Openness in adoption has become an increasing feature over the last 20 years. There are biological reasons why it might be necessary to trace parents, such as hereditary diseases, allergies and other inherited risk factors. The previous requirements for absolute confidentiality have been relaxed in practice.
Many agencies have facilitated meetings with natural parents and adult children where both consented. Another feature is where the natural parents or child obtain information about the other without disclosing identity.
Generally, the process has been undertaken through the adoption societies with appropriate support and counselling where necessary. Information is passed gradually with the consent of each of the natural parent and child. The passing of information occurs only with the consent of both.
Birth Certificate & Registers
When the adoption order is made, the original birth certificate is replaced with a special adopted children register entry. The register maintains a cross-referencing index. This is not open to inspection and access may not be given other than by order of a court or by the Adoption Authority.
The court may not order the release of information unless it is satisfied it is in the best interests of the child. Generally, where the birth mother objects to the disclosure for good reasons, it will not be compelled. Records may be disclosed in redacted form.
The adopted child register is open for search in the same manner as other registers. Particulars for each adoption are registered on the adopted child registrar. The original registration remains on the register of births.
An index is kept making a connection between the register of births and the adopted children’s register. However, it is not made available for inspection. It may be disclosed only by court order or order of the authority. Regulations may provide for the issue of an adopted child’s birth certificate without disclosing the fact that the child was adopted.
It is primarily a matter for the Board to decide whether to give placing and linking information. The High Court decided in a judicial review that the Board may not simply have a policy of refusing every application. It must consider each application on its merits.
In the relatively limited number of cases in which applications for disclosure of identity have been sought, the courts have tended to refuse the discovery of the adoption board’s records. It may allow discovery if it considers it to be in the best interests of the child.
The National Adoption Contact Preference Register was established by the Adoption Authority. It assists those who wish to trace their natural birth parents. Persons may join the register and can confidentially state their preferences in relation to the time, type and extent of contact.
The Board has operated an informal tracing service. It established a national contact preference register on a voluntary non-statutory basis where both parties register. It may be used to share basic non-identifying information relevant to medical and hereditary issues.
In a case challenging the decision of the Information Commissioner to disclose edited non-identifying information, it was held that the parent who did not wish the information to be disclosed was entitled to fair procedures and was entitled to make representations in relation to the release of the information before a decision was made by the Commissioner. The court placed great weight on the initial agreement with the mother not to disclose her identity.