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Samuels on Adoption in the 21st Century

In this article Julie Samuels, author of Adoption in the Digital Age, discusses experiences of adoption in the 21st Century, considering the impact of increasingly prevalent digital media.

Adoption is a complex process within which we are reminded of the fluidity of identity and family. Not blood-bound, families created through adoption challenge and offer an alternative family model. Adoptive families continue to be dynamically constructed due to the existence of the biological family, whether physically present or absent. 

For the adoptive individual it is only through the careful interweaving of both their adoptive and biological family narratives, that they are able to claim a new narrative, and establish an identity of their own construction. For both families, whether engaged in closed, semi open or fully open adoption, we are reminded that adoption remains a set of relationships, within which the unprecedented use of social and digital media technologies continues to mediate, strengthen, threaten and affirm adoption in the 21st century.

It is within online communities created by the adoption triad that the opportunities, threats, temptations and new challenges of the digital age continue to inform our understanding of adoption. The use of social networking sites by the adoption triad members to share their experiences of adoption, offer support and advice further reveals and documents this transformation. Through these discussions we may begin to understand what it means to be raised by ‘strangers’, and the complexities of kinship and identity. Facilitating direct and often-unmediated conversations between the adopted individual and their biological kin, for adopted minors these technologies continue to challenge and transform the types of contact arrangements currently in place. 

Often glamorized within celebrity adoption or dramatized within soap operas and films, the popular media representations of adoption continues to inform much of the general public’s understanding of adoption. Whilst not always an accurate representation of adoption, for the vast majority of families created through adoption, these representations keep discussions about adoption within the public consciousness. It is within this growth of unregulated social networking sites, personal websites, forums and blogs where adoption triad members often first challenge these representations. Through the unregulated voices of the triad member’s possible solutions pertaining to current adoption related concerns and accurate representations of adoption are found. Less about professional expertise and more about personal experiences, these discussions are pivotal to shaping the future of adoption.

Issues pertaining to lack of post-adoption support, breached contact arrangements, adoption breakdown and reunification continue to dominate discussions about adoption. Feasible solution for alleviating these concerns may be found in adoptions that are more open. Celebrity adoption in particular appears to advocate further openness within adoption, challenging the privacy that most adoptive families try so desperately to maintain. Adoptions that are more open are not always possible, due to the circumstances that culminated into the placement of a child within the care system.  At the same time one is reminded that adopted individuals belongs to two families, and discussions about their life pre- and post-adoption must include a positive rendition of their biological kin.

Within these personal and family explorations of adoption online, many aspects of the triad experiences continue to be unlocked as part of this new rediscovered commonality, a commonality of loss, hope and love. Racial and ethnically diverse support networks continue to grow; both in the real and virtual world, reflecting and supporting the emotional and cultural needs of adopted individuals. Importantly, we are reminded that although often marginalized, connected, disconnected and transformed due to adoption, adopted individuals are first and foremost human. Being adopted is a part of who they are, not the whole sum of who they are.

My primary research focuses on how the Internet continues to transform the lives of those connected and disconnected by adoption. I am particularly interested in the first person narrations of the experience of adoption and the promise, threat and tensions that exist within the triad revealed and documented within social networking communities.


Julie Samuels is an independent researcher with a background in performance, fine art and digital media. She has worked in both industry as a web trainer and developer and the higher education sector as a Senior Lecturer and Course Leader in Digital Media. Julie completed her Masters of Philosophy research degree at the University of Sussex in 2016. Julie is an adoptive parent and author of Adoption in the Digital Age: Opportunities and Challenges for the 21st Century