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Information for adoptive parents

This section answers some of the most commonly asked questions by adoptive parents and families about intermediary services available to birth relatives who want find out information and/or make approaches to adopted adults who were adopted before 30th December 2005.BR>


Under section 98 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, which came into force on 30 December 2005, adult birth relatives have a right to request an intermediary service to find out information and/or make approaches to adopted adults who were adopted before 30 December 2005, for the purposes of seeking information about them and/or future contact or reunion. The Act only applies in relation to England and Wales.

The new legal provisions have been introduced largely in recognition of the needs of birth families who had their children placed for adoption, sometimes against their wishes, in the early 1970s and earlier decades. Up until the 1970s, the approach taken towards adoption was very different from the approach taken today. Then, there were many more adoptions in the UK that were the result of children being “relinquished” by their parents, often unmarried mothers, mainly because societal attitudes did not approve of illegitimate children or single parenthood. Consequently, many pregnant women were sent to “mother and baby” homes for the birth of their children, who were then placed for adoption, with little or no involvement on the part of the mother. In some cases, mothers were threatened with incarceration in institutions for the mentally disordered if they did not agree to the adoption of their children.

For many birth families, the new provisions will be an opportunity for parents and relatives to find out what has happened to their children who were placed for adoption many years ago. Although the law has never outlawed the possibility of approaches from birth relatives, it has not been common practice, despite the fact that some adoption agencies and voluntary organisations have operated intermediary services in the past. The new law provides a clear and consistent legal framework for the operation of intermediary services in the future, including safeguards for both birth and adoptive families.

However, for many adoptive parents and adopted person/adult the introduction of a right to request an intermediary service may be a source of concern, particularly where adopters have adopted children in more recent times from the care system as a result of the neglect or abuse they were experiencing within the birth family.

The list of questions and answers that follows attempts to provide an introduction to the most common issues that will be raised within adoptive families.

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General information

What are intermediary services?
Intermediary services are the services provided by an independent person or third party (known as an “intermediary”) working on behalf of a registered intermediary agency. The intermediary will carry out research into the identity and whereabouts of either adoptive or birth family members, before then approaching the relevant person to see if they would be interested in the exchange of information and/or future contact and reunion.

Who can provide intermediary services?

Intermediary services can be provided only by registered adoption agencies (either local authority or voluntary) or registered adoption support agencies (a new type of independent support agency created by the 2002 Act). The terms of individual agencies’ registration must explicitly state that they are authorised to provide intermediary services.

Who can apply for an intermediary service?

In relation to adoptions where the order was granted before 30 December 2005, adopted adults (ie, over the age of 18) and adult birth relatives can request an intermediary service. “Relative” is defined as “a grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt, whether of the full blood or half-blood or by marriage”.

Do intermediary agencies have to prioritise any applications?

In England, where intermediary agencies have limited capacity to deal with applications, they must give priority to applications in respect of adoptions made before 12 November 1975. However, in Wales, the priority is not condidtional upon capacity and agencies simply must prioritise applications before that date.

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What information does an intermediary agency have to collect before approaching an adopted adult?

The intermediary agency will need to confirm that both the birth relative and adopted adult are aged 18 years or over, otherwise it will not be able to proceed with the application. The intermediary agency will have to obtain information about the adoption and the identity and whereabouts of the adopted adult from a range of sources, incuding the adoption agency that arranged the adoption or who now holds the records, the Registrar General and the courts. This information should include the circumstances leading to the adoption, what has happened since and any views expressed by the adopted adult, adoptive parents or other interested parties, and recorded with the appropriate adoption agency or with the Registrar General on the Adoption Contact Register.

Where the intermediary agency is a registered adoption support agency, it will have to request information from the appropriate adoption agency and seek its views on the request for an intermediary service. Where the intermediary agency is also the appropriate adoption agency, it will need to access its own records.

How will an intermediary decide whether or not to accept a request from a birth relative for an intermediary service?

