Contacting birth parents

7min read

Father and son together

It is only natural for adopted children to be curious about where they have come from.  However, wanting to meet their birth family doesn't mean that they don't love their adoptive parents. They will have their own reasons for wanting to find their birth parents and it may be emotional for all of you during this time.

Adopted people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have had the right since 1975 to see their original birth certificate when they reach the age of 18.  In Scotland the age is 16 and this right has existed since legal adoption was first introduced.

For some people the knowledge and understanding gained from their birth records is enough, whilst for others, this leads to a further desire to try to trace their birth parents or other family members.

What they may be feeling

If a child has only just discovered that they are adopted it can be an unsettling emotion. It is understandable that they may feel that tracking down their birth parents might resolve their issues. During this time, offer them a sense of belonging and talk to them about how they are feeling. Let them know that you understand their reasons for wanting to find this out and will try to support them all the way. This would mean everything to them, even if they do not show it.    

If things are not going well with their parents, it may be easy for young people to put their vision of their birth parents on some kind of a pedestal.  They may have an idealistic image of them.  After all, they have not been the ones setting boundaries or giving them a hard time when they are misbehaving. It can be tough to encourage them to realise these people are only human after all. No-one can live up to this kind of expectation.  

Tracing Birth Parents

For some parents this strong desire of their child to seek where they have come from can be hurtful.  It may lead, in some cases, to feelings of rejection and that they have somehow lost the previously close bond or closeness they had previously. Giving them space and encouragement to talk through their reasons why they want to trace the family who gave birth to them may help. Counselling for the young person and also their adoptive parents may be worth considering. Talking to your GP about the situation may be useful as he or she may be able to refer on for talking therapies on the NHS.     

If any adopted person decides that they would like to go ahead and trace their birth parents they will need to be prepared for a frustrating and lengthy process. The wait may cause all kinds of emotional ups and downs and it would help for them to have someone they feel able to confide in for support along the way.

The 1976 Adoption Act entitles individuals to the information on their original birth certificate, and to know which court or agency handled the adoption.

The first step in finding birth parents is to contact the relevant Register Office in England and Wales; Northern Ireland; Scotland.

People adopted before November 12, 1975 are required by law to receive counselling before being allowed access to the information. This is required because some natural parents and adopters may have been led to believe that their children would never be able to trace their original names or the identity of their parents.

People adopted after November 11, 1975 are not legally required to seek counselling. However, it is still advisable to really consider talking things through with someone before proceeding.  It can be worth contacting their local authority for help on the issue.

Using social media

The increase in social media has rapidly changed adoption, fostering and tracing family members. For many people who are trying to trace family members, using sites such as Facebook has helped them to reunite with loved ones but for others it can be unwanted contact which can cause distress and far reaching consequences.

We have seen many cases in the media where social services have removed at risk children from their family and then the child has become easily reachable on social networking sites. This then causes risky issues for the child and the family who is caring for them. For some, contact can be damaging and can leave the young person in fear. There are lots of tips and advice you can read before you go down the social media route to trace birth parents and it is important to do your research first. 

Useful Organisations

The Adoption Contact Register

A number of agencies allow birth parents or relatives to leave their details, which can be made available on the receipt of an application from any adopted person. If they make the initial enquiry, they will be informed if any relative gets in touch.

The General Register Office in England and Wales runs an Adoption Contact Register. In Northern Ireland, contact the Registrar General and for Scotland try Birthlink.

Post adoption centres

For info, advice and/or counselling before or after tracing birth parents, After Adoption (England and Wales) or the Scottish Adoption Advice Service (Tel: 0141 248 7530) may be useful.

For advice and information about the searching process and how to find emotional support see the BAAF website link Talking about origins and the Adoption Search Reunion website

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