Mr. Shaw: I have a brief question for Fostering Network. You did not include in your evidence about special guardianship something mentioned by some of our next witnesses. They expressed concern about after-support when foster carers take up special guardianships for the children who they are looking after. We heard earlier from one of our academic witnesses, Professor Triseliotis, that 13 per cent. of adopted children are adopted by foster parents. You did not include that in your evidence, so can we take it that you are not concerned about the Bill's provisions on support?
Sue Gourvish: We are concerned, yes, because we believe that many foster carers who might otherwise consider applying for special guardianshipor, indeed, an adoption orderwill be dissuaded from doing so unless provisions are in place which are at least equal to the arrangements that they would receive as foster carers. And of course, one of the most important ones of those is the allowance that the local authority pays to them as foster carers; it would need to be continued as an allowance in their role as special guardians or as adopters.
Mr. Dawson: I wanted to ask Sue Gourvishothers can join inwhether the registration of private foster carers should be included in the Bill. Does Fostering Network have a view on that?
Sue Gourvish: We know that you heard from representatives of our sister organisation BAAF about this and, to shorten matters for you, we support the position that they took with you, perhaps at greater length, when they saw you. We believe that it would be a good idea to take the opportunity of this Bill to introduce measures which properly deal with the issues that private foster carers, despite the Children Act 1989, are not receiving monitoring and are not registered, and that many children are at risk as a result. In fact, we do not know how many children are at risk in private fostering. There is simply no statistical basis, no national collection of figures about them. We do not know how many children are at risk, but there is every reason to believe that many children are at serious risk, and we would urge you to take the opportunity provided by the Bill to bring in those measures.
Kevin Brennan: I have a question for Pam Hodgkins and Robert Tapsfield. There is some doubt whether local authorities acting as adoption agencies owe a duty of care to birth parents in the adoption process. Are you happy that the Bill establishes a duty of care in that processto birth parents as well as to adoptive parents and the children?
Pam Hodgkins: I acknowledge that they are covered by the general statement, but I am not in any way convinced that it will meet the needs of birth parents. I think they are likely to be a very low priority. Again, we do not see the regulations that will support the Bill. I am particularly concerned that there is no specific provision for birth parents in terms of being able to initiate contact with adopted adults, and although the Bill states that the provisions for people already adopted will be the same, because there will be a continuing schedule from the previous Act, this is in fact not the case. Last yearthe judgment was this year, in the case of the tripletsI took a case before the High Court. The actual provision under which I went to the High Court will not be available, so the situation will be worse for birth parents. It is pretty poor now. It will be even worse if the Bill is enacted in its present form.
Tim Loughton: I want to ask Miss Gourvish about the fostering situation generally. We heard this morning about the reluctance of local authorities to adopt through foster parents, because there is a limited pool. What is needed to encourage more people to become foster parents? More children could be taken on as a result, and it could increase the number of adoptive parents.
Sue Gourvish: To encourage foster carers to become adoptive parents?
Tim Loughton: No. What is needed, first, to encourage parents to become foster parents; and, secondly, to encourage foster parents to become adoptive parents, if they have successfully fostered children?
Sue Gourvish: I could go on at length about this, but I will try and keep my answer brief: national rates of allowances, pensions systems for foster carers and arrangements whereby foster carers are trained and supported in their role. Foster carers, as you know, look after some of the most troubled children in the country and they do need all those things in place. Some of them will go on to become adoptive parents and, hopefully, some of them will go on to apply for special guardianship. Those two important events do not lessen the requirements that are laid out that foster carers actually need, because, for instance, foster carers who might consider adopting a sibling group will need considerable consideration about the support they require, particularly the financial support that they will require. There is no reason to assume that they will be able to do so from their own resources.
Tim Loughton: Does research suggest that foster parents who go on to adopt their foster children make for much more stable, longer-lasting family relationships?
Sue Gourvish: I do not believe there is research that bears that out.
Tim Loughton: What is your view, then?
Sue Gourvish: Clearly, if you have been a foster carer who has been well supported by your local authority, you have received training as a foster carerhopefully over a long period of timeand you have been helped to deal with contact issues of the sort that we have been talking about, you will start from a position that will be easier for you, if you then move into the adoption of children that are already placed with you. You will have encountered many of these issues and, hopefully, you will have come to some kind of consolidation of your skills and abilities to do so. One would imagine intuitively that people in that position will probably be in a good position to go on to adopt. But there is no research that I am aware of.
Tim Loughton: Yet, if anything, the shortage of foster carers available to local authorities for their problem children is a disincentive for that to happen, which is why only 13 per cent. of them do so.
