navigation top

Intermediary services for adopted people – questions and answers

Information for adopted people in England and Wales who were adopted before 30th December 2005

The Adoption and Children Act 2002 which was implemented on the 30th December 2005 represents the most radical overhaul of adoption law for 26 years, replacing the outdated Adoption Act 1976 and modernising the entire legal framework for domestic and intercountry adoption. It has brought in many changes that are intended to help improve adoption services for adopted people and their birth relatives.

One particularly important part of the Act establishes a framework which gives both adopted people and also their birth relatives the right to request an intermediary service if they want to make contact. The following information will provide the answers to some of the commonly asked questions that adopted people may have. It applies to people who are 18 years and over and who were adopted in England and Wales before 30th December 2005, and their birth relatives.

What rights do adopted people have?

Since 1975, adopted people have had the right to apply for information that will enable them to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate. Under Schedule 2 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, adopted people continue to have this right.

What do I have to do to obtain the information to get a copy of my original birth certificate?

Arrangements vary depending on when you were adopted. If you were adopted before the 12 November 1975, and do not already know your birth name then you need to apply to the Registrar General for birth record counselling. The Registrar General’s office will make arrangements for you to meet with an adoption adviser at your nearest local authority adoption agency, or a local authority of your choice or the adoption agency that was involved in your adoption so that you can receive birth record counselling and receive the necessary information to enable you to obtain a copy of your birth certificate.

If you were adopted after the 12th November 1975 and before the 30th December 2005, then you do not have to see a birth records adviser before you obtain a copy of your birth certificate, but this will be offered and is likely to be helpful to you.

Do I have to produce evidence of who am I?

Yes. The agency that is working with you will need to verify your identity. They will ask to see documentation such as a copy of your birth and marriage certificates, passport, or other relevant ID.

What happens if I live abroad?

If you live abroad you can still obtain a copy of your original birth certificate or make a request for an intermediary service. Agencies can liaise with each other, although it may be a more complex process. If you know the agency that arranged the adoption then contact them and they will be able to suggest ways in which they can assist in providing you with the advice and information you need. Alternatively, an adoption support agency should be in a position to give general guidance.

What if I don’t know which agency was involved in my adoption?

If you do not know the agency that arranged your adoption then the Registrar General will provide an application form that you can send to the court where the adoption order was made. The court will then be able to tell you which agency was involved or whether it was a privately arranged adoption.

Were adoption agencies always involved?

No, sometimes there was no agency involved. Up until 1982, some adoptions were arranged quite legally as a result of a private arrangement. A private adoption could have been arranged by anyone, for example a doctor, nurse or a priest.

Why do I need to know which agency was involved in my adoption?

It is important to find out which agency was involved in your adoption as they will have background information about your adoption and information about your birth family. They may also be able to provide other help and support, such as giving you information about how to search for birth family members if this is something you want to do.

Will the records still exist?

In most cases where an agency has arranged the adoption, records will exist. However, it was not until 1975 that the law required adoption agencies to keep their records for at least 75 years. This means that some records may have been wholly or partially destroyed or just be "missing". Records, whether held electronically or on paper, are vulnerable to deterioration. In situations where the adoption was arranged privately, it is less likely that background information exists. However, in some instances, documents that were necessary for the court to make an adoption order may have survived. The intermediary agency you are using will be able to advise you about this.

Is it just the adoption agency or local authority that can help me?

No, you can also contact an Adoption Support Agency who can offer you a range of services.

How can I find the adoption agency, local authority or an adoption support agency?

On this website there is a section for Intermediary Services listing. It provides a list of all the local authorities, voluntary adoption agencies and adoption support agencies in England and Wales that can provide information, advice, support and the help you need. View the Intermediary services listing.

What if I am having difficulty finding the agency that arranged my adoption?

This could be because the adoption agency has closed. During the 1970s a lot of the voluntary agencies that previously played a major part in arranging adoptions ceased to operate or exist, or changed direction and took on different types of work. However, if the agency closed, by law they had to make arrangements for the safe keeping of their adoption records. Often these records would be passed to the local authority in their area or on to another voluntary agency. When a voluntary adoption agency continues to exist but no longer actively provides an adoption service, it is more than likely that they would have retained responsibilities for their records and have kept them in their archive.

