Parenting under scrutiny. Birth parents and consent within adoption: a life history perspective

  • Shirley Lewis

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    The majority of adoptions in England and Wales involve children who are removed from the care of their birth parents by the intervention of the State. Adoption severs the ties between the child and their birth parents and transfers parental responsibility to the adoptive parents. However, the voices of birth parents have been relatively neglected and marginalised within adoption discourse. Adoption from care is viewed as non-consensual by law; however research suggests that parents’ lived experiences may differ from the legal framework and are worthy of exploration.

    This thesis explores the experiences of birth parents who have had a child adopted from care, including their understanding of consent within adoption. A life history approach was used alongside Bourdieu’s theory of habitus to explore birth parents’ perspectives within wider structural contexts. Life histories were created with twelve birth mothers and two birth fathers, using a range of methods including life history interviews, timelines, and the use of photographs and objects for elicitation.

    There were a number of key findings, with major themes including “Parenting Under Adversity” highlighting the difficulties that birth parents experienced prior to the children being removed from their care, and “Parenting Under Scrutiny” highlighting how the court process could exacerbate the adversity experienced by birth parents. The findings highlighted that birth parents had a range of different experiences of consent. Some birth parents had fluid views of consent, however it was fixed for four parents who viewed adoption as ‘forced’. The findings also highlighted how birth parents’ ability to consent was often constrained in other aspects of their lives, therefore consent within adoption must also be viewed within this wider context.

    This research contributes to knowledge in adoption by highlighting birth parent voices, which are often dismissed within wider adoption discourse. A conceptual framework has been developed, making a theoretical contribution to knowledge, which shows how birth parents’ understanding and ability to consent is impacted by their wider experiences.
    Date of AwardApr 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorHazel Barrett (Supervisor) & Geraldine Brady (Supervisor)

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