Adoption FAQs & Glossary

Glossary of terms

Our glossary of terms includes a list of frequently used terms to familiarise yourself with.

I’ve heard children placed for adoption nowadays often still have contact with members of their birth family. Why?

Evidence from earlier generations of adopted children (now adults) is that, at regular intervals through their childhood and well into adulthood, adopted people need to make sense of what has happened to them and why they have been placed for adoption. They need to know who they look like, whether they have any personality characteristics, talents or interests that they have inherited from their birth family. They often need to know medical information. Many talk about the need to know they were not forgotten, particularly by birth parents, siblings and grandparents.

Contact, whether it be by letter-box or face to face is a way of keeping this connection alive. This enables the child to ask questions of his adoptive family, and to have those questions answered when the child needs the answers, rather than having to wait until adulthood.

What is Letter-Box contact?

This usually takes place between adults, and is set up to provide an ongoing information exchange between adoptive and birth families.

Once or twice a year (and sometimes more often—subject to agreement) the adoptive family write to named members of the birth family giving up-to-date news of how the child is progressing. This may be accompanied by a photograph (though not in all situations).

In exchange, the birth parent or relative will write back to the adoptive parents providing information about their family and what has happened to them since the last information exchange.

Do adopted children get involved in Letter-Box contact?

It is important for the child’s adoptive parents to share the information they receive with the child—when he is ready to receive it.

As adoptive parents and the child get to know each other, they will be best able to judge the amount of information the child can deal with at any one time.

Some children want lots of information about members of their birth family; some want very little—and this may change as the child grows.

In some instances the child may want to reply with a letter, card or drawing and may be involved in selecting the appropriate photograph to send.

In some cases, the child may welcome cards and letters addressed directly to him—but this will depend on his age, his level of understanding of what has happened to him in the past, and what is written to him by his family members.

The child is also able to ask questions about his birth family and about events he may remember (or half remember) and have those questions forwarded to his birth family for answers to be given for him.

Basically though, the exchange of information is between adults. The adoptive parents use their judgement about when to pass on the information sent.

When does face to face contact happen?

Face to face contact happens between the child and members of his family where it is important for the relationship to be maintained in a more personal way than just by letter. Occasionally this may be a parent or grandparent, but more usually this is with brothers and sisters. Again information gained from adopted adults and from society in general seems to indicate that the relationship between siblings remains one of the most important during a person’s life.


Siblings provide a sense of connectedness, share some personality traits and interests (through their genetic inheritance), and can remain a support throughout the whole of one person’s life.

The amount of time siblings have spent together prior to adoption will determine how often children in adoptive homes will meet up with their birth brothers and sisters. This is usually three times per year—during school holidays. Contact may be encouraged between times—by phone, email or letter—but this depends on individual relationships—both between the children and between individual carers.

What if there are difficulties during face to face contact?

The adoption agency is here to help sort out any difficulties that may arise—and to negotiate any changes in the frequency and nature of contact. For some children, contact may increase over time as families become more relaxed with each other, and more aware of the benefits of contact. For some children, sadly, contact may diminish where relationships fail to develop or early difficulties remain unresolved.

How can I find out more information about contact?

Please contact us and we will try to help you. This is a very complicated area in adoption, and every contact arrangement needs to be carefully negotiated with the child’s needs firmly in the forefront of everyone’s minds. It is an area which heightens everyone’s emotions.

Birth parents and their families have posed a risk in the past? Isn’t that why their children are adopted?

Birth parents lose their children to the care system for many reasons, including mental health problems, addiction, learning disability, domestic violence and deliberate neglect or abuse.

These parents still care that their child should have the quality of life provided by a Manx upbringing and do not want their children to be penalised for their own inadequacies or mistakes. Should we not therefore be careful to evidence the risk?

Birth parents often receive a limited service once the decision has been made that their child should be placed for adoption. About Adoption provides an independent worker for those birth parents who are losing (or have lost) a child to adoption. Part of this role is to help parents understand and come to terms with their child’s adoption and to see how best they can support the adoptive family until the child reaches adulthood.

Isn’t the Isle of Man too small for children to grow up in adoptive homes without everyone knowing who they are?

This has proven not to be the case in those placements made so far. In an occasional instance, a child has been identified and comments made by members of the public, sometimes less than thoughtfully, but for the majority, few people seem vocal about the connection between the child and their Manx family of origin.

Do birth parents “Interfere”?

Another part of the task of About Adoption is to work with birth parents and relatives and with adoptive parents, to plan in advance what will happen should there be any “spontaneous” meetings – when out shopping, at public events, on planes or ferries. Sometimes adoptive parents and birth parents meet to discuss this – both, after all, usually have the child’s interests at heart. At other times the agency works separately with the adults involved to look at appropriate ways of behaving when “spontaneous” meetings might happen. To date this has worked well in the majority of cases – and those where there have been “hiccups” are usually resolved because the agency stays in touch with all parties, and is able to smooth over any difficulties that may arise.

The social worker for the child will carry out a detailed risk assessment during care proceedings about whether an ‘open’ Island adoption will be in the child’s best interests. They will work with the adoption professionals at About Adoption to discuss the assessment in terms of the adopters’ needs.

How can an adoptive parent predict what will happen in the long-term for an adopted child?

The majority of Manx parents would like their children to stay on the Island. They see our way of life as safer and more protected than elsewhere in the British Isles. Their concern for the child may give birth parents the capacity to stay in the background while their child grows up safely within their adoptive family.

For a minority of children, the experiences they have had with their birth parents have been so damaging or their birth parents’ attitude is so volatile, that it is clear from the outset the child cannot stay on the Island.

For the majority however, there is a need to gather evidence about birth parents and relatives behaviour – both before the child came into care and during the child’s period in care – in order to assess the risk to the child.

This behaviour may be very different to the threat that parents pose to each other or to other adults in the community.

It may also be very different to the way that the birth family have presented to professionals in child protection and contested proceedings.