Questions answered in all things adoption (part 1)

Answering Your Adoption Related Questions

In this video, Alison speaks on your behalf asking commonly asked questions when it comes to adoption-related cases.

On hand to answer we have Dave Oates and Dr Joanna North of Joanna North Associates, both leading specialists in their fields.

Whether you’re an adopted person looking for a birth relative or if you are trying to locate someone who has been adopted, from how you may be feeling before you start to how they can support you in the end they are here to impart their knowledge on all things adoption related.

CLICK HERE to watch part 2 of this adoption Q&A session

Video Transcript

David:

Hi, everybody. I’m David. I’m here today with Joanna and Allison who can introduce themselves a little bit further in a second, but we’re just going to try and do a short video today to answer some commonly asked questions about adoption intermediary services for England and Wales. So if you want to introduce yourselves, guys, Joanna?

Joanna:

Hi, I’m Jo and I am a psychotherapist and a counselor, and I work with Dave and Allison helping with psychological and emotional support for all of our clients.

Allison:

Hi, I’m Allison. I am the adoption administrator, so I keep the cogs turning behind all the work and answer the phones in the office.

David:

Yeah. And you’ve got the questions, Allison, that we get asked a lot. You’ve noted a few down and you’re going to try and ask them, and we’re going to try and answer them as a group, try and provide some helpful information for everybody. So if you want to start with the first one, let’s let’s get cracking.

Allison:

Yes. First one is, what is an intermediary service?

David:

Well, I’m up to answer that and give a fairly simple answer. An intermediary service, in terms of what we do is where an adoptive person or a birth relative of an adopted person requests help to find and gain contact potentially with the relative that they’re separated from. So that’s it in a nutshell.

Joanna:

Can I add to that then, Dave? It’s just one of the reasons why we have an intermediary service, is because that’s quite a difficult process. It’s a kind of a paper process, but it’s also acknowledged that it’s quite difficult when we get in touch with people we’ve never known and been separated from. And so the government set up a specialist intermediary process that should advise. And so it involves specialist skills, but also counseling and support.

Allison:

Thanks for that, guys. Can anybody apply for intermediary service? Is there qualifying criteria?

David:

Yeah. So if you are requesting an intermediary service relating to adoption, you have to be a person who is either adopted and now looking to have contact with birth family, or you have to be birth family if you’re looking for an adoptive person, potentially. The law changed in 2013 as well to, to extend intermediary services not just to the adopted adults themselves, but also to people with a prescribed relationship to an adopted adult. So that could be an adopted adult’s own adult children, could then apply for intermediary services to find out more about their parent’s history and birth family, should that be something they wanted to do. So anybody who’s got a prescribed relationship to an adopted adult, basically.

Joanna:

Yeah. Anyone can apply. And so we absolutely support everybody in the work that we do. The only reason we might not go ahead with a piece of work is if we just feel people are having a bit of a tough time in their lives, and we always want people to be in a nice sort of secure place before we go ahead with work. So sometimes we sort of say, “Let’s wait a few months and see if you’re feeling better in a few months,” if people are having a tough time, but that’s not very often.

Allison:

Brilliant. Okay. That’s great. A few people asked, do they have to use an intermediary to be able to contact a birth relative or an adopted person?

David:

I think that goes back to what Joanna mentioned just before. The simple answer is no, if you are an adopted person looking for a birth relative, you don’t have to use the intermediary to make contact with a relative. If you are looking for an adopted person, then most of the time you will find you have to use an intermediary because you cannot find an adoptive person without help of a registered intermediary. So the real question that Joanna could probably answer off the back of that would be, as an adopted person looking for birth family, you don’t have to use an intermediary. Why would it be a good idea, Joanna?

Joanna:

Well, it would be a good idea because we just don’t know when we contact people, whether they actually want contact with the searcher or not. And we have to be really careful about that. And if it’s left to someone who balances out the process, we can be ever so careful. If people don’t want to be in touch, we can manage that for you. And if they do want to be in touch, we can also help make sure that’s a really smooth, smooth process.

