Adoption was relatively uncommon until World War II, with only 6,000 adoption orders annually in the UK. This peaked at nearly 25,000 in 1968 as adoption became more socially acceptable and the numbers of babies born to lone mothers rose in a climate hostile to single parenthood.
Adoption declined as the availability of babies fell with the introduction of the Abortion Act 1968, improving contraceptive services and increasing acceptability of single parenthood.
However, with 10 per cent of couples suﬀering infertility, the demand continued, leading to the adoption of those previously perceived as diﬃcult to place – i.e. physically, intellectually and/or emotionally disabled children and adolescents, those with terminal illness, and children of ethnic-minority groups.
Recent controversies regarding homosexual couples as adoptive parents, adoption of children with or at high risk of HIV/AIDS, transcultural adoption, and the increasing use of intercountry adoption to fulﬁl the needs of childless couples have provoked urgent consideration of the ethical dilemmas of adoption and its consequences for the children, their adoptive and birth families and society generally.
Detailed statistics have been unavailable since 1984 but in general there has been a downward trend with relatively more older children being placed. Detailed reasons for adoption (i.e. interfamily, step-parent, intercountry, etc.) are not available but approximately one-third are adopted from local-authority care.
In the UK all adoptions (including interfamily and step-parent adoption) must take place through a registered adoption agency which may be local-authority-based or provided by a registered voluntary agency. All local authorities must act as agencies, the voluntary agencies often providing specialist services to promote and support the adoption of more diﬃcult-to-place children. Occasionally an adoption allowance will be awarded.
Adoption orders cannot be granted until a child has resided with its proposed adopters for 13 weeks. In the case of newborn infants the mother cannot give formal consent to placement until the baby is six weeks old, although informal arrangements can be made before this time.
In the UK the concept of responsibility of birth parents to their children and their rights to continued involvement after adoption are acknowledged by the Children Act 1989. However, in all discussions the child’s interests remain paramount. The Act also recognises adopted children’s need to have information regarding their origins.
BAAF – British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering – is the national organisation of adoptive agencies, both local authority and voluntary sector. The organisation promotes and provides training service, development and research; has several specialist professional subgroups (i.e. medical, legal, etc.); and produces a quarterly journal.
Adoption UK is an eﬀective national support network of adoptive parents who oﬀer free information, a ‘listening ear’ and, to members, a quarterly newsletter.
National Organisation for Counselling Adoptees and their Parents (NORCAP) is concerned with adopted children and birth parents who wish to make contact.
The Registrar General operates an Adoption Contact Register for adopted persons and anyone related to that person by blood, half-blood or marriage. Information can be obtained from the Oﬃce of Population Censuses and Surveys. For the addresses of these organisations, see Appendix 2.