Sue Gourvish: Yes. I would have thought that increasingly, if foster carers want to adopt children who are placed with them and are sufficiently determined to do so, they will overcome resistance from local authorities. And I think that in the present climate, whereby there are increasing numbers of adoptions from care, that problem will lessen. I would not dispute that it is the case, although of course one local authority will behave very differently from another.
The Chairman: Are there any other quick questions?
Mr. Dawson: Is not fostering an important task in itself? It should not be seen only as an anteroom to adoption. Given that the vast majority of children in care will return to their families, we should try to support foster carers, social workers and families working to enable that to happen. We should not give foster carers a misleading impression about the over-importance of adoption.
Sue Gourvish: We would very much regret it if foster careparticularly, in this case, long-term foster carewas not a valued option for children. There is no doubt about it that, where there is an allegiance of children to families, long-term foster care can be the placement of choice for children. We would not want to see that undermined in any way by any of the provisions in the Bill.
The Chairman: There seem to be no further questions. On behalf of the Committee, I thank the witnesses for an interesting session. We are most grateful.
The witnesses withdrew.
Memorandum from Barnado's
Barnardo's is delighted to have the opportunity to give oral evidence to the Special Standing Committee on Part 2 of the Adoption and Children Bill. Barnardo's will be represented by Liz Garrett, Head of Policy, and Ann Haigh, Project Leader of Counselling Services.
Barnardo's welcomes the Adoption and Children Bill as a key plank in the Government's programme to modernise the adoption system for the benefit of children and support many of the Bill's measures such as achieving consistency between adoption and the 1989 Children Act, with the child's welfare being paramount and the application of the welfare checklist. Attached at appendix 1 is an outline of the areas we would wish to concentrate on in giving oral evidence.
We are however disappointed not to be giving evidence on the Bill as a whole. We are also concerned about other parts of the Bill such as Adoption Allowances (Clause 2 (6)), the Adoption Support Services (Clauses 4 and 5), Management of Agencies (Clause 10) and Access to Information (Clauses 54 and 57). From our own experience and that of other voluntary agencies, we are aware that the majority of children currently being placed for adoption are under five. This raises questions about what is happening to older children who are unable to return home. Some are being adopted and others undoubtedly could be, if more families could be recruited and post-adoption support and adoption allowances were adequately resourced. However, we do not believe that promoting adoption should be at the expense of developing and resourcing alternative options for children whose future, at least in the short to medium term, may lie in a different direction.
Adoption has had a high public profile in recent years but at times the debate has been characterised by a pre-occupation with the needs of adults. We have been concerned by the inaccuracy of some of the information in the public domain and by a tendency to embrace simplistic solutions. Where children could and should be adopted, the acid test of this Bill must bewill its provisions help us to make successful lasting placements with positive outcomes for the children concerned. The funding identified for adoption within the Quality Protects programme is welcome but we are not convinced that it will be sufficient. We are particularly concerned that priority will be given to placing more children, in order to meet performance targets, at the expense of any significant improvement in post-adoption support and the availability of adoption allowances.
We look forward to presenting our evidence to the committee on Wednesday 21st November.
Parental responsibility of unmarried father (Clause 106)
We acknowledge the importance of birth father's rights to have continuing involvement with their children. However, this should be done in the best interest of the child ensuring that their rights, well being and safety are protected.
Acquisition of parental responsibility by step-parent (Clause 107)
This is a positive addition and provides an alternative to adoption and thus not severing the child's link with the birth parents. We would wish to seek reassurance that, where the child had sufficient understanding, the court is aware of the child's wishes and feelings when considering any application for this order.
Special Guardianship (Clause 14)
Adoption provides security and permanence to children, and at present the majority of children placed for adoption are under 5 years of age. Older children also are placed for adoption and this option should always be considered. However, although for some children the new provision of special guardianship may be appropriate there will continue to be a group of other children, many of them older, who will continue to need a high level of support and professional involvement within a foster placement.
With this proviso we welcome the proposal in Clause 14 to introduce special guardians however, we do have some concerns about the funding of financial support. The right to an assessment of their needs will be available to children and families but the local authority is then under no obligation to provide any of the services that it may have decided are needed. Any potential guardian reading this Bill will not be reassured that should they decide to take on the task of parenting a child with very complex needs, they will not be left to cope without any real entitlement to support. In many cases the lack of funding could deter foster carers or extended family members from being willing or able to take on the extra responsibilities of this role without additional financial support. There would also need to be a duty for the local authority to provide support for the education of a young person in a similar way as exists at present for care leavers.
