Pressure leads government to agree to tracing rights for all birth parents

The government has backed down over proposed restrictions on the
right of birth parents to trace their adopted children.

Measures announced by health minister Jacqui Smith this week would
open the way for the birth parents of the 750,000 children put up
for adoption since 1945 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 in force 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 to
handle 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 measures.

The announcement was made as the government promised to ring-fence
£70m of the 6 per cent increase for social services outlined
in April’s budget for the expansion of the provision of social
services adoption support services.

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