, Browne, Taylor & Davis, 2018). In this chapter we take a national and international view of what is known about what the psychological and emotional needs of birth relatives are. We then look at what is known about the counselling and support services that currently exist for birth relatives and what we know about whether these services work. Finally, we highlight some important themes to consider when working with birth relatives.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSupporting birth parents whose children have been adopted
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherJessica Kingsley Publishers
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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