New section 14 A of Clause 110 allows for people who are not married to apply jointly to become special guardians. We would like to see this principle extent to all unmarried couples wishing to apply as adopters and valued for the skills and experience they have to offer together.
Barnardo's believes that the voice of the child must be heard when such orders are being considered and would hope a Children's Guardian would be appointed.
Care Plans (Clause 112) 31A (4)
It would be helpful for emphasis to be given to the fact that it is the local authority as a whole, which has corporate parenting responsibility for a child under a Care Order. All too often this is seen as the responsibility of the social services department alone. Education, especially, can have a key role within care planning. Their involvement may be crucial in ensuring the viability of any placement for a child. This is particularly true of children with additional educational needs but relates to all children within the Looked After system.
The designated (responsible) authority will clearly have primary responsibility for carrying out requirements of any Care Plan. However, in the case of children placed for adoption, special guardianship or fostering, they may be placed across local authority boundaries. It would be most useful to have the respective roles and responsibilities of responsible area authorities clarified within regulations.
Memorandum from the Children's Society
The Children's Society broadly welcomes the new Adoption and Children Bill. It is a major step forward in the development of an adoption service built upon the wealth of experience and research in this area that has grown since implementation of the Adoption Act 1976 and that aims to meet the needs of children as a priority. We fully support the stated aim of this Bill to align adoption law with the relevant provisions of the Children Act 1989 to ensure that the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration in all decisions relating to adoption and other permanency options.
The Children's Society submitted written evidence to the Special Select Committee on the Adoption & Children Bill in March 2001 and are pleased to have the opportunity to present both written and oral evidence to the Special Standing Committee on this new bill. This memorandum draws the committee's attention to our concerns about new provisions within the bill and to a number of areas that have not changed that still leave us with cause for concern, which we raised in earlier evidence. This memorandum also welcomes improvements to the Bill.
We have approached this Bill as any other proposed legislative or public policy change with regard to the rights of children and young people. We further believe very strongly that adoption is a lifelong process and are fully supportive of the statement in clause 1 (2):
``The paramount consideration of the court or adoption agency must be the child's welfare throughout his life''.
Our practice base and substantial research in this area with both children being adopted and adopted adults and their families means that we have an informed and well-rounded view of the experiences of adopted people throughout their lives. It is on this basis that we make our evidence to the Committee.
We welcome the proposals in clause 3 and section 14F of clause 110 that establish a duty on local authorities to make arrangements for the provision of adoption support services and special guardianship support services. We are concerned however that there is no specific provision made with regard to adoption or special guardianship allowances. Clause 2 (6)[b] and section 14F(1)[b] both make reference to ``such other services as are prescribed (which may include financial support)''. We feel that this is totally inadequate in terms of the necessary recognition of the role that such allowances could play in widening the pool of potential adopters and guardians. The system for providing adoption allowances must be standardised across all authorities. We are currently unable to advise prospective adopters of what level of financial support they might receive because of the variation between local authorities. It is our experience that this uncertainty deters some adopters and limits the chances of young people to be adopted. If this situation is to be replicated for special guardians then these very welcome proposals that give children more opportunities for permanency will not be enabled to fulfil their potential.
We are very pleased to see that following evidence in the last parliament, the Bill extends the right to an assessment for adoption support services to other people affected by adoption. We would urge the Committee to consider the need to extend this right to siblings and other members of the extended family. It is our experience that those who seek such support are in need of it and therefore should not be denied this entitlement to have those needs assessed. This is particularly true for siblings who may have experienced the intense loss of being separated from their adopted sister or brother.
We are also pleased that new section 14F of clause 110  makes provision for support services for special guardians and children subject to special guardianship orders. We are very concerned however that clause 4 and section 14F only allow for entitlement to assessment for adoption support services and not the right to access those services which they are assessed as needing. If adoption placements and special guardianship orders are to be successful, adoptive parents and special guardians need to be assured of their entitlement to receive any support that they might need over the long-term. The Children's Society projects offer post adoption support work and much of this work is funded by voluntary income. Provision of such services is patchy across the country and we had hoped that this Bill would have at its core an acknowledgement of the absolute need for such services. We think that this should be done by placing a duty on local authorities to ensure such provision is made.
