Skip to main content
The Childhood, Law & Policy Network (CLPN)

Interview with Lisamarie Deblasio about her book, Adoption and Law

Our member, Dr Lisamarie Deblasio (Plymouth, UK) talks about her new book, Adoption and Law: The Unique Personal Experiences of Birth Mothers in Adoption Proceedings (Routledge, 2021). 


Q: What is this book about?

This book explores the personal experiences that birth mothers face in public law adoption proceedings. Analysis of data from interviews with 32 birth mothers, synthesised with the relevant provisions of the current adoption legislation in the UK, the Adoption and Children Act 2002, demonstrated that ingrained unfairness exists in the legal and administrative systems where birth mothers’ rights are concerned.

The requirement for fairness in adoption practice is an underlying principle of jurisprudence from the European Court of Human Rights, with emphasis on the right to family life under Article 8 and a fair trial under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The findings revealed deficits in the professional practice which compromise the Convention rights of birth mothers; this conduct is disproportionate with demands made by the judiciary on the fundamental importance of fair treatment in adoption proceedings.

Birth mothers who find themselves involved in adoption proceedings are seldom the focus in leading discourses of professional practice in this area. This book moves some way towards equalising this disparity by acknowledging their experiences and arguing that what they have to say should be listened to by professionals involved in adoption practice. The findings of the study focus closely on the interrelationship between birth mothers and the legal process of adoption, with critical examination of the results in relation to academic discourse and key rulings from the family courts. It calls for fairer treatment of birth mothers and a closer adherence to the law, which is designed to protect the rights of birth parents in what is known to be the state’s most extreme interferences in family life.

Q: What made you write this book?

At the age of 34, my two youngest children were placed for adoption, while I was being treated in a mental health unit. Although I was numb with grief, I was comforted by the news that a secure family had adopted them. Believing my children were safe and happy gave me strength to overcome my illness.
However, I learned that my children’s adoption had broken down, resulting in them being permanently looked after. I spent the next five years trying to ascertain my children’s wishes about contact with their birth family. I was eventually able to argue successfully for contact with my children. Ten years after we were separated, I met my sons again.

Two years after that painful and emotional reunion, I was at the beginning of my doctoral research. For a long while, I was unable to rationalise the law, which empowered an authority to separate my children from me, whilst I was not consulted, involved, or supported. I understood the law on an intellectual level, but I struggled to reconcile the trauma of adoption with text-book theory. The legal impact of adoption was something I could research. What academic study could not do was reconcile the shame and stigmatization I had experienced.

I worked quietly on my research alongside colleagues with a sense of imposter. It was some years before I began to challenge the belief that I was not worthy of my position as an academic. Eventually I came to realise my past was part of who I was, with all the failures and successes. I need not justify my experiences or myself. I could use the experiences of loss and stigmatisation to empathise with women who, like I once did, find they are marginalized in society. This book is the result of that journey.

Excerpt from the book:

All 32 birth mothers described multiple problems, crises and instability in their lives when their local authority became involved with them. Most considered that their problems were made worse and not better with the onset of care proceedings because interventions did not result in sufficient support and guidance. Some spoke of being set ‘impossible targets’by practitioners. By this they meant improvements they would need to make to their care of their children to avoid having them removed. A common example was the requirement to leave an abusive relationship to protect the children concerned. However, those who were willing to do this felt they were not given enough time or help to make the necessary changes to their circumstances.

Prior to the most recent adoption, 20 birth mothers had earlier involvement with their local authority children’s services, with previous children being looked after, adopted or being ‘known’ due to concerns about children. The remaining twelve said the intervention and eventual adoption were their first dealings with Children’s Services. Around a third of the respondents said their children were returned to them more than once following being looked after, sometimes with local authority support and sometimes with no support but they reported that the same family problems reoccurred leading to children being removed permanently.

The respondents were asked if they knew why their children were adopted. Twenty nine birth mothers described interconnected problems with the remaining three saying they did not know why. Participants said for the grounds for care/placement orders leading to adoption were:

  • Emotional abuse and/or risk of future emotional abuse in 29 cases.
  • Neglect and/or risk of neglect in 25 cases.
  • Failure to protect children from seeing or being caught up in domestic abuse in 20 cases.
  • Mental illness of the mother in twelve cases.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse with the partner or close family member in ten cases.
  • Drug/alcohol problems with the birth mother in five cases.
  • Mental illness of a partner in two cases.
  • Two cases of mothers with a learning disability.
  • A child’s behavioural condition causing loss of parental control in one case.
  • One case of physical injury to a child.
  • One case of a mother with a physical illness and disability.

Additionally, the results showed that 28 respondents were experiencing domestic abuse,eight had been in long term foster care or local authority residential care themselves and two had been adopted from care when they were children. Three had been homeless, and socio-economic deprivation was cited by 27 women, only three birth mothers were employed with the remaining in receipt of state benefits.



Back to top