Sometimes it is difficult to find the agency because they have changed their name. For example, in the case of local authorities, this may have happened when boundaries were redrawn and large counties or cities were split into smaller administrative areas. Voluntary adoption agencies may also have had different names over the years. On this website you will be able to access an invaluable resource ‘Where to Find Adoption Records’. This was first published by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering in 2001 as a book. It is being developed into a searchable database which will be available from this web from February 2006. When it is available, this searchable data base will provide a full listing of where adoption records are currently held and also information about mother and baby homes.

What is an intermediary service?

An intermediary is either an individual, or a person employed by an organisation that acts as a go-between and a mediator between the adopted person and the birth relatives. This can be with a view to passing on or requesting information and this may lead to indirect or direct contact. Adopted people can access identifying information from their original birth certificate and adoption records. When it is the birth relative of an adopted person who is requesting an intermediary service, the adoption agency is not allowed to give the birth relative any information that will or might identify an adopted person, but the intermediary agency can use the information to locate the adopted person and make an approach to establish if the adopted person is willing to agree to the relative having any information or to be put in contact with the relative.

What does the law say?

Under Section 98 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (England and Wales), birth relatives of an adopted adult, and adopted people themselves, now have the legal right to ask an adoption agency or an adoption support agency to provide an intermediary service so that they can let the adopted relative or birth relative know of their wish for communication. This new law comes into effect on the 30th December 2005. When an application for intermediary services is received, priority will be given to cases where the adoption order was on and before 12 November 1975. There is no statutory requirement for local authorities and adoption agencies to provide an intermediary service, but there is a requirement on those who hold adoption records to provide information to intermediary agencies. In those cases where the adoption agency you approach cannot provide a service, it will point you to an agency that can.

Why have birth relatives been given the legal right to request an intermediary service?

The new Act recognises the needs of birth relatives who want the opportunity to let their adult adopted relative know of their interest in contact.

For many years, a number of local authority and voluntary adoption agencies have provided intermediary services for birth relatives but the availability of this service very much depended on where you lived. There has also been inconsistent practice and no national regulated standards and safeguards. The changes to the law have therefore been welcomed because it means that intermediary services for birth relatives and for adopted people will be regulated and inspected. It also means that all people should be able to access a service, regardless of where they live.

Why did the law change giving birth relatives the right to request an intermediary service?

A number of things have influenced the change in the legislation. In 1975 the law changed and gave all adopted adults the right to apply for a copy of their original birth certificate and information about which agencies might have been involved in their adoption. This means that adopted people have had the opportunity to receive information about their background and search for birth relatives if they so wished since then. Opening adoption records for adopted people recognised the lifelong issues of adoption and how they affect adopted people and also birth relatives. It was through the provision of intermediary services for adopted people that adoption workers learned so much more about the views and feelings of birth parents and other birth relatives. Many birth relatives, particularly birth mothers, have spoken out about their need to know what has happened to the child they placed for adoption. Since the early 1990s, certain adoption agencies have actively responded by extending their services to include enquiries from birth mothers and other birth relatives. Although birth relatives did not have the same right to information as the adopted person had, many agencies were willing to initiate enquiries on their behalf. However, the availability of services was inconsistent throughout England and Wales so the law has changed to make sure that, no matter where a person lives or whatever agency arranged the adoption they will be able to access an intermediary service. Even people involved in what were called ‘private’ or third party adoptions without any agency making the arrangement will be able to access an intermediary service.

A study, first published by The Children’s Society (Howe and Feast, 2000, republished by BAAF in 2004) provided information about how non-searching adopted people felt about being contacted by an adoption agency on behalf of a birth relative. The research showed that the majority of adopted people thought that it was right for them to be told about a birth relative’s enquiry, so that they could make up their own minds about how they wanted to respond. Ninety per cent of the adopted people who were approached went on to have some form of contact with the birth relative. Eighty per cent said that the contact had helped to answer important questions and they were pleased to have had the opportunity to be in touch with a birth relative.

Who can provide an intermediary service?

