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Berkshire Family Historian
Main Page, December 2003 Contents

Berkshire Family Historian
December 2003

Adopted? How to find out more about your history
by Alyson Vincent

Adoption as a legal process began in England and Wales on 1 January 1927. Anyone ‘adopted’ before that date was really fostered, and what follows does not apply to them. Tracing the birth parents of a fostered child, especially if there was a change of surname, is a time consuming, difficult and specialist exercise.

The 1976 Adoption Act gave adopted adults in England and Wales a right to access their adoption records. This article explains the process for those adopted before the 12 November 1975. Those adopted after this date should seek advice from their local Social Services adoption team.

Following the making of an adoption order all adopted children are given a new birth certificate in their adopted name. It is therefore possible that you may not know your original birth name or indeed the name of your birth parents. However, the General Register Office in Southport holds full records. They will be able to connect the information, which will help you to obtain a copy of your original birth certificate. If you want to gain access to your records so that you can find out more about your history they should be your first point of contact.

When contacting them, you should ask for an application form and the leaflet ‘Access to Birth records: Information for Adopted People Living in the UK’ (ACR 100). The form will ask where you would like to receive counselling. Counselling is a compulsory part of the process if you were adopted before November 1975. Most people opt to go to their local Social Services office. The GRO will send details to the place where you have asked to be seen and will tell you to contact them to make an appointment. This process can take some time so do not expect to be seeing someone the week after sending off the application form.

All Social Services departments have workers who specialise in adoption and it is one of these people that you will eventually see. They will help you consider how you will deal with the information, how birth family members may feel if you decide to trace them and the impact that such action may have on you and your family.

Before 1975 most birth mothers were told that their children would never be able to trace them. Some kept the adoption secret and may not have even told their new partner or other family members. This does not mean they forgot, far from it, but it was a part of their past that they kept to themselves. Anyone who wishes to trace birth family members must understand how potentially devastating this could be and any approach must be made in a sensitive way. Many birth mothers are thrilled to be traced, but some are not. The worker who offers the counselling may also be able to offer a mediation service if you do manage to trace anyone. They will not usually be able to undertake the tracing, as it can be very time consuming. However, there are organisations that will help with this for a fee. One such reputable organisation is NORCAP, who offer help to all adults involved in adoption.

:ogo of NORCAP

At your first meeting with the social worker it is unlikely that you will be given all the information. The point of the first meeting is to look at the issues and to provide you with the form to enable you to apply for your original birth certificate. Some people already know their birth name and have been able to obtain their original birth certificate without going through this process. Thats fine, but what they will not have had is the additional information sent by the GRO, which may include details of people who have put their names on the Adoption Contact Register. Most importantly the GRO also sends a form to the counsellor to enable the court records to be checked so that the name of the adoption  agency is disclosed. This in turn will allow the counsellor to ask for access to your original records. A long-winded system — yes, but one that safeguards all involved and maintains confidentiality.

One difficulty that many people encounter is that their adoption was not arranged by an adoption agency. Before 1976 this was quite legal and many people became involved in arranging adoptions including doctors, the clergy and in one case I was involved with, a hairdresser! In such private adoptions there is often little or no paperwork and your trail could end there. This is both sad and frustrating and can mean that you will never find out any more. The way the legislation is framed enables adopted people to have access to identifying information, which, in turn allows them to trace relatives in the birth family if they wish. It does not allow for birth relatives to have the same sort of identifying information. As I have already mentioned, birth mothers, particularly, do not forget, and for some this loss is something they have never come to terms with. Sometimes birth mothers make contact with the placing adoption agency to see if they can trace their child. Agencies might write to the last known address of the adoptive family or offer to keep a letter on the child’s file in case they ever ask for more information. Even if they can be given no positive information all birth relatives will be offered some support. In the past the majority of girls whose babies were placed for adoption went to live in Mother and Baby Homes, often a long way from their own homes, family and friends. Most of these homes have long since closed and many have been pulled down to make way for new developments. People who were born in such homes often return to the area seeking to locate their roots and are disappointed to find that the building has been demolished.

If you are adopted and thinking about starting this process then remember always to go at your pace. Do not let anyone else rush you, you must feel comfortable at each stage before embarking on the next. This is an emotional process, and you should not underestimate the impact not only on yourself, but also on those around you. Such a process can affect your relationships with those closest to you, particularly your partner and your parents. If you want any advice before starting this process do ring your local Social Services department or contact us if you feel we can be of help.

Alison Vincent
Adoption Consultant
Berkshire Adoption Advisory Service
York House
Sheet Street
Windsor    Tele: 01865 875000
Tele: 01628 783760
112 Church Road
OX33 1LU
Tele: 01865 875000

The General Register Office - Adoptions Section
Smedley Hydro
Trafalgar Road
Southport PR8 2HH

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