Clause 4 (9) provides that where a local authority has carried out an assessment and has identified a need for the provision of services by a health authority, local primary care trust or local education authority it is required to notify the authority. There is nothing in the bill requiring the said authorities to comply with the request and to provide support services, which fall within their respective functions. Our experience across a range of health and education authorities is that if there is no requirement to provide services these services will not commonly be provided. Young people will be particularly disadvantaged by this and there is a need for clarity where adopted children and young people are placed in different health and education authority areas from the originating and responsible social services authority. As a voluntary adoption agency The Children's Society is involved in interagency placements and it is likely that such placements will increase when the Adoption Register is fully operational. It is vital therefore that legislation establishes which agency is responsible for providing a service and which local authority has professional and financial responsibility both for placements and for post adoption support. It is our experience that adopted children have been disadvantaged by not receiving services whilst local authorities have argued over who has responsibility to provide services to them.
We are concerned about clause 11(1)[a] which we understand provides for powers to make regulations to underpin or make changes to the interagency fee which funds some of our services. If we are to retain choice of agency for prospective adopters and the ability of children and young people to have choice of and access to the best placement for them we must retain voluntary adoption agencies. To do so we must have realistic interagency fees. The current fee, which is about to be subject to a major revision by the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies, was always constructed to cover the actual costs of placements. It is our experience that local authorities seem to believe that they can always make placements more cheaply but are not able to calculate the actual unit cost, which must include premises, utilities, training, supervision and management costs. As the Consortium of Voluntary Agencies reports, the voluntary sector already subsidises adoption services by about £3.5 million per year. Anecdotally we have evidence that families are not being considered for children because the local authority does not have the budget for interagency fees. There are even instances of placements being abandoned during introductions because the local authority refused to find the interagency fee. This is hardly child centred practice. If the National Adoption Register is to work effectively the issue of inter-agency fees must be addressed before it is fully operational.
Information about a person's adoption
We are shocked to discover that clauses 53-62 and 76 propose fundamental changes to the way in which adopted people are currently able to access essential information about themselves: their identity, birth origins and other information. These provisions are new and the Department of Health is interested to ascertain whether they strike the right balance. It is our view that they do not and that further, within the balance of rights of all parties involved in the adoption process, they are disproportionate to the evidence from research and practice that informed the Houghton Committee's recommendations and that have been developed since. These clauses are inordinately complex and provide for an extremely prescriptive framework, which will almost certainly result in a return to secretive and restrictive adoption practice. The Committee needs to consider the likely effect of these provisions and weigh this against any evidence and research into adverse effects of the current provisions. We are unaware of such evidence.
In 1997 The Children's Society undertook the first major British study to compare the characteristics and experiences of adopted people who search for birth relatives (searchers) with those who do not (non-searchers) but where birth relatives have made an enquiry about them . The study involved nearly 500 adopted people (394 searchers and 78 non-searchers) and was of a quantitative and qualitative nature. More detailed information about the findings of the research can be found at Appendix 1. The main findings that we would draw to the Committee's attention in considering these new proposals are:
The search and reunion process does not threaten the relationships developed in childhood with the adoptive parents: they remain strong and durable.
There is a widespread need for many adopted adults to access this information about their origins and background. The main reasons given for seeking information included a long standing curiosity about origins (82 per cent.) and needing to know more about oneself (77 per cent.), background information (69%).
Just 7 per cent. of birth mothers refused contact with the adopted person however some were still willing to answer questions from the adopted person via an intermediary and some sent photos. So whilst they reject contact they had an understanding about the need for adopted people to access important information.
Over 80% of both searchers and non-searchers said that the contact had answered important questions about their origins and background.
When the law changed in 1975 there was considerable debate about the introduction of the right of adopted people to access identifying information. Fears were expressed that birth parents would suffer distress and embarrassment if their adopted children suddenly approached them. In practice, these fears appear not to have been realised. Research by The Children's Society (see Appendix 1) and others has shown that adopted adults have valued the fact that they can obtain information about their origins, and, where they have made approaches to their birth parents, have generally done so in a sensitive manner. The Bill does not take into account that most children being placed for adoption today come with a very different scenario from the babies placed for adoption in the 1940s to 1970s. Many of them may have lived with their birth families for several years and therefore already have access to identifying information.
The Secretary of State for Health has made a statement as required by the Human Rights Act 1998 that this Bill is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. We believe that these new provisions and in particular clause 58, represent a breach with the convention right enshrined in Article 8 which includes the right to access to information about a person's own identity. This principle is also enshrined within Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. We will be seeking further legal opinion on this issue. It seems incomprehensible that a Bill, which is supposed to ensure that the welfare of the child is given paramount consideration throughout his or her life, should propose curtailing an adopted person's rights in this way.
We, like many others are unsure as to the motivation behind these retrograde provisions. We are concerned about the following specific matters:
1. That clause 58 will make it impossible for adoption agencies to disclose to an adopted adult the information needed to enable him or her to obtain a copy of the original birth certificate. This would also make it impossible for the adopted person to have their name entered on the Adoption Contact Register as clause 77(3)[c] stipulates that the Registrar General must be satisfied that the adopted person has such information as is necessary to obtain a copy of his birth certificate.
