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OxfordshireChildren's Services Procedures Manual

Access to Birth Records and Adoption Case Records

Contents

  1. Agreement with NORCAP
  2. Access to Birth Records
  3. Access by Adopted Persons to Adoption Case Files  
  4. Access by Birth Relatives to Adoption Case Files 
  5. Access by Adopters to Adoption Case Files
  6. Access by Others to Adoption Case Files

1. Agreement with NORCAP

Oxfordshire has a service level agreement with NORCAP to provide counselling and deal with applications for Access to Birth Records by adopted persons (See Section 2, Access to Birth Records) and requests for Intermediary Services by adopted persons and their birth relatives. For further information, see Intermediary Services Procedure.

Those who wish to receive such a service should be provided with written information about NORCAP and, should they choose to proceed to a request for Intermediary Services, any fees which may apply.

Where the enquirer is of low income and may be unable to meet the fees, consideration can be given to providing financial assistance.

Where the applicant indicates a wish to pursue an application, the enquiry officer must send a written referral form to NORCAP, including all available information about the applicant and/or the subject to enable the application to be dealt with and counselling to be provided in as beneficial a way as possible.

2. Access to Birth Records

Adopted people aged 18 or over can apply for access to and a copy of their birth certificate. The procedure for dealing with any such application will differ depending on whether the Adoption Order was made before or after 30 December 2005.

2.1 Adoption Orders made before 30 December 2005

When a caller enquires about access to birth records, the caller should be referred to the enquiry officer in the city office. If it is established that the caller is a resident of the county, the enquiry can be pursued with the county. In other cases, the caller should be advised to re-direct his or her enquiry to the local authority where they now live, even if Oxfordshire was involved in arranging the adoption. Where an enquiry is accepted, a referral will be made to NORCAP in accordance with Section 1, Agreement with NORCAP.

The adopted person should be advised about the Adoption Contact Register, the right to seek access to their Adoption Case File (see Section 3, Access by Adopted Persons to Adoption Case Files) and, for those who wish for help in tracing members of their birth family, the availability of Intermediary Services - see Intermediary Services Procedure

They should also be advised where appropriate about the right to register an absolute or qualified veto on their Adoption Case File - see Intermediary Services Procedure

For enquirers living overseas, they should be given information about the Contact Registers run by the Registrar General and by NORCAP. NORCAP membership is available to people living over seas and in some countries there are suitable local adoption agencies who can provide counselling and with whom NORCAP can liaise in order to provide a service. Enquirers are given NORCAP's contact details but are responsible for all fees.

2.2 Adoption Orders made on or after 30 December 2005

When a caller enquires about access to birth records, the caller should be referred to the enquiry officer.

If it is established that the caller was adopted and is a resident of the county, a referral will be made to NORCAP in accordance with Section 1, Agreement with NORCAP.

Adopted persons should be advised of their right to have a copy of the Child's Permanence Report.

For those who wish to seek access to their Adoption Case File and/or to trace members of their birth family, they should be advised of the various courses of action they can take - see Section 3, Access by Adopted Persons to Adoption Case Files

3. Access by Adopted Persons to Adoption Case Files

3.1 Adoption Orders made before 30 December 2005

Where a request is made by an adopted person for access to his or her Adoption Case File, the enquiry officer will clarify whether he/she is an Oxfordshire resident or whether Oxfordshire arranged the adoption and/or whether Oxfordshire holds the files relating to the adoption. 

If the enquirer is an Oxfordshire resident, he or she will be sent an enquiry letter and, on receipt of their reply, the enquiry officer will discuss the case with NORCAP and, in appropriate cases, arrange for a referral to be made to NORCAP in accordance with Section 1, Agreement with NORCAP to deal with the request.

Any request by an adopted person for access to their Adoption Case File must be in writing and accompanied by a photocopy of identifying information, such as passport or driving licence.

Access to the Adoption Case File will be agreed having regard to the following principles.

The adoption agency has discretion to disclose to the adopted person material from the Adoption Case File, and this discretion should be exercised in the context of the particular circumstances of each request. The social worker should discuss the case with Adoption Team Manager before arranging any access to the Adoption Case File.

