Memorandum submitted by Natural Parents
Natural Parents Network (NPN) waited in cautious
anticipation for the publication of the Adoption and Children
Bill. The White Paper, Adoption: A New Approach, had afforded
us hope that some of the keypoints we had highlighted in the very
full response we submitted, on behalf of the NPN and birth relatives,
had been acknowledged.
Issues Relevant to Birth Relatives
The White Paper indicated that the wording of
the adoption consent form would be changed to better reflect the
birthparents' feelings. Many birthparents, although able to recognise
their own inability to parent their children, found it impossible
to sign a form which stated their agreement was given "freely
and unconditionally". They were anxious that this might convey
to their children, even in later years, that their parents did
not love or want them. Therefore a consent form which would recognise
"the extreme regret" of the birthparents at the necessity
for their children to be adopted, could be more acceptable for
them to sign. This could reduce the likelihood of delay in the
adoption order being made; it could assist the children to settle
into their new adoptive homes, perhaps feeling that their parents
had given them permission to move into this new life, whilst not
"giving up on them". Adoptive parents could perhaps
feel more confident about sharing information with the birthparents,
knowing they had consented to them adopting "their"
NPN was intensely disappointed to note that
Clause 44, dealing with the parental consent, made no reference
to the anticipated changing of the wording on the consent form.
NPN would like to see additional to Clause 44(1),
clarification of the situation, (a) when a birthparent changes
their mind about adoption for their child, and requests the return
of the child from the prospective adopters, if the child is less
than six weeks old, and (b) when a birthparent who has reconsidered
their decision for their child to be adopted, will have to gain
permission from the court to apply for the return of their child
prior to the adoption order being made.
There was no provision made for older people
whose lives have been affected by adoption. There are thousands
of women living a life sentence, for most of them, their crime
was to have a child without the protection of a marriage certificate.
If their family did not support them, they had little alternative
but to have their child adopted. Indeed many were subject to intense
emotional blackmail, being told they were selfish if they tried
to keep their child. They were told a child needed two parents,
and a stable home, as well as love. There was no shortage of couples
willing to adopt, who could not have their own child biologically.
Birthmothers were told these couples would give their baby "everything
he or she deserves in life". "If you love your baby,
you will give him/her this best chance of a good start in life".
We were told we would forget this had ever happened, and this
was a chance for us to pick up our lives, and not bring more disgrace
on our families.
To live for decades without knowing if your
son or daughter lived or died, perhaps without ever being able
to share this secret with anyone, is indescribably cruel. Some
women told husbands, some have managed to confide in subsequent
children. This all means that there are many thousands of birth
relatives living without contact with their family members. Not
all relatives separated by adoption do want to meet, some would
like information before they make a decision. The important issue
is that all those who want to have contact with their relatives,
should have the opportunity. The minority who have made the decision
that they do not wish any contact will have the right for that
to be respected.
The Prime Minister advocated in the Adoption
Review that all children should have the right to grow up within
their family of birth wherever possible. Adoption in the past
did not recognise this as a basic right, adoption was principally
viewed as the "ideal" way to deal with stigma; children
would be spared the label of being illegitimate; couples without
children would be spared the label of childlessness; the mother
having a child outside of marriage was able to avoid "scandal
and shame". Is it unreasonable then to request that the Government
take the necessary steps to allow those separated by adoption,
the chance to be reunited with birth relatives? Time cannot be
turned back, a childhood cannot be returned to a child separated
from his parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents etc. Birthparents
cannot be given back "their child" to bring up, but
after all these years, to be able to re-establish contact for
these families, is as near as we can get to "having the right
to know your family of birth".
Adoption is for life, many people separated
by adoption describe it as a life sentence, for many it is without
remission. NPN fervently hopes the Government will pay attention
and urgently make provision which will allow these birth relatives
and adopted people to find out about each other, before it is
too late if they wish to do so.
Adoptions in the past, which were privately
arranged, often by doctors, clergymen etc., meant there was no
adoption agency involvement. As a result birthparents and perhaps
other siblings have nowhere to approach to request information
or intermediary services.