2. That access to birth records will only be available to the adopted person through the adoption agency and not through a direct approach to the Registrar General as is currently provided for by section 51 of The Adoption Act 1976.
3. That unless consent has been obtained from the birth parents seemingly at the time of the adoption no identifying information can be given to an adopted person or the adoptive parents.
4. That clause 56 introduces an offence on the part of the adoption agency if they disclose of identifying information where consent has not been obtained.
We believe that these provisions discriminate against adopted people; the statutory register of births is a public document to which most people have access and are entitled to obtain a copy of the register of entry relating to their birth. The difficulty for some adopted people is that they do not have the information about their original name. This Bill proposes that such people should be discriminated against in terms of information relating to their own identity. Current adoption practice is framed within the principle of openness and building upon research and practice learning that has demonstrated how fundamental this is to an adopted person's feeling of identity, self-worth and overall mental health. We are also concerned that 57(1) requires that information about a child is to be given to the adopters after the adoption order is made. This is too late. In order to consider whether they are able to care properly for a child, adopters must have all the necessary information about the child at the outset of the placement so that they can made an informed decision about whether to proceed. A finding of many disruption meetings is that a contributory factor to the breakdown of a placement is the lack of information given to adopters at an early stage. Anything that can be done to prevent the damaging effects of disruption on young people must be pursued. We had hoped to engage with this new bill on the basis of moving these issues forward to create a modern and relevant adoption process. Instead we find ourselves having to defend a principle that we thought had already been established
In its memorandum to the Committee, the Department of Health refers to the case of R v. Registrar General, ex partie Smith as evidence of the need to change the law on the issue of access to information. Far from providing evidence in support of the proposals before the Committee we feel that this case demonstrates how well the current system is working and further that the decision by the Court of Appeal in this particular case was the right one. If the new provisions were enforced the Government would seem to be making a blanket provision that will affect all adopted people both directly and indirectly on the basis of a handful of cases that are best dealt with in the courts. We would draw the Committee's attention to the case of Ms Gunn-Russo who won her challenge to the decision of the Nugent Care Society to refuse her access to its relevant records about her adoption in July this year. This was on the basis that the Society was imposing a blanket restriction on access to information that was not proportionate. In our evidence in April 2001 we outlined the need to ensure that access to information is standardised across all adoption agencies to bring it into line with those organisations like ourselves who are currently operating good policies and working to guidelines.
Intermediary services for birth relatives
The impact of these provisions will be felt not only by adopted people but also by their birth relatives, including separated siblings. The Children's Society is currently undertaking another study entitled, Completing the circleThe Adoptive and Birth Parents' Experience of Adoption, Search & Reunion, in collaboration with Professor John Triseliotis. The study has already produced some preliminary findings that would be beneficial to the government in framing a legislative framework for access to information and for the statutory provision of intermediary services.
The Government has made a commitment to overhaul and modernise current adoption legislation. It is crucial therefore that adoption legislation takes a life long perspective: unless the provision of intermediary services are acknowledged in a legislative framework then this will not be achieved. For many years now some Adoption Agencies and local authorities have provided intermediary services for birth relatives, but it is a lottery. There needs to be a statutory duty on local authorities and adoption agencies to provide intermediary services. The Department of Health has already issued practice guidance about this area of work for those agencies choosing to provide this service. The Children's Society research provides evidence of the benefits and positive outcomes for non-searching adopted people and their birth and adoptive relatives and confirms the need to provide intermediary services for birth relatives. Whilst it is important that adoption legislation meets the needs of children today it must also meet the needs of all adults who have been affected by adoption in the past and who continue to experience the life long issues it raises.
Adoption and Special Guardianship by married couples or Single People
We are very pleased that section 14A of clause 110(1) makes provision for the joint application of unmarried couples to become special guardians. We are very saddened however that the bill does not recognise the right of adopted children and young people to a lifelong and legally recognised relationship with both parents where they are being brought up within a stable long-term partnership. In practice we know that children are often placed with couples who are not married to each other and who parent children jointly, perhaps reflecting the reality that since 1992 the number of children born to unmarried parents in the UK has steadily increased. If we restrict joint adoption to married adults we can only reduce the opportunity for children to find adoptive parents. We firmly believe that this is an issue about the rights of children to family life as defined within article 8 of the Human Rights Act.
Special Guardianship Orders
We are supportive of the arrangements for special guardianship orders as they provide another option for permanency for children and young people.
