The government has backed down over proposed restrictions on
birth parents’ rights to trace their adopted children,
writes Derren Hayes.
Measures announced by health minister Jacqui Smith will open the
way for the birth parents of the three quarters of a million
children put up for adoption since the end of the Second World War
to have the legal right, and assistance, to contact them.
The government had wanted to restrict tracing rights to birth
parents whose children are adopted after the enactment of the
Adoption and Children Bill, which is currently being debated in the
House of Lords and due to be introduced in 2004. However, the
rights will now be applied retrospectively.
Under the new measures, birth parents will be able to contact
adoption support agencies acting as intermediary services, and ask
them to obtain information from both local authority and voluntary
sector adoption agencies about the whereabouts of their
For harder to trace children, adoption support agencies can use
the more comprehensive registrar general’s files to search
court and agency records.
Regardless of the search findings, children will still have the
right to refuse contact by their birth parents.
Smith had originally proposed a single intermediary agency
handling contact inquiries, but has reconsidered in the light of
concerns raised by peers in the House of Lords and leading adoption
Pam Hodgkins, founder and trustee of adoption charity Norcap,
said the announcement represented the most “profound” change in
adoption legislation for 25 years.
“It was very clear to ministers that opposition peers were not
going to give way on this issue – it could have potentially
lost the bill,” she said.
It is likely parents will be charged for using the services,
although the government has pledged to consult on implementation of
The announcement was made as the government promised to
ringfence £70 million of the 6 per cent increase for social
services outlined in April’s budget for the expansion and
provision of social services adoption support services.