Lillian Odze, Cafcass Family Court Adviser, tells us about the learning from her dissertation research on surrogacy and the importance of telling children about their biological origins.
Getting a Distinction for a Masters dissertation is no easy feat, but Lillian passed it with flying colours. The idea for her dissertation, titled: ‘How do intended parents of surrogacy children handle their children’s heritage?’ stemmed from her work here at Cafcass.
Cafcass has seen an increase in international surrogacy cases in recent years. When working on these cases Lillian felt that some intended parents (those who have a child through surrogacy) were not likely to tell their child about their conception and the circumstances of their birth. “Some appeared to lack awareness of the importance of their child knowing about their biological origins.” This troubled Lillian, so she decided to dedicate her dissertation to exploring the issue.
Telling children born through surrogacy about their biological heritage
Informing her research, Lillian interviewed five heterosexual couples and five same-sex couples. She found that generally the intended parents were prepared to tell their child about the surrogate when they were old enough to understand. However, Lillian says, “The intended parents had a misconception that if they told the child about the surrogate, they had done everything, but this does not reflect that there is usually an egg donor. I worried about what would happen as children grow up and they start asking questions, or if issues arose for example around genetic illnesses.”
Through her interviews, Lillian found that there were two main barriers preventing intended parents from telling their child about their biological heritage. One was the cultural stigma around surrogacy experienced by some couples in the sample. The other was the lack of guidance and professional support available if they did want to tell their child. “Some just didn’t know how to approach the subject with their child or where to find the information on how to proceed.”
Now that Lillian has done this research she feels better armed to discuss this issue with intended parents in her own casework. “Now if the intended parents are hesitant I will explain the importance of them telling their child everything, about the how and when. I am able to direct them to some resources that are available and designed for this. In some cases, I have no certainty that they will do this, but I have a duty to explain it and help them meet their child’s future emotional needs.” To help share her learning and improve practice Lillian has presented her research and findings to her team.
Balancing academic, work, home and religious commitments
Juggling studies alongside work and home life can be difficult enough, but for Lillian time felt even more precious as she was balancing this with practicing her Jewish faith. In the six months that she had to hand in her research, almost a whole month coincided with Jewish holidays. “I had to be super organised and plan, plan, plan ahead to allow for any hiccups and slippage if I wanted to get my dissertation submitted on time. I booked leave to dedicate to writing my research well in advance of the deadline and made use of the excellent flexible working system at Cafcass. Our in-house library was also a great help, with the team helping me find all the resources I needed for my research.”