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