Select Committee on Select Committee on the Adoption and Children Bill Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Natural Parents Network (NPN)

  Natural Parents Network (NPN) waited in cautious anticipation for the publication of the Adoption and Children Bill. The White Paper, Adoption: A New Approach, had afforded us hope that some of the keypoints we had highlighted in the very full response we submitted, on behalf of the NPN and birth relatives, had been acknowledged.

Issues Relevant to Birth Relatives

  The White Paper indicated that the wording of the adoption consent form would be changed to better reflect the birthparents' feelings. Many birthparents, although able to recognise their own inability to parent their children, found it impossible to sign a form which stated their agreement was given "freely and unconditionally". They were anxious that this might convey to their children, even in later years, that their parents did not love or want them. Therefore a consent form which would recognise "the extreme regret" of the birthparents at the necessity for their children to be adopted, could be more acceptable for them to sign. This could reduce the likelihood of delay in the adoption order being made; it could assist the children to settle into their new adoptive homes, perhaps feeling that their parents had given them permission to move into this new life, whilst not "giving up on them". Adoptive parents could perhaps feel more confident about sharing information with the birthparents, knowing they had consented to them adopting "their" children.

  NPN was intensely disappointed to note that Clause 44, dealing with the parental consent, made no reference to the anticipated changing of the wording on the consent form.

  NPN would like to see additional to Clause 44(1), clarification of the situation, (a) when a birthparent changes their mind about adoption for their child, and requests the return of the child from the prospective adopters, if the child is less than six weeks old, and (b) when a birthparent who has reconsidered their decision for their child to be adopted, will have to gain permission from the court to apply for the return of their child prior to the adoption order being made.

  There was no provision made for older people whose lives have been affected by adoption. There are thousands of women living a life sentence, for most of them, their crime was to have a child without the protection of a marriage certificate. If their family did not support them, they had little alternative but to have their child adopted. Indeed many were subject to intense emotional blackmail, being told they were selfish if they tried to keep their child. They were told a child needed two parents, and a stable home, as well as love. There was no shortage of couples willing to adopt, who could not have their own child biologically. Birthmothers were told these couples would give their baby "everything he or she deserves in life". "If you love your baby, you will give him/her this best chance of a good start in life". We were told we would forget this had ever happened, and this was a chance for us to pick up our lives, and not bring more disgrace on our families.

  To live for decades without knowing if your son or daughter lived or died, perhaps without ever being able to share this secret with anyone, is indescribably cruel. Some women told husbands, some have managed to confide in subsequent children. This all means that there are many thousands of birth relatives living without contact with their family members. Not all relatives separated by adoption do want to meet, some would like information before they make a decision. The important issue is that all those who want to have contact with their relatives, should have the opportunity. The minority who have made the decision that they do not wish any contact will have the right for that to be respected.

  The Prime Minister advocated in the Adoption Review that all children should have the right to grow up within their family of birth wherever possible. Adoption in the past did not recognise this as a basic right, adoption was principally viewed as the "ideal" way to deal with stigma; children would be spared the label of being illegitimate; couples without children would be spared the label of childlessness; the mother having a child outside of marriage was able to avoid "scandal and shame". Is it unreasonable then to request that the Government take the necessary steps to allow those separated by adoption, the chance to be reunited with birth relatives? Time cannot be turned back, a childhood cannot be returned to a child separated from his parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents etc. Birthparents cannot be given back "their child" to bring up, but after all these years, to be able to re-establish contact for these families, is as near as we can get to "having the right to know your family of birth".

  Adoption is for life, many people separated by adoption describe it as a life sentence, for many it is without remission. NPN fervently hopes the Government will pay attention and urgently make provision which will allow these birth relatives and adopted people to find out about each other, before it is too late if they wish to do so.

  Adoptions in the past, which were privately arranged, often by doctors, clergymen etc., meant there was no adoption agency involvement. As a result birthparents and perhaps other siblings have nowhere to approach to request information or intermediary services.