There’s no doubt about it that the process has ups and downs. It’s difficult for some people that we contact them, and we have to work really hard to help them feel secure about it and help them manage the surprise and the emotions that go with it. So it’s really advisable because it can prevent a lot of difficulty. It’s a bit like a plane taking off. We want a really good flight for you. We don’t want you to have sort of crash landing because it all goes wrong.

David:

I would obviously agree with everything you’ve said there, yeah.

Joanna:

Yeah.

Allison:

I think we might have already talked through some of these. What are the key things that people should think about before actually going ahead with an intermediary service? Have you got any recommendations that people should think about before they contact us?

Joanna:

I certainly have. Do you want to take that one, Joanna? Because it’s probably more your field than mine, but I would-

Yeah. I mean, as I say, because it’s quite a lengthy process and there’s lots of little bits of ups and downs with it. We always say to people, to make sure, “Don’t do this because you want to magically change your life, because it probably won’t magically change your life.” We all imagine that something will magically change our lives. But we say, “Do this because it’s something you’ve always wanted to do and you want to find out more about yourself and your identity.”

But we do say, “Look, make sure that if this gets difficult, we don’t want your life to be more difficult. So kind of just check things out and see that you’ve got support. See that you’ve got people who are going to be kind about it with you and who are going to think it through with you. We obviously do that, but just be cautious about the amount of support you’ve got around this for yourselves.”

David:

Yeah. I would totally echo everything you said. I think the first thing is just to make sure, think about what your expectations are for the process. So I think people who enter into it with a specific outcome in mind, if the outcome isn’t what they get from it, then they will ultimately be disappointed. So just the explanation at the start that we usually discuss with people is, “Here are the potential common outcomes we find in these situations, but actually there are things even beyond that that could happen. Are you in a place where you are prepared to deal with those things, should any of those things happen?”. And I guess trying to keep expectations fairly low. There’s nothing wrong with having high hopes for it, but also the reality that you might not get the outcome that you would hope for.

Joanna:

Yeah. Yeah. We always say, “Hope for the best, but prepare in case of disappointment.” We’ll support you if it’s disappointing, but who of us likes to be disappointed? None of us do, really.

Allison:

Brilliant. Thank you guys. What if I only want information, but I don’t want to contact the person?

David:

Well, any adopted person looking for information about birth family has the right, since 1975, to access their adoption files. If they were born before 1975, they do have to visit with a counselor who will access their files on their behalf and share that information with them. So that’s always the first step, really, we would advise for anybody just seeking information, to contact the agents that originally dealt with your adoption and get the information from them, or potentially contact your local authority. They are obliged to do that on your behalf as well.

And that will tell you certainly more about the circumstances at the time of your adoption and what happened. And then from there, people will often make a decision about taking it further, about finding out more information. From there can apply to have an intermediary, to find the person to contact them. Or you can just do research or employ somebody to do research to find out what might’ve happened with that person since, without ever making contact with anybody. So that is possible. And it’s certainly a good idea to look into that and try to understand as much as possible, perhaps before you do go ahead and make contact. So that’s what I would say. I don’t know if you’ve got anything to add to that, Joanna.

Joanna:

No, I think that that sums it up quite well. Just to say that we go through people’s records with them. So sometimes that can be a little bit of a surprising process to people. It’s quite hard. You read about yourself in your birth records and you read about yourself as a baby, and you might read about some quite complicated things about you as a baby. And that’s quite demanding. And obviously we go through birth records with people and help them think it through and what their story might have been like at that time. Yeah.

David:

It depends what you’re actually looking to achieve as well. A lot of people just want to know about why they were adopted and understand the circumstances. If that’s your motivation, then definitely that’s the route for you, to get the records and find out what happened then. But many people that we help, generally we find that they’re looking for, particularly adopted people, they want to know, “Who am I like?”. You know, “I’ve got fantastic adoptive parents, but I don’t look like them. I don’t behave like them. I don’t have any of, my traits are not theirs. I can’t see them, I can’t show them my own. I can see that they’re look like me. They’d behave like me. They’re artistic like me, or they have these specific interests,” and it’s those kinds of things.

And ultimately, there are things that I think you will only ever really understand from having some kind of contact with the person, because that things that won’t necessarily be understood from records, if the records are being kept. The amount of information kept in adoption records can be hit and miss. You can find records that have lots of information, and you can find records that are very sparse, or sometimes records are lost or destroyed.