In dealing with any application, the intermediary agency must be satisfied that both the birth relative and the adopted person/adult are aged 18 years or over. In addition, the intermediary agency has a general discretion not to proceed with any request, “where it would not be appropriate to do so”. In coming to this decision, the agency must have regard to the following factors:

  • The welfare of the applicant (ie, the birth relative), the subject (ie, the adopted adult) and any other persons who may be identified or otherwise affected by the application (in most cases this would include the adoptive parents and the adopted person’s siblings and may include wider family).
  • Any views of the appropriate adoption agency (ie, the one that arranged the adoption or the one that now holds the adoption records).
  • Any information obtained from the Adoption Contact Register.
  • All the other circumstances of the case.

In particular, the agency must have regard to the welfare of any person who is under the age of 18 who may be identified or otherwise affected by the application.

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Views of adoptive parents

Does the adoption agency have to seek the views of adoptive parents?
Whether the adoption agency is approached by an adoption support agency or is handling the application itself, it does not routinely have to seek the views of adoptive parents, but it will need to exercise its discretion as to whether it is appropriate to do so, having regard to the particular circumstances of the case. In simple terms, the adoption agency will need to look at the circumstances of the adoption and what has happened since in deciding whether or not to consult with the adoptive parents. Where the adoption is a complex one, eg, involving past abuse or neglect, or where the agency is aware of significant difficulties during the adoption, eg, the provision of therapeutic services, it would be good practice for the agency to seek the views of the adoptive parents.

How can adoptive parents make their views known?

Adoptive parents can write to their appropriate adoption agency stating whether an approach from a birth relative might be well received or if they have any concerns about a future approach. Adopters should clearly express their views on the likely impact an approach might have on the adopted adult, indicating any relevant factors, such as emotional, behavioural or mental health issues experienced by the adopted adult during childhood and into adulthood, the circumstances of the adoption (eg, whether abuse or neglect was involved) and any information that has come to light since about the adoption that may not be known to the agency.

Adopters should also provide the agency with information on any siblings or half-siblings, whether born to the adopters or adopted and the likely impact an approach would have on them. This is particularly important where the siblings or half-siblings are younger than the relevant adopted adult and may be under the age of 18 at the time of any future approach.

Adopters should be aware that they will only be stating their views on the likely impact of any approach from a birth relative. Ultimately, the decision has to be one for the adopted adult, whether or not the adoptive parents agree with it. This may be a source of tension within the adoptive family, but the adoptive parents need to remain as objective as possible in stating their views, as they will have important information in respect of any application. Adopters can also play a crucial role in supporting adult adopted children in understanding what is involved and reaching a decision that is right for them.

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Adopters may also want to express views on the likely impact of approaches from different birth relatives. The immediate reaction may be to think that approaches from the birth family are always going to be from the birth parents. However, this may well not be so, and it is important for adopted persons/adults and adopters to consider possible approaches from siblings, half-siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.

What about expressing views in relation to adopted children under the age of 18?

Adoptive parents can write to their appropriate adoption agency to express their views on their adopted children under the age of 18, but once the child has reached the age of 18, these views will not carry any significant weight as far as the agency’s decision is concerned. Adoptive parents will need to resubmit written views once any of their children reaches the age of 18.

What weight will be attached to the adoptive parents’ views?

Statutory guidance on intermediary services states that: “The views of adoptive parents will not on their own be decisive but one of a range of factors to which the agency must have regard in deciding whether to proceed, or continue proceeding, with the application.”

What can adopted adults do?

Upon reaching the age of 18, adopted adults can register their views on any approach from the birth family with either or both the Adoption Contact Register and the appropriate adoption agency. When registered with the adoption agency, these views can constitute a qualified or absolute veto (see further information below and in the Adopted people section).

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What is the Adoption Contact Register?

The Adoption Contact Register is a central government information resource operated by the Registrar General. Before 30 December 2005, it held contact details of adopted adults and birth relatives who wanted to be put in contact with each other. If a match was made by the Register, then the adopted adult would be informed of the birth relative’s contact details.

Since 30 December 2005, the Register’s role has been expanded. Adopted adults can now specify those birth relatives with whom they do or do not wish to have contact.