  In August 2000, the Department of Health published their practice guidelines "Intermediary Services for Birth Relatives" and NPN had hoped to see in this Bill the provision for these services to become statutory within post adoption services.

  We are, however, pleased to note clarification of the duty of local authorities to provide services for birth parents and relatives. NPN feels it would have been preferable for a more detailed description of the services envisaged for birth families, both pre- and post adoption, to have been included.

  Clause 4, dealing with adoption support services, states "The local authority may also carry out an assessment of the needs of any other person for adoption support services". This does not make mention of birth families, who may need support in carrying out their responsibilities to ensure everything possible is done to meet the child's needs. However, under Maintenance of Adoption Services, Clause 3(3) enables a local authority to extend adoption support services to other people, eg siblings and extended family members.

  It would appear to NPN that more detailed information to clarify which services will be available for birth relatives is necessary, and urgently so.

  NPN is delighted to note that Clause 91 of the Bill provides for unmarried fathers, who will be able to obtain parental responsibility by signing the birth registration form. (Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953) by amending Section 4 of the 1989 Children Act. Parental responsibility granted to an unmarried father under these provisions may only be terminated by order of a court.

  Similar provision is made under Clause 92, for a step-parent to acquire parental responsibility for a child of his/her husband/wife. "This measure is intended to provide an alternative to adoption where a step-parent wishes to acquire parental responsibility for his or her stepchild. It has the advantage of not removing parental responsibility from the other birthparent." "NPN endorses this provision, we are aware of the distress that can be brought upon a birthparent when he/she loses their child/ren to adoption in this manner".

  We are pleased to note the abolition of Freeing Orders, which could potentially leave a child without legal parents. This was wholly unsatisfactory, and caused further distress to birthparents whose children had been freed for adoption, but were awaiting placement with a new family. NPN feels this would have been contravening the Human Rights Act (Art 8).

  The Bill establishes two routes for placing a child for adoption through an adoption agency. Either the birthparents give consent to placement or the agency can secure a Placement Order from the court, authorising it to place a child with adopters they have selected. The Placement Order would not prevent a birthparent from contesting the adoption, but leave of the court would be required. NPN notes these provisions are extremely complex and full consultation exercises are necessary to clarify the process.

  NPN was very interested to learn of the Special Guardianship order in the White Paper, and provisions detailed in the Adoption and Children Bill. We again note, further discussions need to take place, especially around the financial supports which it is envisaged the Government will prescribe. The Special Guardianship Order, under the 1989 Children Act, is introduced to provide on a permanent placement for children, but as an alternative to adoption. A basic link will be retained with birthparents, although it is intended that the special guardian will have clear responsibility for all day to day decisions about caring for the child, and his upbringing. The birthparents remain the child's legal parents, but their ability to exercise their parental responsibility is limited. Unlike adoption orders, the special guardianship order can be varied or discharged. The child can only be known by a different surname with the consent of all those with parental responsibility or with court permission. It was envisaged that the special guardianship might be appropriate for older children and young people who need a permanent placement, but who do not wish to lose ties with their birth family. NPN feels this new order may have more "appeal" to birth families, in that it does not mean the "legal loss of birth family status," and the court may make provision for contact with birth relatives and significant others, as appropriate.

Issues Relevant to Adopted Children and Adults

  NPN was happy to see that the "child's welfare throughout his life must be the paramount consideration for the court or adoption agency," set out in Clause 1 of the Adoption and Children Bill.

  We were pleased to note in Clause 5, the provision for the child's religious background, racial origins, cultural and linguistic background to be considered when looking to place a child with an adoptive family.

  Clause 4 refers to the provision that local authorities must carry out assessments to ascertain the needs of children who have been adopted after this clause comes into force. This is to assist the child placed for adoption to settle into the new family, and to provide adoption support services to help the prospective adopters facilitate this.

  As mentioned previously, NPN is pleased that Clause 3(3) enables local authorities to extend comprehensive adoption services to adopted persons, not just adopted children, and others included in the family of adoption, eg former guardians of children who have been adopted.