In August 2000, the Department of Health published
their practice guidelines "Intermediary Services for Birth
Relatives" and NPN had hoped to see in this Bill the
provision for these services to become statutory within post adoption
We are, however, pleased to note clarification
of the duty of local authorities to provide services for birth
parents and relatives. NPN feels it would have been preferable
for a more detailed description of the services envisaged for
birth families, both pre- and post adoption, to have been included.
Clause 4, dealing with adoption support services,
states "The local authority may also carry out an assessment
of the needs of any other person for adoption support services".
This does not make mention of birth families, who may need support
in carrying out their responsibilities to ensure everything possible
is done to meet the child's needs. However, under Maintenance
of Adoption Services, Clause 3(3) enables a local authority to
extend adoption support services to other people, eg siblings
and extended family members.
It would appear to NPN that more detailed information
to clarify which services will be available for birth relatives
is necessary, and urgently so.
NPN is delighted to note that Clause 91 of the
Bill provides for unmarried fathers, who will be able to obtain
parental responsibility by signing the birth registration form.
(Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953) by amending Section
4 of the 1989 Children Act. Parental responsibility granted to
an unmarried father under these provisions may only be terminated
by order of a court.
Similar provision is made under Clause 92, for
a step-parent to acquire parental responsibility for a child of
his/her husband/wife. "This measure is intended to provide
an alternative to adoption where a step-parent wishes to acquire
parental responsibility for his or her stepchild. It has the advantage
of not removing parental responsibility from the other birthparent."
"NPN endorses this provision, we are aware of the distress
that can be brought upon a birthparent when he/she loses their
child/ren to adoption in this manner".
We are pleased to note the abolition of Freeing
Orders, which could potentially leave a child without legal
parents. This was wholly unsatisfactory, and caused further distress
to birthparents whose children had been freed for adoption, but
were awaiting placement with a new family. NPN feels this would
have been contravening the Human Rights Act (Art 8).
The Bill establishes two routes for placing
a child for adoption through an adoption agency. Either the birthparents
give consent to placement or the agency can secure a Placement
Order from the court, authorising it to place a child with
adopters they have selected. The Placement Order would not prevent
a birthparent from contesting the adoption, but leave of the court
would be required. NPN notes these provisions are extremely complex
and full consultation exercises are necessary to clarify the process.
NPN was very interested to learn of the Special
Guardianship order in the White Paper, and provisions detailed
in the Adoption and Children Bill. We again note, further discussions
need to take place, especially around the financial supports which
it is envisaged the Government will prescribe. The Special Guardianship
Order, under the 1989 Children Act, is introduced to provide on
a permanent placement for children, but as an alternative to adoption.
A basic link will be retained with birthparents, although it is
intended that the special guardian will have clear responsibility
for all day to day decisions about caring for the child, and his
upbringing. The birthparents remain the child's legal parents,
but their ability to exercise their parental responsibility is
limited. Unlike adoption orders, the special guardianship order
can be varied or discharged. The child can only be known by a
different surname with the consent of all those with parental
responsibility or with court permission. It was envisaged that
the special guardianship might be appropriate for older children
and young people who need a permanent placement, but who do not
wish to lose ties with their birth family. NPN feels this new
order may have more "appeal" to birth families, in that
it does not mean the "legal loss of birth family status,"
and the court may make provision for contact with birth relatives
and significant others, as appropriate.
Issues Relevant to Adopted Children and Adults
NPN was happy to see that the "child's
welfare throughout his life must be the paramount consideration
for the court or adoption agency," set out in Clause 1 of
the Adoption and Children Bill.
We were pleased to note in Clause 5, the provision
for the child's religious background, racial origins, cultural
and linguistic background to be considered when looking to place
a child with an adoptive family.
Clause 4 refers to the provision that local
authorities must carry out assessments to ascertain the needs
of children who have been adopted after this clause comes into
force. This is to assist the child placed for adoption to settle
into the new family, and to provide adoption support services
to help the prospective adopters facilitate this.
As mentioned previously, NPN is pleased that
Clause 3(3) enables local authorities to extend comprehensive
adoption services to adopted persons, not just adopted children,
and others included in the family of adoption, eg former guardians
of children who have been adopted.