Inquiries by Local Authorities into representations
The Children's Society is supportive in principle of the proposal in clause 111 to amend The Children Act to introduce time limits for the making of representations, however our support is conditional upon there being a number of exemptions which must be laid down in regulation. Children and young people have told us their views about this:
``There should be no time limit for young people who were in care''
``I couldn't complain when it happened, it was only later on I was able to say something''
Our practice and research with children in foster placements suggests they may not feel in a position to complain until they have left the placement. Equally complaints relating to pre and post adoption matters should be specifically included in the exemptions.
TCS supports in principle the proposal to amend The Children Act to provide for an informal resolution stage. In our experience children and young people want their concerns dealt with quickly and without resorting to a long investigation procedure. They want the matter to be considered, reviewed and discussed, and the situation to stop or change, or for someone else not to have to go through what they have been through. However in the context of safeguarding children and young people we are very concerned that the informal resolution stage is being progressed without any requirement for an independent element. In our view this could lead to children and young people not being heard; being ignored; and importantly having no confidence in the process.
``I want someone independent, like an advocate, right from the start''
``An advocate would, make sure they didn't talk me out of complaining''
TCS is very concerned that a statutory right to independent advocacy has not been included in this package of measures. Our practice suggests that the role of an advocate is crucial at the outset as children and young people have told us that at an early stage subtle pressure is sometimes put on them to accept situations even though they are not satisfied that the matter has been considered thoroughly and fairly. For those children and young people who have cognitive and or communication difficulties the complaints procedure is largely inaccessible without an advocate.
We believe it is essential that the informal stage is closely monitored, and that the requirements in relation to this should be set out in regulation. This should include ensuring that the 14 day time scale is kept to; that the nature of all complaints are logged together with their outcomes; that children and young people are asked about their view of the outcome and reasons for any withdrawal; and that further investigations are sought as appropriate even in those circumstances where a complaint has been withdrawn if the matter is of a serious nature.
ADOPTION, SEARCH AND REUNION
The Long Term Experience of Adopted Adults
Adoption, Search and Reunion is the first major British study to compare the characteristics and experiences of adopted people who search for birth relatives (searchers) with those who do not (non-searchers) but where birth relatives have made an enquiry about them. The study examines the reasons why people search, and contrasts their experiences with adopted people who were contacted by a birth relative. Equally important, the research also looks at the long-term nature of adopted people's restored relationship with their birth relatives and their continuing relationship with their adoptive family.
Information was gathered from 394 searchers and 78 non-searchers. In-depth interviews were carried out with 74 of the 472 adopted people who completed the detailed questionnaire.
The findings report the widespread need of many adopted people to meet their birth relatives. They help answer universal questions of who we are and where we belong.
They address issues of nature and nurture; the biological ties of blood and the social bonds of parenting.
Searching for a birth relative
Most searchers set off to find their birth mother. There was a widespread hope that a successful search would improve feelings of happiness. Sixty five per cent of adopted people began their search immediately after visiting The Children's Society where they received information from the adoption records. Feelings of anxiety, nervousness and excitement typically accompanied the search process.
Sixty per cent of searchers found their birth mother within three months. In many cases, finding the birth mother also meant having contact with birth siblings and birth grandparents. However, one in ten people failed to find or make contact with their birth relative.
``I didn't ever have a burning thing to find her... it just happened so quickly actually. I mean I found her so incredibly quickly. It was like, `Oh, I'll start thinking about this, maybe start looking,' and then in about a day I'd found her.''
Amongst non-searchers, there was an even split between those who said that they had not thought about searching and those who said they had actually thought about searching but had done nothing about it. About half of non-searchers said that they felt that their adoptive parents were their `real parents' and that they did not wish to upset them by contemplating a search. A third also felt worried that further information about their adoption might either be unpleasant or upsetting.
Three quarters of non-searchers felt that it was right for adoption agencies to let them know that a birth relative had made an approach seeking contact. The most likely birth relative to try and make contact was the birth mother (71%). About a quarter of contacts were made by a birth sibling. One in ten non-searchers did not wish to have contact with the approaching birth relative. Some non-searchers who had never thought about searching found dealing with the approach of a birth relative an unsettling experience. Three quarters of non-searchers had not heard of the Adoption Contact Register.
Gender and age
In terms of adopted people's broad biographical and adoptive family characteristics, there were few differences between searchers and non-searchers. The only significant difference between those who searched and those who did not was related to their gender.
Adopted women were twice as likely as men to initiate a search.
The mean age at which women first began their search was significantly lower than that for men (29.8 years v 32.3 years).
