As the founder of a technology platform that connects private investigators with clients and the former Executive Director of Joint Council on International Children’s Services, I regularly experienced individuals who wished to or already had utilized social media for search and reunion purposes. Thirteen years ago when I first became an adoption professional with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, we could only hypothesize as to how social media would affect adoption. The first use of the word social media was that year (2004), Facebook was still in its infancy and the plethora of other platforms that exist today were just a dream to their respective founders and users.
What is Social Media?
Social media, as defined by Merriam-Webster, includes “forms of electronic communication (as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos)”. According to We are Social’s Digital in 2016 Report, there are 2.31 billion social media users. This scale of users and the prevalence of social media platforms make for exceptionally useful tools to those involved in a birth relative search. There is not any current research documenting the total of adoption search and reunions facilitated through social networking platforms, but anecdotal evidence suggests the widespread use of these platforms to facilitate such a reunion.
What Really is the Likelihood I am Going to be Found Online?
As a birth parent, this makes the likelihood high that the child you placed for adoption utilizes some form of social media on a regular basis. Some birth parents falsely believe that if they are not on Facebook or Twitter, the child they placed cannot find them. As a professional in the private investigator and cyber forensic space, I regularly educate clients on the ease of locating someone online. Most individual’s cyber footprints are quite large and extensive, oftentimes without their awareness. This cyber presence makes it easy for a child you placed for adoption to begin the search process with very little information. Sometimes they can easily find you on social media themselves, other times it takes a professional like a private investigator or information from an intermediary or the adoption agency. Preparing yourself for the likelihood of being found and contacted online will help if and when that outreach arises.
But What If I Do Not What to Be Found?
My investigators are highly vetted, licensed professionals who understand the intricacies and ethics of an adoption (or any) reunion. The best practice is for a professional to ask the person of interest if they wish to be contacted, prior to giving the client access to identifying information like social media accounts, address or phone number. This mediation can help you prepare for such outreach or reunion. However, more often than not, the person searching will be able to utilize social media to find some or all of your social networking accounts, email or other means of digital contact. If that is the case, you may be contacted by the child you placed without notice.
Some people are not ready for this contact and never will be. Being contacted on social media gives you the ability to ignore such a request for contact or to initiate a response in your own time when you are ready to respond. You have the right to keep your privacy or respond however you feel most comfortable. If the child you placed wants more than you are willing to give, recognize that it does not need to be all or nothing. If they wish for a reunion, you can start with just confirming whom you are and that you did place them. Maybe you are willing to give some more non-identifying information or medical information. You are always in control of what information you wish to share or what level of contact you wish to have. Be open to the possibility that this may evolve. You may want more or less contact now than you will want in the future. Speaking to a professional, licensed counselor, therapist, support group or faith leader for insight can help.
I’m Thrilled By This Outreach, But Now What Do I Say?
Start with hello! This is big and exciting news to hear from the child you placed. It is important to confirm who they say they are on the Internet. The likelihood of this person not being the child you placed is obviously low, but it is important to stay safe and recognize not everyone on the Internet has good intentions. Using a professional, private detective or doing your own diligence by requesting more identifying information from the person who contacts you is valid. Trust, but verify!
Once you confirm he or she is your child, you have the ability to begin a journey of getting to know each other at whatever level you are most comfortable. Your child may have lots of questions; he or she may come with a spectrum of emotions and/or also want access to information on birth family, siblings, other parent or medical information. As with any relationship, move at the pace with which you are most comfortable. This is a life long journey. There may be pitfalls along the way, but building a relationship with your biological child can further enrich your life in many ways. Enjoy the process enabled through social media and build from there when you are ready!