We support also the situation of abandoned babies
or foundlings, who have no birth records and are denied service
by the Adoption Register. These are a most marginalized group
of adopted adults and NPN would urge the Government to assist
them in any way possible to gain knowledge about their familial
In our response to the White Paper, NPN expressed
concern that care must be taken in deciding "to whom information
belongs" before it is given to adopted persons accessing
their birth records. We were encouraged to note that Clause 47
states that the Regulations will enable agencies, in cases where
specially sensitive information is deemed inappropriate to share
with adopters, to withhold this.
Names, ages, occupations and pertinent medical
background of close birth family members is information adopted
adults need, to build up their knowledge of their roots and family
heritage, together with relevant details about the reasons for
their adoption. NPN recognises that many adopted children will
learn much about their earlier lives, ie when they lived with
their birth families, from their adoptive parents. Therefore adopters
do need accurate and detailed information in order to be able
to impart this to their children at appropriate stages. The adopted
child then grows up with "open acknowledgement" that
their adoptive parents are comfortable to discuss with them "what
happened, so it became necessary that I was adopted".
The draft Adoption Standards set out birth families'
rights to record their version of circumstances pertaining to
the adoption of their children. The child will then be able to
find out this information when they wish to do so, and it must
surely be preferable, and in the child's best interests for the
future, that the information that adopters have imparted to the
adopted child over the years, is recognisable to that which birthparents
record as "their version".
We feel it is correct that the adopted person
is given the full details of his background and adoption, including
sensitive parts which may have been withheld. This may help him/her
gain a better understanding of the circumstances which lead to
their adoption. However, although NPN supports this as set out
in Clause 48, we would like to add the stronger recommendation
that "counselling is always available and advised,
when restricted information has been shared, which could have
an acute affect on the adoptee."
We would like more indication on what the Government
will legislate should be set out in agency files, to which an
adopted person will have access, and the circumstances in which
they may have access to that file and to information from their
court files. (As set out in White Paper response 6.45)
We also reiterate the support we gave in our
White Paper response, to the PIU recommendation that approved
organisations will be able to undertake birth records counselling
for adoptees, as well as voluntary adoption agencies. We see this
as a way to ensure a consistently high standard of service, with
counsellors who have expertise in adoption and the emotional and
practical issues which accompany it.
NPN was concerned, and unclear on the meaning
at Clause 23(1), where it is stated that "On an adoption
agency being authorised to place a child for adoption, any provision
for contact under the 1989 Act ceases to have effect." It
appears to be saying that any contact arrangements already in
place, will cease to be adhered to. That surely could not happen
NPN does not have professional expertise
in these matters, and would welcome clarification.
Issues Relevant to Prospective/Adoptive Parents
NPN supports the Bill in the introduction of
the independent review mechanism for prospective adopters whose
application has been rejected.
The statutory National Adoption Register for
matching prospective adopters and adoptees. NPN would subscribe
to the practice of looking for a suitable adoptive placement within
the local area, first of all, except where this would be inappropriate.
This consideration should be given wherever possible as it would
allow a child to keep in touch with friends, family, school, familiar
surroundings, and assist the adoptive parents to facilitate this.
(NPN notes there will be cases where this would be wholly inappropriate,
but in retaining some familiar environment for a child or young
person, when other major changes in their life are unavoidable,
can help them to adjust more easily.)
Adoptive parents and prospective adopters need
and deserve all the facilities available to enable them to parent
as successfully as possible, the young people and children they
adopt. The service must be easily accessible, appropriate, without
time limit and user friendly.
Adopters should feel confident to request any
help or assessment, and know it is their right to do so. Adoption
Support Services must continue to be looked at, extended realistically,
with sufficient resources available (for everyone, to promote
the image of the "adoption family" where everyone's
needs are respected and responded to).
Contact issues are very important, and prospective/adoptive
parents need sensitive support to facilitate this, so it is not
perceived as unimportant or undesirable, especially if difficulties
arise. Counselling and practical advice must be utilised to overcome
any problems. Total commitment to making contact work is a necessity.