In contrast, those who were contacted by a birth relative were as likely to be men as women but the relatives searching were predominantly women.
Growing up adopted
The majority of adopted people in the survey had thought about one or more of their birth relatives when growing up. Over 80 per cent. of both searchers and non-searchers had wondered what their birth relatives looked like, and whether they might look like their birth relative. Seventy percent of searchers and 74 per cent. of non-searchers said they did not feel comfortable asking their adoptive parents for information about their birth families and their origins. Searchers (70 per cent.) were more likely than non-searchers (48 per cent.) to wonder why their birth mother placed them for adoption.
``I think that everybody who is adopted, it always crosses their mind.'' ``I wonder if this bit's like her, or I wonder if that bit's like her?'' ``I was about five or six months when I was adopted and I wanted to know what happened in that part of my life that nobody knew. Or just to ask the question, `Why did you have me adopted? Why didn't you struggle?'''
Fifty percent of searchers said they felt different to their adoptive family when they were growing up compared to 27 per cent. of non-searchers.
``It was when I was a teenager I became very aware of being adopted. Particularly not looking like anyone in my family. I wish I looked like somebody.''
Non-searchers (85 per cent.) were more likely than searchers (68 per cent.) to say that they felt they belonged in their adoptive families when growing up.
``I think I was made to feel quite special in a way. My father used to say, `You were chosenwe always wanted a girl.' I always felt part of the family. I never felt different as such... I have very happy memories of my childhood.''
Seventy four per cent of non-searchers evaluated their experience of being adopted as a positive experience compared to 53 per cent. of searchers.
Contact and reunion with birth relatives
When they first met their birth relative, most adopted people said their feelings were either cautious ones of interest and friendship, or powerful ones of instant family bond and connection. Searchers (29 per cent.) were more likely than non-searchers (11 per cent.) to feel an instant family bond.
``I went into this room and there was this little woman, five foot three and I'm nearly six foot, and I gave her the flowers and she started crying and I started crying. We just threw our arms round each other... I was so much like her, everything, mannerisms, the way I move my hands, the way I talk... two peas in a pod and we bonded totally, straight away, absolutely no doubt. I'm part of her and that bond was just instantly there.''
One year after first contact, 15 per cent. of searchers and 15 per cent. of non-searchers had either ceased contact with, been rejected by or rejected further contact with their birth mother.
Five years or more after the initial reunion, searchers (63 per cent.) were more likely than non-searchers (55 per cent.) still to be in contact with their birth mothers.
For most adopted people, relationships established in childhood with adoptive parents appear to be more enduring than those restored with birth parents in adulthood. For example, most adopted people were not only more likely to remain in contact with their adoptive parents than with their birth relatives, but in cases where there was contact with both sets of parents, they were also more likely to see more of their adoptive parents than their birth parents.
Evaluating the contact and reunion experience
Whether or not the contact with the birth relative was short-lived and difficult, or comfortable and long lasting, the majority of searchers (85 per cent.) and non-searchers (72 per cent.) said the reunion had been a positive experience.
Over 80 per cent. of both searchers and non-searchers said that the contact had answered important questions about their origins and background. Half of all searchers and a third of non-searchers said that they had an improved sense of identity and wellbeing as a result of the contact. People talked about feeling `more complete as a person'. They had found the `missing bits' of their story.
``I'm a lot more completeI was very incomplete before. There was this section of me that was missing. It was just emptiness. There was no conscious thinking, `Oh, this is the way I feel.' It was just this emptiness somewhere in me. I have a history now. It's not that I have to take on somebody else's history. It's my own and my children have a history now. I am, as far as I can be, complete.''
The experience of being placed transracially
In many respects, adopted people who had been placed transracially reported similar experiences and outcomes to those who had been in matched same-race placements. They were as likely to be still in contact or to have ceased contact with their birth relatives, and to feel positive about the outcome of the reunion.
However, a number of significant differences were observed across a range of measures. For example, 71 per cent. of people who had been placed transracially felt different to their adoptive families when growing up compared to 48 per cent. of those raised in white matched placements. Transracially placed people were more likely to begin their search at a younger age.
``Most of the time I felt I belonged and other times I felt quite clearly that I wasn't part of the family. Physically, definitely physically. When I was younger it was just mainly the physical differences when I didn't feel I belonged, because my interests were different, my capabilities very different. I was singing and dancing and doing all those kind of things. My family, they were very white, blue-eyed, very pinky. Overweight a little bitand what I can do is nothing that any of them can do.''
