Adoption and Children Bill

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Jacqui Smith: But is it not the case that, at the moment, you would not have to use an agency, because you could access your birth certificate without going through an adoption agency?

Jacky Gordon: Yes, you could do that, at the moment.

Jacqui Smith: So, it would not be possible to institute the sort of system that you are talking about—and which you think might be the best way to deal with a very small number of cases where there might be a problem—if people could bypass the adoption agency and obtain their birth certificate in a different way?

Jacky Gordon: With some counselling help and support.

Jacqui Smith: Yes, but is it not the case that they would only get counselling if they came to an adoption agency?

Jacky Gordon: Yes, at the moment.

Jacqui Smith: So, it would be possible for them not to come to an adoption agency, and to get that information in a different way?

The Chairman: Do you agree with that, Ms Gordon? We need your answer to be on the record.

Jacky Gordon: Yes.

Jim Richards: My point is, why pick on adoption? There are all sorts of difficult situations between children and their parents that can be of some danger, so why are we flagging up adoption?

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): I wish to follow up that point by playing devil's advocate slightly. You are asking, why should somebody who has been adopted not have the right to contact their parent, whatever the background of their case? However, because of the nature of adoption these days, you are likely to be dealing with a higher proportion of damaged individuals—and many of them might have been damaged by their parents. Therefore, to play devil's advocate, is there any merit at all in the proposal to give further protection to birth parents, as is envisaged in the Bill?

Jacky Gordon: In our experience, it has been more beneficial for adoptees to receive the information that they have received. Only a very small number of adoptees have had difficulties, where there has been a negative outcome.

Kevin Brennan: Do you think that the proportions are likely to rise because of the nature of adoption these days, compared with when the previous legislation was introduced 25 years ago?

Jacky Gordon: I suppose that that is a possibility, but I think that the benefits of adoptees getting more information—which might even lead to a meeting with their birth parent—can be quite a healing process.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon): I was going to make a similar point to that which was made by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan). It is always possible to hire a private eye to find out information, and that has been done. However, we must look at the statutory format, rather than at what people could get up to, and I would be interested to hear your views about situations in which people are asked to sign pieces of paper that say that they will not make contact—even, perhaps, in limited circumstances. Even though it is not binding, when push came to shove it would give the recipient of the piece of paper something with which to go to the court and obtain a non-contract injunction of some sort, which would make that process easier. What do you think about that?

Marion Hundleby: I wonder if that is where adoption agencies should be focusing their work. The role of adoption agencies is very much to act as counsellors and intermediaries, and, if necessary, to work with parties other than the one who is presenting the issue. Our agency occasionally works with people who have serious mental health problems, when that sort of thing might apply, and we would endeavour to put in place a service for other parties and build in protection in that way, because, frankly, I am not hopeful that what you are suggesting would make a substantial difference.

Mr. Djanogly: What if people do not want to be counselled? You are assuming that people will want to contact each other, which the statistics show is normally the case. However, what is the position when they do not want to do so?

Marion Hundleby: Obviously, yes, counselling is a voluntary arrangement, but we also do some level of risk assessment, and if we feel that another party is at risk we would endeavour to work with that other party.

Mr. Djanogly: Do you think that that should be your decision?

Marion Hundleby: Well, our decision in the sense that we are in possession of certain information. We will be informed by our medical and legal advisers, who are part of our adoption agency work. The way in which we would approach it is to try to assess any risk to an individual that may come out of a contact. I believe that that would be a stronger way forward than signatures.

Mr. Djanogly: But at the moment there is no statutory obligation for the adoption agency to contact both parties to see if they are happy with information being released. Do you think that there should be such an obligation?

The Chairman: Margaret Dight, would you like to say something?

Margaret Dight: May I take us back from where we are at the moment, and look at the move, because it is pertinent to the question that you are raising. It needs to be seen in a global sense rather than as a tunnel issue.

The whole area of adoption has grown in openness over the last decade. We are encouraging adopters, children and everyone who is part of and party to the adoption process, including foster carers, to develop a more open way of working. Several voluntary adoption agencies have pioneered very effective services of mediation to birth parents, particularly those whose children are being lost through the public care system. That will more than likely be through the courts, so there is an adversarial notion, and voluntary agencies can meet that need. Many councils are taking up and purchasing that service.

Given the layering of work that is being done, which started over a decade ago and is carrying on increasingly, with appropriate funding allowing more and more voluntary agencies to do that work more effectively we will significantly reduce the number of occasions when the extreme situation that was suggested would occur. There will not be the sense of myth, secrecy and lack of knowledge that would have existed before.

Mr. Djanogly: No, but at the same time if the amount of adoption increases, it is likely that the number of problem cases will significantly increase.

Margaret Dight: I do not agree. Children with significant problems are being placed for adoption. Because those problems and the need for post-placement and post-adoption support services are being recognised, adoptive families are not being encouraged to walk off into the sunset after the granting of an adoption order. They now recognise the need for significant support and work throughout that child's life into young adulthood. While the problems may be more evident because we know more about them, we are, likewise, addressing them, and with the right resources and funding we are able to address them satisfactorily. So I still believe that it is less likely for those situations to which you refer to be made possible.

As my colleague said, we have our own experience of individuals with serious mental health problems. To me, that begs the question of making adoption a much more widely held knowledge. The discipline of adoption and adoption practice needs to be taken on board by different disciplines, instead of just being seen in the arena of social services. The medical, health and legal professions need to be aware of those adoption issues.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): The process of people being adopted and tracing their birth relatives is bound to be full of emotion, anxiety and difficulties. It is obvious from the evidence given yesterday that there is no evidence for including the proposal in this part of the Bill. From your extensive experience in this respect; are you aware of a single instance in which an adopted person has committed a criminal offence against a birth parent?

Margaret Dight: We had a client with a serious mental health problem and we felt that it was our obligation to ensure that all parties with whom he made contact were aware of their vulnerability. That is the only situation that I can recall.

Mr. Dawson: You are therefore saying that structures are already in place to deal with those issues.

Mr. Walter: I want to pose the question again in respect of inter-country adoptions, where there are difficulties because of the distances involved. Mr. Hinchliffe, you and I took part in an inquiry three years ago on the largest living cohort of intercountry adoptees, the child migrants to Australia, who spent many years trying to trace their roots. Should we consider providing more assistance to those who are subject to inter-country adoption to trace their birth records?

Naomi Angell: There needs to be a contact register for inter-country adoptive families. It is extremely difficult for birth families to know where to go to get information on their birth children and often they are told when they hand over their child for adoption that that is it; the story ends there for them.

For the adopted children there are, as I said, geographical difficulties. There should be a contact register based either on the existing contact register for inter-country adoptive families, or alternatively, which might be more appropriate, in the central authority when it is established with The Hague convention, which will have all the information. Everything will go through that. It seems the easiest place for people abroad to contact and also for the children. I hope that the Bill will enable that to be established.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton): I am a little confused. All of you seem to recognise that there are, or could be, occasions when it would not be appropriate to put the adopted person in contact with their birth family. Although that has been disputed, it was not disputed yesterday. There has been an increase in relationship difficulties in the past 25 years. What would your organisation, or other groups, suggest to deal with the small number of difficult cases? Does anyone have any views on that issue? I am still not clear about it.

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