Joanna:

Yeah.

David:

It depends on what you’re looking for, I suppose, and what information-

Joanna:

Yeah. And just to add to that, because some people don’t get to see that person. They don’t get to meet that birth relative. They don’t get to find that that piece of who they are. And that doesn’t mean to say they can’t understand who they are. And that doesn’t mean to say they can’t sort of put some kind of history together, but for most adoptive people, not all, but it would be true to say that they always want to feel that sort of the fabric of who they are, the DNA of themselves. It’s kind of comforting to connect that with somebody. And in our experience, if you don’t get to do that, you don’t have to be upset. You don’t got to feel that you’re going through your life having failed. It won’t be your fault, but we can still help you think about that and reflect on it, because you’re still your own unique identity.

Allison:

Okay. So, and this is quite a common one, I think, that we get. I’ll ask you guys the question: “I want to find my birth family, but I’m worried it will affect my adoptive family or parents.”

David:

Yeah. I think Joanna can answer this one as well, probably better than I can, but I know a lot of people approach us looking for their family will often not do so until the adoptive parents have passed away out of a sense of loyalty and respect, because they’re worried about upsetting them. Even when you have cases of people that are adoptive parents saying, “If you ever want to go look, we will support you and respect that decision,” but I still think it can be incredibly difficult for people to want to do it whilst they’re still living.

Joanna:

Yeah. We get so many different stories on that question, and we get so many different variations on that. Some adoptive parents are just completely happy for their adopted children to go ahead and find birth parents and they support that process. We don’t think there’s a right or wrong about the way people do it. It’s completely unique. And for some people, they choose to make the search for their birth parents very private and they don’t tell their adoptive parents because they don’t want to upset them. And as we always say, they are adults. They can make private decisions for themselves about what they want to do. And we’re very respectful of people’s caution, and it would be true to say that we’ve had situations where adoptive parents are upset by that process. And we’re happy to help with thinking about that, but it’s certainly something worth considering before you go into move into the process of actually searching. So see where you are with it. Sometimes it gets a little bit turbulent for people, and we think about it, and we usually settle things down.

David:

I think preparation of thinking about it before you go ahead is also, not just yourself, because if you’ve got family, having an intermediary service usually impacts not just on yourself, but those around you, which is why I always think it’s important if you’re entering into it to have the support of those immediately around you. It’s a much better place to do it from than perhaps doing it against somebody’s wishes, because it creates an additional issue and it’s quite a journey and on its own without having that complexity involved in it, I would say. So I would always say, if you’ve got support with your immediate family, that’s a really good place to come from when you’re starting out with an intermediary service

Joanna:

It’s true, isn’t it, Dave, that some people just won’t have that support. And we can still guide them to act completely independently if that’s what they feel they need to do. Yeah.

Allison:

Brilliant. Thank you guys. So what if I start a search looking for somebody, and it turns out that when you’ve completed your search, you find out that they’ve passed away?

David:

Yeah. Well, I’d say one of the things we always say at the start of any intermediary process and search process to say that if we don’t know what’s happened to a person for a number of years, usually, that’s always a possibility regardless of age. You can find people pass away suddenly, and some people live beyond the age you might expect as well. So we generally don’t know, but that’s always a possibility. And obviously how you might be affected by that is important to consider before you start as well. I think it’s interesting to know how people feel finding out someone’s passed away, and you might be able to answer this, Joanna, better than I can, how they might feel even though they haven’t really known that person and that person could have died a long time ago. It’s still as fresh as if that person has died recently, almost, but have never known them. And I’ve often had people describe it as a sense of detached grief, even though you haven’t got the, you feel like you’re missing somebody even though you haven’t really known them, if that makes sense.

Joanna:

And it happens quite often. I don’t know if we’ve got percentages, but it’s not infrequent that it happens. And we do warm people beforehand. And that’s why we were always saying to people, “Look, let’s make sure you can cope with any outcome.” And we also get tragic outcomes, it should be said. Not just natural deaths, we have some tragic outcomes, but that’s why we always provide support. We’re always there in the background to help people deal with these things and face the reality of what is going on. That is the best we can do. And actually on the whole, wouldn’t you say, Dave, that even if people are deceased, our searchers are very much often really pleased that they made the search anyway and found out the facts. It often helps them.