Making sense of the findings
More searchers than non-searchers describe relationships with their adoptive family and their overall experience of being adopted with mixed or, or in a few cases negative feelings. This suggests that feeling ambivalent or negative about one's adoption might be one factor that motivates some people to search.
However, as 53 per cent. of searchers evaluated their adoption as a positive experience, negative feelings clearly cannot be the only factor.
Half of non-searchers said they had no curiosity about their origins or background, and consequently they did not feel a need to search for their birth relative. The other half of non-searchers did express some interest and curiosity but they worried that searching might seriously upset either their adoptive parents or themselves.
The decision to search turns out to be a complex interaction between a number of factors. A distinction can be made between those who search on the basis of dissatisfaction with their adoption experience, who appear to be looking for both a fuller sense of self and a relationship; and those who describe their adoption experience as very positive, whose interest in searching appears mainly to do with issues of self and identity and not the need to develop an alternative filial relationship with a birth parent.
Adopted people who search are looking for answers to questions about identity: (Who am I? Who do I look like? Who do I take after?); and self-worth: (Why was I given up? Was I rejected? Where do I belong?). They seek a sense of connectedness.
Contact and reunion experienceswhether achieved actively in the case of searchers, or passively in the case of non-searchersproved extremely good at helping people answer questions of identity and self-worth. However, they did not necessarily imply the desire for a second or alternative set of family relationships.
Implications for policy and practice
Recognition that adoption is a life-long experience and that people's need to access counselling and support services is not time-limited.
The need for improved advice, guidance and support during adolescence for adopted children and adopters when thinking about birth relatives is likely to be particularly strong.
The value of adoptive parents feeling comfortable talking with their children about their origins, background and history.
The value of information about the birth family, including photographs, being available to adopted people during their childhood.
The need for increased publicity for the Adoption Contact Register.
The need for expert and informed counselling and support throughout the search and reunion process.
The provision of intermediary services for birth relatives that is consistent across the country.
The need for an active debate about the provision and character of intermediary services provided for birth relatives.
The value of same-race, matched placements for minimising adopted children's sense of difference and enhancing their sense of self-identity.
The need of policy makers, placement workers and adopters to consider the identity and self-worth needs of children adopted inter-country by providing as much background information as possible about origins and history.
The value of the search and reunion process for many adopted people to help them complete their story, and improve their sense of identity, self-worth and sense of connectedness.
The need to recognise that issues of identity, worth and connectedness raised by adopted adults are likely to be raised by adults born as a result of donated gametes and embryos.
The need for parents of children born as a result of donor assisted conceptions to have access to counselling, information and advice to help support them tell their children and discuss with them their origins, background and genetic make-up.
About The Children's Society
The Children's Society is one of the country's leading children's charities working with approximately 40,000 children and young people in around 100 projects throughout England and Wales. The work includes help for child runaways, work with children in some of the country's most deprived and isolated communities, and projects working in prison with young teenagers on remand and in schools with young people at risk of exclusion. As well as our direct work with these young people, we aim to influence practitioners and decision-makers to improve the systems that have such an impact on children's lives.
In the past the Society was one of the largest adoption agencies in the country. Though today adoption and fostering is a very small part of our work, we take our role in providing post adoption counselling, information, advice and intermediary services for those who were adopted through us very seriously. The Children's Society's Post Adoption and Care Project is at the forefront of developing this field of work and pressing for greater understanding and rights for those whose lives have been touched by adoption.
About The Nuffield Foundation
The Nuffield Foundation is a charitable trust established by Lord Nuffield. Its widest charitable object is ``the advancement of social well-being''
The Foundation has a special programme of grant-making in Child Protection and Family Law. The Foundation has supported the research study to stimulate public discussion and development of practice and policy.
The Nuffield Foundation has kindly paid for the printing of this summary, however the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation.
Adoption, Search and Reunion: The Long Term Experience of Adopted Adults by David Howe and Julia Feast is published in March 2000 by The Children's Society (ISBN: 1 899783 30 X).
Priced at £12.95 (plus £1.30 p&p), copies are available from: The Children's Society, Publishing Department, Edward Rudolf House, Margery Street, London WC1X 0JL.
Tel. 020 7841 4415.
Fax 020 7841 4500.
Charity Registration No. 221124
Examination of Witnesses
Liz Garrett, Head of Policy, and Ann Haigh, Project Leader of Counselling Services, Barnardo's; Christine Atkinson, Policy Adviser, Child Protection, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children; Caroline Abrahams, Director of Policy, National Children's Homes; and Kathy Evans, Head of Social Policy, and Julia Feast, Project Leader, Post Adoption and Care: Counselling and Research Project, the Children's Society.