A local authority, voluntary adoption agency or registered adoption support agency can offer intermediary services for birth relatives, although the extent to which they can do so will depend on what the agency is in a position to offer. However, all agencies should be able to advise you about how to take your enquiries forward, even if they cannot provide the services themselves. Some adoption support agencies may specialize in provision of intermediary services whilst others will not be involved in this work at all. It is important to ask the service you approach if it is an Intermediary Agency. As already explained, there is no statutory requirement for adoption agencies to provide a service. You may find that the agency you approach contracts out some or all of its services to another agency, for example, to an adoption support agency. This is more usual in the case of local authorities. Such arrangements should be explained to you when you make your initial enquiry.

Is it just birth parents who can ask for a service?

No, the new legislation makes it possible for any birth relative to request an intermediary service. This means that siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles can also request a service. However, if you are a birth relative requesting an intermediary service independently of the birth parents, it is important that you have the opportunity to discuss the implications this may have for them and the adopted person. This is particularly important if one or both of them have indicated that they have no wish to have contact with the adopted person. The agency would then use its discretion as to whether it is appropriate to contact the adopted person at this time.

Who is a birth relative?

In the Adoption and Children Act 2002, the definition of a birth relative is any person who is related to the adopted person by blood, including half blood or marriage. As already mentioned, you would need to have some proof of your relationship to the adopted person.

Top of page

Receiving a service

How long will I have to wait?

This is an important question to ask the agency where you request an intermediary service. The waiting time cannot be predicted as it will depend on demand and the resources available in the agency you have chosen. From a recent survey we know that the majority of agencies operate a waiting list, although most people do not have to wait longer than three months for the first consultation. However, the agency may need to contact other agencies for information, before the search for the adopted person begins. This means that there will be waiting time during this period. If the agency you first approach has a long waiting list you may wish to find another one that may be able to provide a service sooner.

Will I have to pay?

Adopted people do not have to pay to obtain the information they need to obtain a copy of their birth certificate, however they will have to pay for the birth certificate. Also, adoption agencies or local authorities will not charge the adopted person when providing background information from the adoption record. However if you want the adoption agency to search on your behalf then they may charge for this service. The new legislation allows adoption agencies, local authorities and adoption support agencies to charge fees for some services such as providing intermediary services. Not all agencies will charge so it is important to ask the agency about their charging policies when you first make your enquiry. However, this should not stop you from making your enquiry and taking matters forward as special arrangements may be possible for those on low incomes. You may wish to compare both the charges and the waiting times of several intermediary agencies before you make a decision about which one to apply to for a service.

What if I have a disability? Is additional assistance available?

Yes, all agencies should have an Equal Opportunities Policy and the facilities and resources to provide a service which meets the needs of people with a disability. The term disability" can be interpreted widely to include difficulties with reading, writing, mobility, problems with mental and physical health, welfare and learning difficulties. It is important that you ask about this when you contact the intermediary agency.

What about issues of language and culture?

Agencies should respond appropriately to all users of their services, for example, with regards to the need for translation and interpretation. Again this will be addressed within their Equal Opportunities Policy. If you need access to translation services then let the intermediary agency know who will be able to help you with this.

Will I see qualified and experienced staff?

Yes. The service should be provided by professionally qualified staff with a good knowledge and understanding of adoption, search and reunion. Some agencies use volunteers to provide intermediary services. These people may have personal experience of adoption or a professional qualification, and should have received special training. After the Act is implemented, intermediary services will only be provided by adoption agencies and adoption support agencies that are inspected and registered. There will be National Standards in place about what is expected of a person’s qualification and/or experience, so this means that you should expect to see someone with the appropriate qualification and experience.

Is the service confidential?

The service is confidential but very exceptionally a situation may arise which gives cause for concern about someone’s health and safety. The agency you are in touch with can explain the policy and procedures they have in relation to confidentiality. If you want to keep private the fact that you are receiving a service (for example, you may not want correspondence sent to your home address), discuss this with the agency when you first approach them and ask for the necessary arrangements to be made.

Could I be refused an intermediary service?

Yes. There is no obligation on a registered adoption support agency to provide a service, although it must act in a way that is consistent with its published Statement of Purpose. Under the National Minimum Standards for adoption support agencies local authorities have a duty to assess the need for adoption support services of, among others, adopted adults and their birth parents and former guardians living in the local authority’s area, but there is no obligation to provide a particular service to any individual. Some voluntary agencies may only be able to provide a service if the adoption was arranged through them. However, they will still be able to advise you of where to obtain a service if they are not able to help you themselves. Sometimes an agency that has taken up your application may decide not to continue if they learn that to do so may put the adopted person or their family at risk or if information is discovered that indicates it would be unwise to contact the adopted person.