  We support also the situation of abandoned babies or foundlings, who have no birth records and are denied service by the Adoption Register. These are a most marginalized group of adopted adults and NPN would urge the Government to assist them in any way possible to gain knowledge about their familial background.

  In our response to the White Paper, NPN expressed concern that care must be taken in deciding "to whom information belongs" before it is given to adopted persons accessing their birth records. We were encouraged to note that Clause 47 states that the Regulations will enable agencies, in cases where specially sensitive information is deemed inappropriate to share with adopters, to withhold this.

  Names, ages, occupations and pertinent medical background of close birth family members is information adopted adults need, to build up their knowledge of their roots and family heritage, together with relevant details about the reasons for their adoption. NPN recognises that many adopted children will learn much about their earlier lives, ie when they lived with their birth families, from their adoptive parents. Therefore adopters do need accurate and detailed information in order to be able to impart this to their children at appropriate stages. The adopted child then grows up with "open acknowledgement" that their adoptive parents are comfortable to discuss with them "what happened, so it became necessary that I was adopted".

  The draft Adoption Standards set out birth families' rights to record their version of circumstances pertaining to the adoption of their children. The child will then be able to find out this information when they wish to do so, and it must surely be preferable, and in the child's best interests for the future, that the information that adopters have imparted to the adopted child over the years, is recognisable to that which birthparents record as "their version".

  We feel it is correct that the adopted person is given the full details of his background and adoption, including sensitive parts which may have been withheld. This may help him/her gain a better understanding of the circumstances which lead to their adoption. However, although NPN supports this as set out in Clause 48, we would like to add the stronger recommendation that "counselling is always available and advised, when restricted information has been shared, which could have an acute affect on the adoptee."

  We would like more indication on what the Government will legislate should be set out in agency files, to which an adopted person will have access, and the circumstances in which they may have access to that file and to information from their court files. (As set out in White Paper response 6.45)

  We also reiterate the support we gave in our White Paper response, to the PIU recommendation that approved organisations will be able to undertake birth records counselling for adoptees, as well as voluntary adoption agencies. We see this as a way to ensure a consistently high standard of service, with counsellors who have expertise in adoption and the emotional and practical issues which accompany it.

  NPN was concerned, and unclear on the meaning at Clause 23(1), where it is stated that "On an adoption agency being authorised to place a child for adoption, any provision for contact under the 1989 Act ceases to have effect." It appears to be saying that any contact arrangements already in place, will cease to be adhered to. That surely could not happen in 2001.

  NPN does not have professional expertise in these matters, and would welcome clarification.

Issues Relevant to Prospective/Adoptive Parents

  NPN supports the Bill in the introduction of the independent review mechanism for prospective adopters whose application has been rejected.

  The statutory National Adoption Register for matching prospective adopters and adoptees. NPN would subscribe to the practice of looking for a suitable adoptive placement within the local area, first of all, except where this would be inappropriate. This consideration should be given wherever possible as it would allow a child to keep in touch with friends, family, school, familiar surroundings, and assist the adoptive parents to facilitate this. (NPN notes there will be cases where this would be wholly inappropriate, but in retaining some familiar environment for a child or young person, when other major changes in their life are unavoidable, can help them to adjust more easily.)

  Adoptive parents and prospective adopters need and deserve all the facilities available to enable them to parent as successfully as possible, the young people and children they adopt. The service must be easily accessible, appropriate, without time limit and user friendly.

  Adopters should feel confident to request any help or assessment, and know it is their right to do so. Adoption Support Services must continue to be looked at, extended realistically, with sufficient resources available (for everyone, to promote the image of the "adoption family" where everyone's needs are respected and responded to).

  Contact issues are very important, and prospective/adoptive parents need sensitive support to facilitate this, so it is not perceived as unimportant or undesirable, especially if difficulties arise. Counselling and practical advice must be utilised to overcome any problems. Total commitment to making contact work is a necessity.

