The Adoption and Children Act 2002 representsed the most radical overhaul of adoption law for 26 years, replacing the outdated Adoption Act 1976 and modernising the entire legal framework for domestic and intercountry adoption.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 brought in many changes that were intended to help improve adoption services for children and their families by birth and adoption. For the first time, the legislation recognised the needs of birth relatives who want the opportunity to let their adult adopted relative know of their interest for contact.
Under Section 98 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (England and Wales), birth relatives of an adopted adults, and adopted people themselves, have the legal right to ask a local authority, voluntary adoption agency or adoption support agency that has registered as an intermediary agency to provide them with intermediary services so that their adopted relatives or birth relatives know of their wish for communication and contact. Agencies that provide intermediary services must give priority to those adoptions that took place on or before the 12th November 1975.
This new law came into effect on 30 December 2005. There is no statutory requirement for adoption agencies to provide an intermediary service but there is a requirement on those who hold adoption records to provide information to intermediary agencies. If the adoption agency you approach cannot provide you with a service, it will point you to an agency that can.
Why has the law changed?
In recent years there has been a growing number of birth relatives, mainly birth mothers, who have expressed a desire to have some information about the child they placed for adoption. Some birth mothers whose children were adopted many years ago felt they had no choice – at the time their child was born it was socially unacceptable to have a child born out of wedlock.
Although some adoption agencies have provided intermediary services for birth relatives for many years, the availability and the extent of the services offered has remained something of a post code lottery. There has also been inconsistent practice and no national regulated standards and safeguards. The changes to the law have therefore been welcomed by many of those affected by adoption, and adoption specialists, as it means that all people will be able to access a service, regardless of where they live.
Have the rights of adopted people changed?
No. Adopted people can still apply to the Registrar General for the information that enables them to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate and other information to find out which agency (if not a private adoption) was involved in their adoption. They can apply for this under Schedule 2 of the Adoption and Children Act, which has replaced section 51, Adoption Act 1976.