Select Committee on Select Committee on the Adoption and Children Bill Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


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 Bill—please remember that adoption is not just a "children's" issue—it 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).

April 2001

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