The Adoption and Children Bill fails to
address the needs of adopted adults and their birth relatives,
writes Julia Feast.
Last month the Department of Health issued a
consultation document, Providing Effective Adoption
Support. Its drive to ensure that future adoption legislation
provides the necessary framework to enhance the well-being of
adopted children and families is to be applauded. But, once again,
the government has failed to accept the life-long implications of
adoption and the low priority it gives to the needs of adopted
adults and their relatives. The document hardly mentions birth
relatives or adopted adults at all.
DoH has now issued a letter asking for views on the best way to
provide intermediary services for birth relatives who want to
contact an adopted adult. It also informs stakeholders that the DoH
is to issue guidance to “encourage” agencies to take a “more
constructive approach”. Any immediate hope that the matter will now
get the attention it deserves soon fades when one realises that the
consultation is just a three-week period, and not the typical three
months. How can people genuinely feed into a consultation that is
over a decade a lobby of birth relatives, adopted adults and
adoption professionals has argued for intermediary services for
birth relatives to be enshrined in legislation. While we welcome
any positive moves in this area, what is missing from the
government’s proposals is the necessary primary legislation that
would enable adoption agencies to access the vital information from
the registrar general. Without this critical statutory provision,
access to services will remain very hit-and-miss. It is crucial
that legislation encompass the life-long needs of adoption. Yet as
it stands the Adoption and Children Bill and the subsequent
consultation documents have failed to address this.
Amendments were put down in the
House of Commons to rectify this and although intermediary services
for birth relatives received enormous cross-party support, the
health minister, Jacqui Smith, feared that providing such services
would take away the resources needed for placing children for
adoption today. The bill is now in the House of Lords and a revised
amendment has been put down that addresses the minister’s concerns.
It is yet to be seen whether the government accepts it.
Meanwhile, one can only wonder if
the decision to consult over intermediary services at the 11th hour
is a deliberate ploy by the government to divert attention away
from the need to legislate for these services.
Julia Feast is project
manager of the post-adoption care counselling research
project at the Children’s Society.