Memorandum submitted by Dr Jane Seale
As an adopted person who has been successfully
reunited with her birth relatives and a contact leader for NORCAP
(National Organisation for the Counselling of Adoptees and Parents)
I am writing to express my huge concern at the proposed Adoption
and Children Bill. I am concerned because it appears not to have
taken into account many of the views expressed by myself and others
during the Prime Minister's Review and earlier consultation processes.
In my view the Bill will not meet the needs of adults who have
been affected by adoption.
The members of the Select Committee need to
be aware that there are more than two million adults in England
and Wales whose lives have been directly affected by adoption.
Some were adopted under the present legislation in recent years,
others as long ago as 1927. Thousands of these people have been
waiting for new adoption legislation to enable them to have the
opportunity to reach out to relatives from whom they were separated
by adoption. Many are elderly; they saw this as their last chance.
The Bill before the House will not meet their needs or their hopes.
This is my major concern.
Whilst adoption today is about securing family
life for children who would otherwise have grown up in the care
of local authorities this is a fairly recent use of adoption.
For the first 50 years from 1926 to 1976 adoption was used, almost
exclusively, to avoid the stigma of illegitimacy and extra-marital
births. Unmarried mothers had little choice but to relinquish
their babies to adoption. Half a million women went through this
experience, they had not harmed their child in any way yet they
lost them to adoption. Told to forget and get on with their lives,
we know most found that impossible. They have grieved an unending,
unfocused grief not knowing even if their son, their daughter
was alive or dead. They have seen women who lost children to adoption
in recent years, in perhaps more questionable circumstances, benefit
from letterbox or direct ongoing contact, yet the women of concern
to NORCAP continue to have no information. In many cases their
placements were made by private individuals when such placements
were lawful so there is no adoption agency they can approach to
ask for an intermediary service.
These mothers, together with many fathers, brothers
and sisters all need an active service now. It is the obvious
next step in developing our adoption service from the access to
birth records given to adopted adults by the 1976 Act. Many Commonwealth
countries followed Britain's example in providing access to birth
records. They have now incorporated some form of active service
for birth relatives as well as adopted people in their legislations,
either simultaneously or within a few years of the initial provision.
Britain is alone in offering a one sided service. This Bill will
be the last chance for a generation to put this right. For the
mothers who parted with babies born during the second world war,
for elderly brothers and sisters who remember a baby being born
and then being gone, this is the last chance. The Select Committee
must ensure these people have their opportunity. NORCAP can offer
guidance on many simple measures that could be put in place to
protect those who would prefer not to be contacted. However, fear
that a tiny minority of people would not wish to communicate with
birth relatives is not a sound reason to fail to provide the opportunity
to the vast majority for whom it would be a source of joy ending
decades of heartache.
The modified provision of the Adoption Contact
Register (Clauses 65-67) does not effectively address the needs
we represent. The service is passive. In the twenty first century
people expect an active service. The proposed provision in the
bill does not meet the needs of adults affected by adoption.
Other areas which cause us concern include:
1. The proposal that whilst adopted people
will have a statutory entitlement to specific information about
themselves from both courts and adoption societies they will specifically
not have any entitlement to information about their birth family
members. Unless courts and societies are to be placed under an
obligation to locate the family members concerned and seek their
consent to share archived information adopted people, will in
future, be disadvantaged by Clauses 47-49. The Select Committee
need to consider carefully what information they have that they
perceive to be personal data, but which could be construed as
being "third party information" eg their brother's name,
their mother's birthday. This is the information adopted people
want and need to form their own sense of identity.
2. NORCAP advocated that in circumstances
where an adopted person could not access their own birth records
or place their name on the adoption contact register it was appropriate
that a next of kin could do so on their behalf. Clause 48(2) does
not meet our objective. An adopted person who died in childhood
cannot appoint another person to access information on his/her
behalf. An adopted adult with severe learning difficulties cannot
register himself/herself on the adoption contact register and
there needs to be provision for their adoptive parents or carer
to do so on their behalf. In many jurisdictions the right to access
services and information connected with adoption can be inherited
by future generations. This should be an option here.
3. Many people wish to access information
and intermediary services from agencies independent of the social
services or placement agency. We are unable to recognise the proposal
contained in the White Paper that suitable organisations could
be licensed to undertake this work. If introduced this may well
free up time in statutory and voluntary adoption agencies to meet
the placement needs of today's children.
4. There is no proposal to enable foundlings
(abandoned babies) for whom the Registrar General has no birth
record, to use the Adoption Contact register. This is a severe
injustice to the most disadvantaged group of adopted adults.
You have been charged with the responsibility
of considering the Adoption and Children Billplease remember
that adoption is not just a "children's" issueit
has affected two million adults, many of whom are having to live
with the pain of not being able to reach out to their birth relatives.
Please I urge you, listen to those affected by adoption (eg members
of NORCAP and other similar organisations).