Adopted people identify the significance of understanding and connecting with their past, through ‘memory boxes’
Monday 17th October 2022 marks the launch of National Adoption Week 2022, which this year focuses on the theme of identity. ‘You Can Adopt’ will explore adopted people’s reflections on their relationships from before, during, and after they were adopted, connect them to their heritage, and understand how this helped them develop a sense of their identity as they grew up. During the week, the campaign will challenge perceptions of modern adoption and show how important it can be for adopted people to be able to understand and feel connected to their past – often through physical keepsakes such as letters, photographs, or childhood toys and sometimes through meeting up.
A new survey released today reveals the special role that ‘memory boxes’ and other sentimental items play in forming our identities and reminding us of the past. Six out of 10 Brits keep a ‘memory box’ or equivalent – the most common items are printed photographs (60%) and greetings cards (49%), while a third of us hold onto toys and handwritten letters.
One in four people keep these items because they help them understand who they are and where they came from, while a third said it is so that they have something physical about their life to hand down to relatives. Meanwhile, six in 10 (58%) would try to save their ‘memory box’ or equivalent from their home in an emergency, with a quarter (23%) saying they would be the very first thing they would save.
However modern life may see holding onto these items as ‘old fashioned’; with six out of 10 saying that the use of smartphones makes them less likely to have physical keepsakes such as printed photos and handwritten letters and cards, and nearly half (47%) have lost family items or keepsakes throughout their life that they wish they still had.
To mark the start of National Adoption Week, You Can Adopt has released a short film exploring the relationships and memories of four adopted people, as they look back through their own ‘memory boxes’ and keepsakes from their lives before and after they were adopted, which have helped them develop and have an impact on their sense of identity. The emotional film brings to life the connections that adopted people make and how their sense of identity has been formed through various connections in their lives – including birth families, foster carers, friends and adoptive parents.
Tiegan, who speaks with her birth father about her memory box in the film, said:
Finding out about my birth father when I was 18 was a really happy moment: knowing each other, even if it didn’t come to anything, helped me understand where I stood in the world. I also found out my Dad kept a sonogram from my birth mother’s pregnancy, which I now have and is so special to me. As an adopted person, you don’t expect to have baby photos, let alone a sonogram – I couldn’t believe it. To know he kept that is amazing, it shows my life is an ongoing journey.
Tiegan, who met her birth dad two years ago, added:
I think it’s important to be told you’re adopted from the very beginning – my mums knew they weren’t just adopting me, they were adopting my whole history and family as well. There are still struggles – you’ll never get every piece of information. But there were four years of my life before I was adopted, and that’s still part of my story.
The national survey by You Can Adopt also revealed that eight in 10 of the public say their identity is shaped through connections made throughout their life, and more than three quarters (76%) say it is shaped by an understanding of their family history. Adopted people are no different, and many factors play a role in influencing who they are today – including special memories with foster carers and friends, contact with birth parents, knowledge of their family history, and the relationships formed with their adoptive families.
Paula Gibbons, Head of Service from Adopt Coast to Coast said:
A large part of the work we do with prospective adopters during our adoption training is focused on helping children develop a strong sense of identity. We do this by encouraging open conversations, talking to children about their birth family, helping adopters understand how to talk about these sometime difficult topics and helping children and young people understand their history. Training is ongoing and our adopters come back to us at various stages of their lives for extra support. Extensive research has shown just how importance openness is to children as they grow into adults and the national campaign is an ideal reminder of the reality of modern adoption and the importance of supporting adoptees throughout their lives on this important area.
Sarah Johal, member of the National Adoption Recruitment Steering Group and National Adoption Strategic lead, said:
It’s really important for adopted people to know about their own history, their family and where they come from. Having continued relationships where that is safe and appropriate is ideal, but if not, it is important for adopted people to have information, stories and keepsakes as connections to their past can really help children as they get older develop a positive sense of identity and emotional well-being.
With this campaign we want to show that adoption is not a line in the sand, when adopted people close the door on all connections to their life, memories, and relationships from before they were adopted. For the person who is adopted, it is one life – and issues around identity and belonging can come to the fore, particularly if they are not able to have a face to face relationship. It is so important for each person to have the information and connections to their life before adoption. That’s why, during National Adoption Week, we’re urging people to find out more about what modern adoption looks like and shining a light on the ongoing journeys of those who have been adopted.
While two thirds (66%) of the public did not think adopted people would feel connected to their life before they were adopted – or were unsure – the reality may surprise them. National Adoption Week is highlighting how modern adoption is changing with the aim of helping adopted people to know more about their family history. This may include being able to stay in touch with birth family members or friends (when safe and supported) and encouraging access to a better quality of information through life story books and later life letters.
In fact, nine out of 10 prospective adopters would consider contact with birth parents, while 78% of adopted people felt that connecting directly with birth family members would have helped them to understand their life history and identity more fully, according to the Adoption Barometer, published by Adoption UK.
However, the You Can Adopt campaign also acknowledges that identity, especially for adopted people, can be a life-long journey and is always evolving. While not all adopted people will have mementos from their early life or the opportunity to have contact with people from their life
before they were adopted, modern adoption encourages access to a range of quality information. Meanwhile many adopters today make it a priority to help their children to understand and develop their identity.
Professor Beth Neil, Director of Research for the School of Social Work at UEA, and expert in post-adoption contact, said:
From all our research and those who’ve taken part in our studies, we see that this sense of identity can be improved by knowing more about your birth family and where you come from, and by staying in touch with significant people where it is safe to do so. This can help adopted people fill in gaps in their life story and give them a more complete sense of who they are and why they needed to be adopted. It can also lessen feelings of loss that adopted people often experience and can support them to thrive in their adoptive families.
A new podcast from You Can Adopt, featuring presenter Ashley John Baptiste and adopted adult Jamal, will also be launched for National Adoption Week exploring the issues of identity, birth relatives, and the relationships developed along the adoption journey. Meanwhile, a series of events offering will be taking place from 17th October to mark National Adoption Week.
To find out more about National Adoption Week or to seek information or support click here.
Watch the new You Can Adopt film here:
 Adoption Barometer. Adoption UK: https://www.adoptionuk.org/the-adoption-barometer. The Adoption Barometer 2022, published this week, shines a spotlight on the support available for establishing and maintaining relationships between adopted people and their birth relatives in childhood and beyond. More than 2,500 prospective adopters and adoptive parents, and nearly 300 adopted adults responded to this year’s surveys.