Other Points NPN Wishes to Comment On

  We are happy to recognise that the Adoption and Children Bill incorporates the Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act 1999 with legislation on domestic adoption to create a single consolidated legal framework on adoption.

  NPN understands that Clause 70 of this Bill re-enacts Section 56A of the 1976 Act. We feel the media spectacle of the twin girls brought over to this country from USA by a British couple purporting to have been/be intending to adopt them, having previously purchased them via the Internet is abhorrent to NPN as an organisation which supports birth families, and others connected by adoption. We wish to put forward our hopes that the Government will expedite whatever moves are necessary to make this kind of action illegal and impossible in the future, including the earliest commencement of section 14.

  Our concerns are for the future of those baby twin girls, and the birth children of the "adoptive parents".

  With reference to the points concerning information which the adopted person wishes to access, as part of his birth records, NPN recognises the fact that an adult who has been separated from his birth family by adoption in childhood, has the need and right to expect honest information about their original family. We do also recognise the apprehension of some birth relatives that information, (some "hearsay"), may have been recorded in adoption files, in a judgemental manner, as was frequently the case years ago. Confidential details of great personal concern to other members of the family, which had no bearing on the adoption, should not be disclosed without very careful consultation, preferably with the persons concerned. To meet everyone's needs in such a situation is difficult to manage, and NPN would suggest that a code of practice to deal with this is formulated.

NPN's concluding points on the Adoption and Children Bill

  NPN looked to the new Adoption and Children Bill as the means to improve adoption practice. Overall we must register our disappointment that key points we felt were acknowledged in the White Paper have been disregarded. This was an ideal opportunity for the Government to address many of the injustices of past adoption practices, to meet the needs of older adults who have been affected throughout their lives by their adoption experiences.

  We are pleased that adoption has now changed to encapsulate the needs of children who have been adopted in the recent past, who are currently in the process of being adopted, and those who will be adopted in the future. It is right that their lifelong needs and welfare are of paramount consideration in decisions relating to adoption, and other permanent placements.

  As an organisation whose members are largely the "relinquishing birthparents" (mothers and fathers), and other birth relatives, we are aware that our concerns fall outside the Government's, and Tony Blair's immediate focus of attention. However, we are aware of the increasing number of contesting birthparents who contact us for support, and indeed join NPN. Therefore we feel we can honestly state that we do have an actively invested interest in the changing face of adoption. Many of us sit on adoption panels, and are frequently invited to participate in training for prospective adopters, social workers and others who work within adoption.

  We hope that over the years, the professionals have learned from our sharing our very deep, personal memories about the time we had to hand over our much loved babies to strangers, in the belief that we were doing the best we could, out of love for our child.

  Many of us have also given of our time, to share our emotions about being traced by our now adult sons and daughters. We have described the joys and hurts that reunion can bring. This is all in hope that future generations of birthparents will not be subjected to the experiences we have lived through.

  Adoption is for life, as we know, but many other members of families are affected by the decisions made to transfer the parental rights from the birthparents to the adoptive parents. Everyone loses something, although the process brings positive gains for some parties.

  NPN hopes this response to the Adoption and Children Bill will assist the Government to "get it right". This is the main reform of adoption in over 25 years, it is important it is right.

  NPN would like to promote the idea of the "FAMILY OF ADOPTION", where it is accepted that all adopted children (and adults) have two sets of parents within the family. One set of parents and relatives were needed for the child to be born; they are the providers of the family heritage. The other set of parents is the one who provides the day-to-day parenting, the relatives who contribute to the child's experience of growing up, of family values and beliefs. The families combined, provide a background and a framework for the child's future maturity in life.

  NPN is the Natural Parents Network a self-help organisation, formed in 1987 which offers non-judgemental, confidential and independent support to birth/natural parents and their relatives who have lost children to adoption. We are a registered charity managed by a committee of natural parents acting as trustees on a voluntary basis.

April 2001

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