Other Points NPN Wishes to Comment On
We are happy to recognise that the Adoption
and Children Bill incorporates the Adoption (Intercountry Aspects)
Act 1999 with legislation on domestic adoption to create a single
consolidated legal framework on adoption.
NPN understands that Clause 70 of this Bill
re-enacts Section 56A of the 1976 Act. We feel the media spectacle
of the twin girls brought over to this country from USA by a British
couple purporting to have been/be intending to adopt them, having
previously purchased them via the Internet is abhorrent to NPN
as an organisation which supports birth families, and others connected
by adoption. We wish to put forward our hopes that the Government
will expedite whatever moves are necessary to make this kind of
action illegal and impossible in the future, including the earliest
commencement of section 14.
Our concerns are for the future of those baby
twin girls, and the birth children of the "adoptive parents".
With reference to the points concerning information
which the adopted person wishes to access, as part of his birth
records, NPN recognises the fact that an adult who has been separated
from his birth family by adoption in childhood, has the need and
right to expect honest information about their original family.
We do also recognise the apprehension of some birth relatives
that information, (some "hearsay"), may have been recorded
in adoption files, in a judgemental manner, as was frequently
the case years ago. Confidential details of great personal concern
to other members of the family, which had no bearing on the adoption,
should not be disclosed without very careful consultation, preferably
with the persons concerned. To meet everyone's needs in such a
situation is difficult to manage, and NPN would suggest that a
code of practice to deal with this is formulated.
NPN's concluding points on the Adoption and Children
NPN looked to the new Adoption and Children
Bill as the means to improve adoption practice. Overall we must
register our disappointment that key points we felt were acknowledged
in the White Paper have been disregarded. This was an ideal opportunity
for the Government to address many of the injustices of past adoption
practices, to meet the needs of older adults who have been affected
throughout their lives by their adoption experiences.
We are pleased that adoption has now changed
to encapsulate the needs of children who have been adopted in
the recent past, who are currently in the process of being adopted,
and those who will be adopted in the future. It is right that
their lifelong needs and welfare are of paramount consideration
in decisions relating to adoption, and other permanent placements.
As an organisation whose members are largely
the "relinquishing birthparents" (mothers and fathers),
and other birth relatives, we are aware that our concerns fall
outside the Government's, and Tony Blair's immediate focus of
attention. However, we are aware of the increasing number of contesting
birthparents who contact us for support, and indeed join NPN.
Therefore we feel we can honestly state that we do have an actively
invested interest in the changing face of adoption. Many of us
sit on adoption panels, and are frequently invited to participate
in training for prospective adopters, social workers and others
who work within adoption.
We hope that over the years, the professionals
have learned from our sharing our very deep, personal memories
about the time we had to hand over our much loved babies to strangers,
in the belief that we were doing the best we could, out of love
for our child.
Many of us have also given of our time, to share
our emotions about being traced by our now adult sons and daughters.
We have described the joys and hurts that reunion can bring. This
is all in hope that future generations of birthparents will not
be subjected to the experiences we have lived through.
Adoption is for life, as we know, but many other
members of families are affected by the decisions made to transfer
the parental rights from the birthparents to the adoptive parents.
Everyone loses something, although the process brings positive
gains for some parties.
NPN hopes this response to the Adoption and
Children Bill will assist the Government to "get it right".
This is the main reform of adoption in over 25 years, it is important
it is right.
NPN would like to promote the idea of the "FAMILY
OF ADOPTION", where it is accepted that all adopted children
(and adults) have two sets of parents within the family. One set
of parents and relatives were needed for the child to be born;
they are the providers of the family heritage. The other set of
parents is the one who provides the day-to-day parenting, the
relatives who contribute to the child's experience of growing
up, of family values and beliefs. The families combined, provide
a background and a framework for the child's future maturity in
NPN is the Natural Parents Network a self-help
organisation, formed in 1987 which offers non-judgemental, confidential
and independent support to birth/natural parents and their relatives
who have lost children to adoption. We are a registered charity
managed by a committee of natural parents acting as trustees on
a voluntary basis.