One of the most difficult aspects of the Home Study is the idea that information about your and your abilities as a parent can come from former partners. This is considered as one element in the multi-faceted assessment.
Understandably, if you and a former partner have jointly parented or cared for a child, there is something to glean, and especially if at present you are co-parenting.
But recently the agency, as witnessed in the documentary Adoption Abroad: Saira’s Story, is wanting to interview past ‘significant’ partners to ascertain if there had been any abuse or highlight any possibility of abuse, even if your relationship ended over 10 years ago.
The guidelines state that ‘Where former partners have not jointly parented or cared for a child with the prospective adopter, they should generally not be approached unless there is a specific reason for doing so.”
This is obviously a very tricky area to navigate and unless the agency feels that there are exceptional reasons for not approaching ex-partners then they are likely to do so.
The social worker is to advise you that they are contemplating approaching a former partner, and they should explain why it is being done and how the information will be gathered.
This could be very uncomfortable considering the reasons for the ending of the relationship. The agency has to weigh up the information gleaned from ex partners and try to see it in context. They consider information gathered as varying from unimportant, to reliable and essential or to misleading and will attempt to verify this information by checking against other sources, such as your referees.
In Saira’s Story she did not disclose that she lived with her ex because it would bring shame to her family. So she mentioned that she had not really had another partner before her husband. However, this was verified with one of her referee who unknowingly said that they had actually had a two year relationship. This threw up all sorts of problems, as then the agency (who in my opinion did not take cultural taboos into consideration) went into a flurry to find out why she had not disclosed this information and ferreted around to discover what was she hiding. At one stage it looked like her whole adoption was in jeopardy. They went to interview the partner who she had not seen for over 10 years.
If your ex-partner raises questions about your suitability to adopt, these will be explored with you in interviews as to the reasons why this issue would be raised.
In some circumstances, you may feel very strongly that you do not want the social services to contact your ex partner. If you are concerned about this then you are at liberty to say so. However, you must bear in mind that this will be recorded and considered and explored, if your concerns are legitimate. The social worker would want to discover why. It would be ideal if you no longer knew where this person lived and thus they would be unable to be found to be interviewed.
At all times your welfare, privacy and that of your family should be safeguarded –especially that of your children.
If there is a possibility that an approach by the agency to your ex may provoke a hostile, or even violent reaction, the agency has to assess the risk of harm to you and your family and the welfare of any children and make a judgement call.
If you have disclosed that you experienced domestic violence from a previous partner, and the social worker wants to approach your ex, they need to assure you that they will not disclose your whereabouts. They are able to make arrangements with another agency to make the approach on their behalf so that your location is protected.
If the agency decide not to approach a former partner who you have jointly parented or cared for a child, their decision and reasons must be recorded on the case record and on the prospective adopter’s report.
Again, I stress that the agency can only work with the information that you give them. They ask for full disclosure as they need to get a multi-faceted viewpoint of you, and the question ‘will this take me further forward in my adoption plan?’ needs to be the question that you answer, before you divulge information about your past.
Earlier this year I was having coffee with a social worker from the British Association of Social Workers and we were discussing inter-country adoption and talking about the documentary Shira's Story. The topic of the non-disclosure of her past relationship came up. The social worker immediately latched onto the idea that she was 'trying to hide it', not my view which was that it had no relevance. I questioned her further about this and she revealed that because Shira had not disclosed this relationship it meant that if she was having problems with her newly adopted child she would not seek help but would hide the problem. Personally I can see no correlation between the two – but that is how the social worker thinks.
The letter that the SW will send to your former partner if you have parented or cared for a child jointly will ask if your former partner had any reason to believe that a child will not be safe with you, or if they have any reason to believe that you have been violent in the past. If they indicate concerns they must indicate if they are willing to discuss this with the agency.