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


Memorandum submitted by Robin Harritt

  What follows is based on correspondence with my constituency MP and has been little changed from that, I apologise that it is not formatted in as clear a way as it might have been given greater time to prepare.

  I am an adopted person aged 47 years, who has traced and met with the five surviving out of six of my natural mother's other children that were adopted between 1946 and 1967. I have to say that they were all very pleased to meet with me, and we maintain a cordial relationship with each other and a further three later siblings who were brought up by my natural mother.

  I am also a Contact Leader for NORCAP (the National Organisation for Counselling Adoptees and Parents), a national charity that helps and represents the interests of adult adoptees and both birth and adoptive parents.

  Before I was adopted I spent just over 13 months in a Barnardo's home and then placed for a further year as a foster child with the family who adopted me in 1956. Barnardo's I have no doubt do a great deal of good work for the children of today, however it is an organisation that jealously guards its records of the past. Like all of the child care organisations it will have been told by its legal liability insurers not to divulge information that could lay it open to legal action even when such information may be of great importance to the inquirer.

  I have been trying to obtain full access to my records at Barnardo's for the last 10 years, and have been in legal contention with them for the last three. I am currently at the stage of consulting Alan Levy QC with regard to bringing an action against Barnardo's under the Human Rights Act. Mr Levy has made the comment that Barnardo's action has been "like a particularly bad episode of Yes Minister".

  If I am reading Clauses 49 of the Adoption and Children Bill correctly, then things will be made much more difficult for me and others in my position, my reasoning being as follows:

  The main points with regard to Clause 47-49 are that adopted people need to know as much as possible about their family of origin and the reason for their adoption. This is important for future adoptees in forming their own identity and to existing adoptees in re-establishing contact with their birth family as many now wish to do.

  Clause 47, translated in to plain language, says that there are to be new regulations that say what the adoption agency must tell the adoptive parents and what they are not allowed to tell them. We do not yet know what these regulations will say as they will set out later in a "Statutory Instrument" ie regulations that will be written by civil servants and signed by the Secretary of State for Health, without any further debate.

  Clause 48 says much the same thing with regard to adoptees over 18 years old and the information that they are to be allowed to have from files held by the adoption agency and the court that heard the adoption. Again we do not yet know what that is to be, as the regulations will be set out later as "prescribed" by the Secretary of State.

  There has been a good deal of discussion and consultation over the last year and if the regulations referred to in Clauses 47 and 48 adhere to what was said in those deliberations then they will be a big step forward both for future and past adoptees.

  However Clause 49 subsection (1) says: "Neither an adoption agency nor a court is to give any information by virtue of Section 47 or 48 without the agreement of any person (other than the adopted person) who can be identified from that information." That means that it would appear that the "Regulations" mentioned in the previous two Clauses 47 and 48, will not be able to make it possible for an adopted person to have any information about any member of his/her birth family unless that person can be found and their consent sought. In many cases that will be practically impossible. What if the birth mother has died?" If this Clause were interpreted literally then an adoptee would be allowed his birth mother's name and no more than that about her unless she first gives consent. An adoptee would not be allowed to have any information that is on his/her file about the natural father or any brothers or sisters unless these people's consent has first been obtained.

  My experience has been that adoption agencies, particularly Barnardo's, take fostering and care records and put them inside the adoption file when an adoption has taken place thus in their view subjecting them to the same regulations as the adoption file. I am dubious about the legality of this practice and feel that future legislation should make clear what should be done in this situation with regard to access to records of those who were in care and later adopted, in the past. I have a brother who was adopted at the age of 17 after being in care with Southend-on-Sea BC, and badly abused, he was told that after he was adopted he would have no right to access to information in his "care" file.

  I wonder if both this practice and the proposed new legislation do not both contravene the Human Rights Act, and would myself be prepared to make a challenge should the Bill get through unamended.

  Clause 49 subsection (2) "Regulations may provide for an adoption agency not to give any information by virtue of Section 47 without the agreement of the adopted person or, in prescribed circumstances, agreement given on his behalf." This Clause may seem on the face of it quite reasonable, why should young people of say 14 or 15 years age who has just been adopted not have a sanction over what aspects of his past can be told to his adoptive family. However it also appears to contradict Clause 47 subsections (3) and (4). That outlines my concerns about Clauses 47-49.

  The following quote from a letter that Mr Hutton sends to birth relatives who have questioned him on the Bills provisions for access to records of adult adopted relatives, does I think show how poorly understood the plight of birth relatives is.

  The lady that received this letter and passed it to me is seeking to establish whether her 24-year-old son would welcome contact.

    "The Draft National Adoption Standards make clear that the child's safety, welfare and wishes are the most important concern when deciding about contact. No child should be put at risk or made to see people they do not want to see. Of course, in some cases it may be in the child's best interest to maintain contact with their birth family. Where it isn't, birth families should be able to give the agency up-to-date information about themselves and their situation so that this can be passed on to the child when he or she wishes to have it. Birth parents can, of course, use the contact register to try and contact their children, if their children wish to contact them. Furthermore, the Draft National Standards require that birth family's views about adoption and contact will be recorded to enable these to be made available to the child at an appropriate age."

  One wonders if Mr Hutton and the DoH are aware that the majority of people adopted since 1927 in England and Wales are adults such as myself and in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s or even older, not children. They should be able to make clear their own wishes about contact with birth relatives. Any new Adoption Act needs to make better provision for them to do so. The Adoption Contact Register run by the Registrar General, is of very little use for this purpose, as the majority of people who might wish to use it will be unaware of its existence, as it has never been properly publicised. As it operates at the moment the Adoption Contact Register is for most who do use it just an expensive waste of money as the person that they seek is unlikely to have registered unless they are actively searching and have therefore been told about the Register by Social Services.

April 2001

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