What can I do if I am refused an intermediary service?

All registered adoption agencies, registered adoption support agencies and all local authorities are required to have a complaints procedure which they make available to users of their services. You could make use of this procedure, and you may be able to complain also to the Commission for Social Care Inspection / National Assembly for Wales, which has regulatory responsibility for inspecting against the National Minimum Standards. In the case of a local authority, you may be able to make an approach to your local councillor and, if you consider the case to have been mismanaged, you may be able to make a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman who investigates allegations of misadministration.

What if I don’t want to be contacted by a birth relative?

There are various things that you can do. You can place a wish for no contact on the Adoption Contact Register which is held by the Registrar General. Link the contact details. You could also write to the adoption agency, if one was involved to let them know this.

A new Adoption and Children Act has also made provision for adopted people to register a Qualified or Absolute Veto.

Top of page

General information and advice

Why go to a registered agency?

It is important to request a service from an agency that you know has been registered and inspected for this purpose. It indicates that the agency meets the Government’s standards and will provide good quality services. Unregistered agencies are not allowed to provide intermediary services after the 29th December 2005. These safeguards have been put in place to ensure that everyone involved in providing intermediary services has a detailed understanding of the competing needs and wishes of persons separated by adoption and knowledge of the unique issues raised by adoption, contact and reunion.

What if I feel I have not had a good service?

All registered agencies are required to have a complaints procedure and to work within carefully prescribed guidelines. Details of how to make a complaint should be made available when you first contact the agency.

What about using a private investigator?

If you decide to explore other routes and use an agency or private investigator for any part of the work that is not registered, then be aware of the cost you may incur, their working practices in respect of confidentiality and the level of their experience of this complex area of work.

What is the Adoption Contact Register?

The Adoption Contact Register came into existence in 1991 and is located at the General Registrar’s Office. The Register was introduced to help adopted people and their birth relatives let each other know of their interest to have contact. However since the new legislation came into force it is also now possible for birth relatives to place a wish for no contact. In the past the Adoption Contact Register was not widely known about so this has meant that the number of adopted people and their birth relatives who have been linked up with each other has been small.

Are there any other Contact Registers?

Yes, there are also contact registers in existence in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The addresses and contact details for these registers are listed in the Support and Help section of the website.

Until January 2013 NORCAP operated a non-statutory contact register, which held over 58,000 entries relating to adopted people and members of their birth families. However, NORCAP has now closed and their register is no longer active but is being held by BAAF until decisions about its future management can be made.

Is it a good idea to try and get in contact?

In every situation there can be benefits and drawbacks, and it is important that you have had the opportunity to consider these with an experienced worker. Things that adopted people have said that it is important to consider include:

  • how your enquiries will affect other people in your family and the family of the adopted person;
  • the expectations you have about contact;
  • what your hopes and fears are for the future;
  • what if it all goes wrong?
  • what if the person doesn’t want to know you?
  • what if the birth relative I contact does not know I am adopted
  • what do they know about you?

How do reunions and contact work out?

There is no way of knowing about the outcome of all reunions, but we do have information from various research studies. A consistent theme is that people do not regret taking their enquiries forward even if things do not work out exactly as they had hoped. The majority of adopted people report how contact and reunion have helped them to answer important questions about their background and to have a greater sense of identity. Many continue to develop strong friendships whilst others fade as time goes by. No two reunions are alike. People experience a range of emotions and face different issues along the way. It is therefore worth bearing in mind that you or other people affected by reunion may benefit from ongoing support from the agency, or from others who have had this experience.

Top of page

Information for adopted people who do not wish to be contacted

To find out what you can do if you are an adopted person who does not wish to be contacted, please visit see the section called Wish for no contact.

    Top of page

    Copyright BAAF and its suppliers © 1999 - 2014.
    British Association for Adoption and Fostering is a registered charity no. 275689 (England and Wales) and SC039337 (Scotland)
    Registered as a company limited by guarantee in England and Wales no. 01379092. VAT no. 235 3764 58
    Registered office at Saffron House, 6-10 Kirby Street, London EC1N 8TS (map)
    Tel 020 7421 2600 | email