Making contact: things to consider
Information about how to make contact, what might happen after contact is made, planning for the first meeting and having ongoing contact.
How do I make contact
Now that you have completed your search and have possible address/es for the person you are searching for, we strongly advise that you carefully consider your approach.
There are various means of making contact, however there are some issues to think about to help ensure a more positive outcome when contact is made.
- Be respectful to the other person. While you may have been thinking about making this contact for years, the person you are searching for may not have had the same time to prepare, so contact should proceed at their pace.
- Contact can be confronting for both parties when it occurs quickly and without planning, so take your time and be considerate to the feelings of both parties.
- Be mindful of a person’s privacy and confidentiality when making first contact via social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs.
Should I involve anyone else?
Contact attempts should be as discreet, tactful and confidential as possible. They should be made directly to the person you are trying to contact, involving others can be a breach of the person’s privacy. If you are not certain that the person you are contacting is the correct person, avoid long and detailed explanations. A simple “I am tracing my family history and need some information” is usually sufficient.
Using a friend or relative to make the contact for you may not be the most appropriate approach. Other people may not have a thorough understanding of the issues involved. They may place pressure on the other party to have contact which may result in the other party refusing contact.
Should I contact the adoptive parents first to gain their permission?
The adopted person is now an adult and should be afforded the opportunity to decide for themselves if they wish to have contact with members of their birth family. Involving a third person such as the adoptive parents may be perceived by the adopted person as a breach of their privacy.
If you think that the adopted person may not know about their adoption then we suggest you enlist the services of an intermediary service such as the Post Adoption Resource Centre (PARC), who are familiar with adoption issues, to make an approach on your behalf.
The only time you may find you need to contact the adoptive parents is if you have exhausted all other means of locating an address for the adopted person. Again we recommend you make a discreet approach, avoiding a long and detailed explanation, or seek the assistance of an intermediary service.
I found a telephone number. Should I phone them?
Although a telephone call gives the caller some immediate results, it might be intrusive to the person being contacted and does not give them an opportunity to prepare themselves. If you do decide to call and the person appears to be in shock, try to get them to write down your name and number before the call is finished.
Keep in mind that the person you wish to call may have “Caller ID” or can dial *10# which can enable them to identify the last missed call - which could be your telephone number. If you do not want your phone number to be identified, call from a phone that has a private number or from a public phone.
I found an address. Should I write to them?
A letter can be a good first approach to the other party as it is less confronting and gives them time to think about their response and work through their feelings.
A letter should be written in a sensitive and discreet manner as it may be opened by someone else in the household. An example of such a letter that the Adoption Information Unit (AIU) uses is as follows:
I am trying to locate a person named Sally Mary Brown as we may be related. I have some family information to discuss with her.
I realise that you may not be the only person with this name and possibly may not be the person I am trying to find.
Would you please contact me on (phone number and address) to confirm whether or not you may be the correct person?
I look forward to hearing from you.
You may choose to vary this letter, but it is best not to mention adoption at this stage as they may not be the correct person. If you need help, please contact the Adoption Information Unit or the Post Adoption Resource Centre (PARC).
One thing to consider when writing a letter is that you may not receive an immediate response and may be left wondering what is happening. If you do not hear from the other person, it is best to wait for about a month before writing again. You may consider sending the second letter by registered mail so you can confirm it has been received.
For further information on writing first letters please contact PARC to receive a copy of publication titled “First Letters: What Do I Say?”
Using an intermediary service
Contacting someone who was involved in an adoption is an extremely delicate matter and it may be more appropriate to use the services of a skilled intermediary. You could consider using an intermediary when:
- The other person’s views about contact are not known
- you feel too nervous to explain who you are and why you want to make contact
- you are concerned that rejection is a possibility and feel that this will be difficult to cope with
- you wish to make discreet enquiries before committing to contact
- you prefer that someone else make contact on your behalf
- you feel that the assistance of an emotionally uninvolved third person would be helpful in discussing the situation
- you would like professional support and for the other party to have the same opportunity.
Some people feel they need to maintain their anonymity when they first make contact for safety reasons, fear of rejection or fear of the unknown. In these situations, the use of a mediator to make the initial contact is advisable as you can elect to exchange letters and/or photos with each other via the mediator before exchanging contact details.
If you have located an address for the person you are trying to find and would like to use an intermediary service, you might like to contact Post Adoption Resource Centre (PARC) and ask for their help.