10th Anniversary – Julia Feast Presentation

Notes for Presentation – HKAN International Reunion 5th December 2020

Hello Everyone and thank you so much for inviting me. I am so thrilled to be part of this, HKAN’s 10thAnniversary’s International Reunion.

I would never have imagined that this event would have happened when, in 2004, I first learnt about the ISS Hong Kong Project. It’s truly a wonderful development to see what a strong and supportive group you have grown into, and I feel very privileged to be here. Thank You!!

So, what’s the story behind me undertaking the British Chinese Adoption Study….? Well, it all started with Judy Clark, who some of you will remember as she worked at social worker with International Social Services (ISS), and who was involved in the first reunion which was organised by Jasmine Gillies in October 2000 at St Thomas’s hospital. 

Because Judy was aware of my interest in adopted adults and adoption search and reunion, she told me about the ISS Hong Kong Project and that ISS held intact files for 106 children who were brought to the UK in the 1960s. Immediately, it sparked off my curiosity and I thought this was a really valuable opportunity to find out how a group of internationally and mostly transracially adopted women had fared throughout their lives. It was certainly a unique opportunity to learn from their experiences to ensure that best practice and policies encompassed children who, for whatever reason, are separated from their birth family today, and particularly those who have been adopted from overseas. 

Judy put me touch with Jasmine Gillies, who then put me in touch with other women who had attended the reunion in 2000. I wanted to gauge their views about BAAF, the organisation I worked for at the time, undertaking a study of the long-term outcomes on international adoption- I was so pleased when they all thought it was a good idea and would definitely be willing to participate if I managed to get funding.

The adoption records for these children included standardised and non-standardised descriptions provided by the Hong Kong workers and local medical staff of the child’s physical health and development. They also contained observations of the time the children were cared for in the institutions, including their transfer to and settling-in period with their adoptive families. 

BAAF were granted permission by ISS to test the integrity of these records to determine if it would be possible to undertake a feasibility study to retrospectively explore the long-term outcomes for this group of children. An initial look at the files revealed that they provided an intriguing and valuable child welfare record.  

Hence, in 2007 we received funding from The Nuffield Foundation and undertook a feasibility study. It quickly became clear that there was significant scope for a quantitative and qualitative follow-up study with a comparison group from the 1958 National Child Development Study. 

These records were highly confidential, and we had to receive permission from the Secretary of State to undertake the study and of course from the ethics committee as well. We were fortunate to obtain further funding from the Nuffield Foundation to undertake the full study which began in 2009.  I might add here that we were only allowed to use the data for the purposes of the study we had outlined and they are now closed to us so we cannot go back and find out other information that might be really helpful and interesting to find out for our BCAS women, such as when they arrived in the UK and who they travelled with. 

I won’t go into all the finer details of the research methods but suffice to say that it was a profound experience for me, Margaret, Alan and John and our team of researchers, and it was a study that we loved. 

Our BCAS group of women were all so engaging, and we were able to let them know that they were not the only ones who had been brought to the UK during that period.  We were able to give them the opportunity to be put in touch with the other women, once they had given their permission. We were also able to let them know how to access their adoption records, which many of them didn’t know existed. 

The study took longer than we thought, and we had hoped to publish in 2012, but it was clear that we were not going to meet the deadline. Hence, we decided to organise a reception for the women who had participated in the study, so that we could report back the initial findings and what a momentous day the 24thJanuary 2012 was! We had a booklet published for that occasion about the history of ISS HK adoption project, and also about the orphanages our women had come from. 

Can you imagine what it must have been like for 50 women all from the same country and all internationally adopted to be in one room for the very first time? The emotions were very high and of course there were lots of tears, but also a lot of supportive and caring togetherness. 

To this day it also makes me feel very emotional, but also leaves me with a warm feeling in my heart knowing that for many of these women they began to build a new sense of belonging and identity. 

Julia Feast OBE


5th December 2020