 There should be a clear record on file of all information disclosed. Where copies of documents have been provided, this should also be recorded.

Third Party Information

Careful consideration should be given to the disclosure of information held on third parties. Specific consent from the third party is not required, but consideration needs to be given to the nature of the information, the relevance and benefit to the adopted person of knowing the information and the likely effect on him or her of receiving it. 

There may be instances where the information held has been given by a third party (for example a birth relative) with a clear understanding that it may be disclosed to the adopted person in the future. 

Conversely, there may be information held about a third party which is highly confidential and would serve no purpose for the adopted person to know - for example information that a birth mother had a number of terminations prior to the adopted persons birth.

All decisions will be based on professional judgment and the social worker should discuss the case with the Adoption Team Manager before making a decision. All decisions should be recorded on the file.

Where there is information about siblings held on the record, again consideration needs to be given to the benefit and relevance to the adopted person of knowing the information. Where, for example, a sibling has been placed for adoption separately, and the disclosure of information about the sibling may reveal confidential information about the siblings new family, then extreme caution must be exercised. 

However, if the information relates to the past family history, will provide no identifying information about the siblings present whereabouts and the disclosure will enable the adopted person to understand more about the family and the reason why the siblings were separated, then disclosure is more likely to be appropriate.

The most difficult situations arise when the information relates to past family history, concerns confidential information about a sibling or family member and would clarify for the adopted person the reason why children were removed from their family of origin, or siblings were separated. These situations should always be discussed with the Adoption Team Manager and the discussion and decision to disclose or not to disclose information should be clearly recorded on the file together with reasons for the decision.

3.2 Adoption Orders made on or after 30 December 2005

Any person may apply to the appropriate adoption agency for the disclosure of protected information about any person involved in adoption. Applications for the disclosure of protected information may therefore be made by adopted people, birth relatives or any other person involved in an adoption. The adoption agency has discretion not to agree to the requested disclosure. It must record its decision and the reasons.

Protected information is defined as information which is about a person and contains identifying information about that person.

The adoption agency must consider the following matters before deciding whether to disclose protected information to the applicant:

  • The welfare of the adopted person;
  • The views of the person to whom the information relates and if this is a child, his or her parents;
  • All the circumstances of the case.

The agency cannot disclose identifying information about an adopted person to birth relatives without the consent of the adopted person. Where the request relates to an adopted child, the obtaining of consent will depend on the child’s age and understanding and the consent of the prospective adopters will also be required.

Persons involved in adoptions can provide their consent in advance to the disclosure of identifying information about them at some point in the future.

Decisions made in relation to applications for disclosure of protected information must be communicated in writing both to the applicant and the subject, and the reasons for the decision must be outlined.

Where an application for disclosure of information relating to an adult is refused, this is a Qualifying Determination and the applicant may apply to the Independent Review Mechanism in relation to the decision.

Where an application for disclosure of information is agreed despite the objection of the subject, this is also a “qualifying determination” and the subject of the information may apply to the Independent Review Mechanism.

The person requesting an Independent Review must apply within 40 working days of receiving notification of the decision.

There is no similar right to an Independent Review where the application relates to information held on a child and is refused.

Where a matter is referred to an Independent Review Panel, the Independent Review Panel will send their recommendation to the adoption agency. The agency is not obliged to follow the recommendation, but must take it into account when reconsidering the application. The agency must then notify the applicant, the subject and the Independent Review Panel of the decision and reasons.

4. Access by Birth Relatives to Adoption Case Files

4.1 Adoption Orders made before 30 December 2005

Where a birth relative requests access to an Adoption Case File, there is no entitlement on their part to such access and it is for the adoption agency to decide whether information contained within the records may be disclosed. Any decision to disclose such information can only be taken after discussion with and with the agreement of the Adoption Team Manager. 

In appropriate cases, where it is decided to allow a request to be made, consideration will be given to referring the request to NORCAP in accordance with Section 1, Agreement with NORCAP.