For further information on recording a wish for contact or no contact, adopted persons/adults should contact the Registrar General directly. Note that a small fee will be payable.

What weight does an entry on the Adoption Contact Register have?

In dealing with any application for an intermediary service, the intermediary agency must have regard to the information on the Register in deciding whether to proceed, or continue proceeding. The information on the Register does not constitute an absolute veto in the sense that any application must be stopped immediately. It will be perfectly possible for intermediary agencies to discover a wish for no contact on the Register, but for them to proceed with the application. This may be the case where the birth relative has important information to pass on, eg, about a hereditary or genetic medical condition, or where the birth relative is terminally ill.

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Adopted adults who do not want to be contacted by their birth relatives

Can the adopted adult register a veto?
Adopted adults can formally register a qualified or absolute veto with the appropriate adoption agency. In registering a formal veto, the adoption agency must verify that the person seeking to register the veto is the adopted person. Secondly, it must ensure that any veto is an “informed veto”, so that the adopted person fully understands the implications, particularly where an absolute veto is being registered.

The adoption agency must keep a written record of any veto on the adopted person’s case record. When contacted by an intermediary agency for views on an application, it must notify the intermediary agency of the terms and content of the veto.

What weight does a veto have?

An absolute veto will prevent an intermediary agency from making an approach in any circumstances, while a qualified veto will enable an agency to make an approach on behalf of a birth relative specified by the adopted adult or in circumstances specified by the adopted adult (eg, where there is information about a hereditary medical condition).

Although an absolute veto will generally prevent an intermediary agency from making an approach, there may be exceptional circumstances where the appropriate adoption agency considers it appropriate to pass on certain information, despite the veto. Such an exceptional case might be where the birth relative has information about a possible hereditary medical condition.

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How long does the veto last?

Once the veto is registered, the adopted person has the right to amend or withdraw the veto at any time. Although the veto is not technically a life-long veto, it will remain in place until such time as it is amended or retracted by the adopted person.

What happens if an intermediary agency decides to go ahead with a request for an intermediary service?

If, having taken into account the various considerations referred to above, the intermediary agency decides to approach the adopted adult, this will be done by the independent intermediary and not the birth relative. Intermediary agencies are prohibited from disclosing identifying information to birth relatives about adopted adults without having first obtained the adopted person/adult’s consent.

This is an important safeguard for adopted adults. In practice, it means that the adopted adult has the right to decide whether to encourage or reject an approach from a birth relative via an intermediary. It will be up to the adopted adult to decide what, if any, identifying information should be released to the birth relative.

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What is identifying information?

Identifying information means “information which, whether taken on its own or together with other information possessed by the applicant, enables the subject to be identified or traced”.

What if the adopted adult consents to the disclosure of information?

The intermediary will then act as a link between the adopted person/adult and the birth relative in the exchange of any agreed information. This may then lead to further contact and reunion, depending upon the wishes of both parties.

What if the adopted adult does not consent to the disclosure of information?

If the adopted person/adult does not consent, then the matter will end there, although the adopted person/adult may choose to consent at a later stage. However, the intermediary agency has a discretion to disclose background information to the birth relative if it considers it appropriate to do so. This could include a wide range of information, such as the adopted person/adult’s family or domestic circumstances, their general health or well-being or other information which may be of value to the birth relative, but will not lead to the adopted person/adult being traced.

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What if consent cannot be given for any reason?

Sometimes consent cannot be given, for example, where the adopted person/adult has died or where the adopted adult is incapable of giving consent (eg, due to a learning disability or mental health disorder). Where the adopted person/adult has died, the agency has the discretion to disclose identifying information, having first had regard to the welfare of any other person who may be identified or affected by the disclosure of the information. Although each case will be different, the agency should as a minimum take steps to seek the views of the adopted person/adult’s next of kin before deciding whether it is appropriate to disclose the information.

Where the adopted person/adult is incapable of giving informed consent, then again, the agency must have regard to the welfare of others and may also need to seek the views of others who will be affected by the decision to disclose identifying information.

Many thanks to Adoption UK who provided the information on this page.

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