David:

It can be difficult to find out someone has passed away, obviously. But I think people have a curiosity to know, and it’s been there for a long time. It doesn’t suddenly go away, and actually just knowing and going through that process can be really, really helpful and beneficial to most people. And where people have passed away, there are often circumstances where other relatives can then potentially be contacted who might be open to some form of contact or to sharing information about the person so you can still learn more about them as well. So there are often good positives that come out of that, despite learning about such a sad event, but then having more information. Because when you find out somebody’s passed away, you often then want to know about their life rather than just their death, you know? And so we often try and help people by learning more about that person’s life, as much as we can, whether that’s through record searches, or if we can contact a person who is prepared to share information and help us in that way.

Allison:

Yeah. That’s really big, I think, as well, to know that it’s not always just the end if they have passed, then that we can look and see if there are other options open to find that information for them. And as you said, that can be really helpful and we’ve had cases like that quite recently, where we’ve managed to just give a [inaudible 00:19:18] something, which gives just a little bit of a connection, I suppose.

Joanna:

I think that’s, sorry Dave, I think it’s a really good point. It’s not the end, you know, nobody does just sort of fall off a cliff and there’s no more, there’s always a story there. Then often we will work at helping people with that. It’s a really good point, isn’t it? Sorry, what were you going to say, Dave?

David:

No, just the same, really. I was just also mindful, we’ve been going on for a few minutes now. I think we’ve got quite a lot more questions left. So I think rather than just trying to do all of them in this video, we’ll probably do one more question for Allison and then, and then maybe come back with another video in the next few days, if that’s all right with everybody?

Joanna:

Yeah. That’s good.

Allison:

We’ll finish on this one, then. What is the Adoption Contact Register?

David:

Yeah, so this can be really confusing to people, but essentially the Adoption Contact Register is a register that enables people separated by adoption to pre-register a wish about contact with birth family or adopted person so that if the other person does the same, that contact in theory can be enabled, quite simply. The, the, the government run contact registers is held and operated by the General Register Office for England and Wales, and that’s been in existence since 1991. The problem is that not many people really know about it. I speak to people on a daily basis, and most people aren’t aware that it even exists, or they may tell us that they’ve already put the details on an adoption contact register, but it isn’t the one that’s operated by the General Register Office. So there was agency called Norcap historically, who run their own contact register, which was very successful.

Sadly, Norcap went [inaudible 00:21:07] in 2013, and while checks could be made against that register still, no new people can be added to it. So it is confusing and there are other online contact registers as well, which are perhaps less official. It does become confusing. You might think you’ve registered on the contact register. The other person you’re looking for may have registered on the contact register. The problem is, are they’re the same registers? So it’s an excellent idea in theory, but in practice it doesn’t work. And we check the register frequently for four matches and actually very, very rarely do we find anybody is actually on the register. It’s important to say well, the register can be used not only for wishes for contact, but it can also be used to register wish for no contact as well. The truth is I’ve yet to find anybody who’s registered on there with a wish for no contact, but I have found a handful of people who express the wish about contact. So hopefully that answers that question.

Allison:

Yep. I think so.

David:

Anything to add, anybody?

Joanna:

No, that’s good. That’s your thing, really, isn’t it though, Dave?

David:

I think that’s been really helpful. Hopefully we’ve answered a few important questions. I’ll say there’s quite a lot more that we could answer. If anyone does have any further questions, they can send them into us and we’d be happy to try and answer them in the next video that we do, but we’ve got lots more that people who’ve already asked us. So we’ll try and get through those in the next few days. But thank you, Allison. Thank you, Joanna. And let’s see you again soon. Thanks for watching.

Allison:

Bye.

Joanna:

Bye.

CLICK HERE to watch part 2 of this adoption Q&A session

If you are looking for someone where adoption is involved and would like us to help you then CLICK HERE to fill in a form and speak to one of the team.

2021-09-12T20:25:12+00:00