When Adoptive Parents don’t come clean, is that abuse?

This is a copy of  my first article for Adoption Arena –  the first of many I hope!

Interesting question raised by another adult adoptee that posted a piece in a private forum on social media.

It got me thinking. Here in the good old U of K we’re introducing reforms to the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. The Cinderella Law.

Would failure to disclose by the adoptive parents to the child, that they are adopted, could that ever be considered abuse?
Abuse takes on many forms and there are many interpretations and definitions of abuse. Getting back to basics the word abuse is comprised of two parts ab the Latin prefix meaning “away” and use the word that means to employ. As a word it is derived from the Latin abūsus, meaning, “misuse,” or “use wrongly”. If someone is abused, we take it to mean that the person committing the abuse is hurting another person, mentally, emotionally or physically. If you are being harmed or hurt by another person, then you are said to be suffering from abuse.

So if we take use the above definition, an adult, a person over the age of sixteen who is responsible for another person under the age of sixteen; is the withholding of such information, or the denial of access to said information

constitute abuse? If the adoptive parent(s) deliberately withholds, denies, prevents the child from being able to access information on their adoption thus causing emotional distress, mental torment or psychological harm, could that be considered abuse under the proposed changes to the 1933 act?

In 2010, 2,172[1] people in England and Wales were found guilty or cautioned for the specific offence of ‘cruelty to or neglect of children’. We get to hear of the extreme and fatal cases of physical child abuse, Victoria Climbie, Baby P (Baby Peter) and Daniel Pelka. The Victoria Climbie case caused public outcry and sent the social services into a spiral. We heard phrases such as “never again” and “we have failed”.

That was 2000; in 2007 Baby Peter is found dead in his cot. Outrage again. In March 2012, Daniel Pelka is rushed to hospital having suffered a cardiac arrest from which medical staff were unable to resuscitate him. More public outrage, more reviews and another child the victim of systematic physical abuse.
My point is, if physical abuse can so easily be missed or go “unreported” by Childcare professionals, Teachers and the Police, how are we going to register and identify those that are suffering emotional and mental abuse?

Moving onto the question of Adoptive Parents who willfully, withhold, or deny the child that they adopted access to or knowledge of their own adoption – could this act be considered a form of child abuse?

Yes it could be. However I see a few “challenges”. In many cases the fact that knowledge of a child’s adoption is withheld or denied does not impact in many cases upon the adoptee until they have reached adulthood. Secondly how would one prove that withholding information was deliberate or was done with malice?

As I said if this was to be considered a form of child abuse, would not many of these allegations, if deemed to have a case to answer, many of these would be historical prosecutions? By that I mean an adult adoptee bringing a case after the alleged offence had occurred. In some instances, many years prior to the court action. After the adoptee has grown up, they find out, that had they been told of their adoption they could have received quicker and more effective medical treatment for a serious condition. Or that they have been denied a familial relationship because they were not told of their adoption.

But would it not be the case, that in most such prosecutions one would have to prove that the Adoptive parent(s) took such a step deliberately to cause emotional and psychological hurt, distress or harm? As we see in battered wife cases it can be extremely difficult to prove.
So what are you thoughts on this?


[1]Ministry of Justice (2011a) Tables A4.4 and A4.5. In: Conviction tables: Criminal Justice Statistics Quarterly Update to December 2010: Ministry of Justice Statistics bulletin (Excel). London: Ministry of Justice.


4 thoughts on “When Adoptive Parents don’t come clean, is that abuse?

  1. Finding out you are adopted as an adult can be traumatic as can finding out as a teenager. Is it emotional abuse? Often there was no bad intent on the part of the parents it just harder to deal with the longer it is left. It is also hard to say at what age should a child be told by. The best scenarios are where children have always known and their understanding of the meaning has developed as they have grown up.


    1. Thanks for taking the time to read the post and comment. I suppose what my article is looking at is those cases where the AP have deliberately misrepresented the facts about the child that has been adopted, whether that is by pre-thought out omission, by direct miss-representation of the child’s adoption or by withholding vital information from the adopted child. I suppose what I am trying to get to is in cases where the Adoptive Parents have deliberately denied the adopted child access to information on their own adoption – in such circumstances legally could one say that, that was abuse?


  2. I think that whether they do it deliberately or not, it is still a trauma. Parents may misrepresent the facts for all sorts of reasons to protect the adopted person from hurt, or to dissuade them from making contact. Their motives might be ‘good’ i.e. they think it is better for the adopted person, or selfish, but I think the impact is still negative. The parents may be forgiven if the adopted person thinks that they have done it for their own ‘good’ reasons,. Whether it is abuse or not, is a good question, and I suppose that depends on the impact on the adopted person, have they suffered harm?


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