Birthfathers and family/whānau
Updated: 01 July 2013
What's Important To Us
All children need to know about their birth family, their whakapapa and how they are connected, to enable them to develop a sense of self and identity. For children whose links with their birth family have been disrupted by adoption or coming into care we have a special responsibility.
Experience from the Adult Adoption Information Act 1985 has been that adopted people are very interested to know about the genetic history held by their birthfathers and to know the circumstances of their birthparents’ relationship – whether or not it has been problematic, it is their history.
Although it may be only the mother of a coming child who expresses the wish to place her child for adoption, we will engage her interest in doing all she can to provide a good future for him or her by using all the resources available to secure his or her sense of belonging.
Involving the birthfather - every child has two parents
Since 25 January 2009 if a father is known, his details must be included on the birth registration. Both birthparents are now required by law to register their child which entails their sharing the decision-making about adoption. Refer to the Key Information: Post-natal contact with birthparents and registering the child's birth for further details.
A birthmother may be reluctant to name or involve the birthfather for a number of reasons. She may:
- feel shame/embarrassment about the circumstances of the conception
- not have told him of the pregnancy, wanting to end the relationship
- have told him and he has denied paternity or refused involvement
- be anxious that he will take the decision out of her control
- be afraid of him, or fear his having contact with the child
- not know where he is or how to contact him.
If a birthmother is telling you she has any of these feelings, provide support while she explores her own situation, including her feelings about the birthfather. This may enable her to move to a position where she is ready to consider the longer term interests of her child in knowing about her/his paternal genetic inheritance, and to provide the relevant information. Explore what the particular barriers are to involving the birthfather in this process, and whether there is a way that if absolutely necessary, she may not need to be directly involved in contact with him herself.
Where birthfathers are guardians
Most birthfathers will be guardians by virtue of being named on the birth registration, and so will need to consent to the adoption. Ultimately, regardless of the guardianship status, the Court may “require the consent of the father if in the opinion of the Court it is expedient to do so” (s7(3)(b) Adoption Act 1955). On the rare occasions where the birthfather’s identity is not known at all, this will need to be covered in the court report to assist the judge in deciding whether or not to pursue the matter.
Whether or not he is a guardian, make every effort to involve the birthfather, and his family, in the planning for the future of the child. Birthfathers have the same need as birthmothers to consider the issues of adoption and birthmothers can feel supported knowing that the birthfather and his family have been willingly involved.
It will also be important for the adopted child to know that his or her birthfather volunteered information and was involved in the decision-making process through:
- providing information about himself and his family in the family history.
- participating with the birthmother in thinking about the kind of family they would like their child to grow up in, and in selecting profiles
- meeting adoptive parents and drawing up a contact agreement.
There may be situations where birthparents cannot agree on a decision. One such example may be when a birthmother wants to place her child for adoption with non-relatives and the birthfather and/or any members of his family want to parent the child. If the matter cannot be resolved by the parties themselves it may have to go to the Family Court for a decision.
Where birthfathers are not guardians
If the birth father is not a guardian, and he wishes to oppose the adoption he can apply to the court to be appointed as a guardian. In this event, he needs to act promptly so that the child is not left in limbo. No adoption proceedings should continue, even when the birthmother has already signed consent, until the Court has made this decision in relation to paternity.
If the birthfather continues to voice opposition to the adoption, but neither he nor anyone in his family takes any steps to establish their relationship to the child, the adoptive placement should not be held up indefinitely. It would be questionable practice to withhold approval for placement in this circumstance. A full statement of the situation should be included in the court report. The Court’s first responsibility will be concerned with the welfare and best interests of the child.
Can we involve the wider family/whānau?
Family consultation is not a statutory requirement under the Adoption Act 1955. Encourage and support birthparents to do this for the purpose of emotional support, and the provision of information about the family. It is only the birthparents, however, who may give or withhold consent to adoption.
While the family may feel the loss of a grandchild, niece or nephew and need to talk about their own grief, they are also likely to be able to offer the emotional and practical support the birthparents may need, whichever decision is made about the child's future. It is frequently birth grandparents who maintain contact with the adoptive family, with whom they have a valued relationship, along with the adoptive grandparents.
Ideally, birthparents will consult family members informally and on their own account. If they request your assistance, help to arrange the meeting involving key family members and prepare the information required. If the birthparents remain firm that they do not want their families involved, respect their wishes. If there are no care and protection concerns, which would require action under the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 social workers have no mandate to breach the birthparent/s' right to confidentiality. Consequently you may not approach other family members without the birthparents' express permission.
Facilitating a family/whānau meeting
Limit intervention to the extent required in order to empower the family to find their own solutions. The social workers' role is to:
- assist in identifying the objectives of the meeting
- facilitate the process of the meeting if asked to do so
- provide information required mainly on legal and departmental procedures
- provide support for the birthparents
- summarise the outcome
- offer to leave the meeting to allow the family open discussion.
Family meetings in this context are not the same as a family group conference under the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989.
Working with birth families where there are older children
From time to time birthparents consider placing a new baby for adoption because they believe they can only cope with the children they already have in their care. It is very important to talk with them about how they will engage the older child(ren) in the adoption. It can be bewildering for a child to have no idea about what is going on when a new baby just disappears and there is emotional turmoil associated with this.
Depending on the age and understanding of the older child, it may be possible to involve him or her in meeting with the adoptive family and maintaining contact with “our” baby in the new kinship network. Discuss with birthparents about taking this into consideration when they are choosing a profile and looking for a family who can be inclusive.
The older child may still experience the grief of living apart from the new baby as his or her parents will, but with careful reassurance about the security of his or her own place in the family, it will be possible to work towards acceptance. Some social workers have worked very effectively with the birth family to prepare the child with a form of “life book” which tells how the baby goes to live with new parents and can still grow up knowing his or her first family.