Birth mothers are still experiencing difficulties contacting children that were adopted almost three decades after laws were changed to give them this right, a Victoria University study has found.
Despite legal protection, complete breakdowns in communication with adoptive parents still occur and birth mothers often feel "undeserving" when exercising their right to see the relinquished child.
VU PhD graduate Dr Phillipa Castle interviewed 15 birth mothers aged 21 to 50 who had relinquished a child since the introduction of open adoption in Victoria in 1984.
Open adoption allows the birth mother to choose adoptive parents and negotiate a court-ordered agreement that details the frequency of contact between her and the child.
Dr Castle's study, titled A unique loss: The experience of birth mothers in open adoption, found 20 per cent of the birth mothers experienced an interruption to agreed contact times with the child or a total breakdown of the relationship with the adoptive family.
"The most disappointing aspect is that these birth mothers don't feel confident enough to challenge these violations of their legal agreement in the County Court,'' Dr Castle said. "Unfortunately, the law is not a useful tool of repair because a court case is too confronting or intimidating.
"It shows that birth mothers with terminated arrangements do not utilise the power of the Court if they think the child does not desire it, even if they believe that the child's response is merely a reflection of the adoptive parent's influence.''
She said training for adoptive parents needed to ensure they were "genuinely open to open adoption".
"In some cases the adoptive mother was described as jealous, and contact between the child and birth mother was manipulated, minimised or withdrawn.''
Dr Castle said that open adoption was a generally positive practice because contact between a birth mother and her relinquished child is "at least a partial solution to a painful decision, and a salve to an enormous loss for both parties''.
"Its main drawback is that ongoing contact is continually ambiguous. The birth mother sees that the child is ok and that they are ok without her. It is a solution that appears resistant to fully resolving the grief associated with the act of relinquishment,'' she said.
"As painful as it might continue to be, contact appears better than nothing. One woman told me that it is better to be happy and hurt than hurt and not know about it.''
For interview: Dr Phillipa Castle on 0410 467 410
Daniel Clarke, Media Officer,
VU Marketing and Communications Department
Ph: 9919 9491 or 0407 771 072