In all cases, a balance must be struck between the confidentiality of the information, the enquirers need to know, the relevance of the information to the enquirer and, when considering a request by a birth parent or relative, whether the anonymity of the adoptive placement can be preserved.

Information which would enable the birth relative to identify the adopted person should not be given, for example whether or not there was a change of name on the adoption, or the name of the adoptive family. However, sometimes the records include information received in the intervening years such as news of progress made at school, health problems, achievements, requests for post-adoption support. Careful consideration needs to be given as to whether it may be appropriate to disclose any of this information to a birth relative.

Where the birth relative makes an enquiry in relation to an adopted child who is still under 18, consideration should be given to approaching the adopters to request up-to-date information about the child and/or to offer to pass on information about the birth family and/or to seek the views of the adopters about any future exchange of information. Adopters may also be asked to clarify whether the adopted child is to be told of the birth families request although there should be no implied expectation that they should do so against their wishes - and they should be given information about independent support agencies which may be able to assist them.

The response to a birth relative should take into account any contact between the birth family and the agency since the child was adopted and any arrangements/agreements for post-adoption contact and how these have worked.

4.2 Adoption Orders made on or after 30 December 2005

See Paragraph 3.2.

5. Access by Adopters to Adoption Case Files

5.1 Adoption Orders made before 30 December 2005

In the case of requests for information by adopters, regard must be had to the requirements on the part of the agency to share full information about the child and his or her history with prospective adopters prior to the placement. If the disclosure of information would assist and enhance their ability to care for the child in the placement, then the balance should weigh heavily in favour of the disclosure of the information save for confidential details about a birth parents medical history, which would have no relevance to the adopters in their care for the child.

5.2 Adoption Orders made on or after 30 December 2005

See Paragraph 3.2.

6. Access by Others to Adoption Case Files

6.1

Any other request for access to Adoption Case Files must be referred to the Adoption Team Manager. In some circumstances, the Adoption Team Manager may decide to seek the authority of the Service Manager before giving consent, for example a request from a researcher authorised by the Secretary of State.

6.2

In the case of members of staff within the Children, Education and Families Directorate who are involved in adoption matters regularly, they will be asked on appointment to their post to sign an agreement to maintain the confidentiality of all adoption information. 

In all other cases, the person making the request will be asked to sign a form of declaration relating to confidentiality before access can be agreed.

6.3

Access to information contained in Adoption Case Files is normally limited to:

  • Social workers and other professional/administrative staff directly concerned with the case who establish a genuine ‘need to know’ (discretionary);

  • Legal and Medical Advisers (discretionary);

  • Other adoption agencies or specialists taking part in the adoption (discretionary) - see Paragraph 6.4;

  • Adoption agencies or local authorities undertaking birth records counselling (discretionary);

  • The Secretary of State or persons authorised on his/her behalf (usually mandatory unless for research purposes);

  • The Regulatory Authority (mandatory);

  • The Ombudsman (mandatory);

  • Any person undertaking a Statutory Inquiry under section 81 of the Children Act 1989 (mandatory);

  • CAFCASS officers (mandatory);

  • The Court and officers of the Court (mandatory);

  • Any person appointed to deal with a complaint or representation in respect of which access to the Adoption Case File is required in order to carry out the responsibilities of his or her appointment (mandatory);

  • An Independent Review Panel convened to consider a Qualifying Determination of an adoption agency, e.g. where an adoptive applicant has exercised his or her right to challenge a decision of the adoption agency as to their suitability to adopt or where a decision has been made in relation to the disclosure of protected information (mandatory);

  • Any person undertaking a Serious Case Review in relation to a child (discretionary).

6.4

Where another agency seeks access to Adoption Case Files belonging to Oxfordshire in furtherance of their birth records counselling responsibilities, adoption staff in Oxfordshire, once the Adoption Case File is identified and obtained, may:

  • Review the Adoption Case File, provide a written summary and send it to the other adoption agency; or

  • Send the Adoption Case File to the adoption agency subject to certain conditions.

There will need to be a discussion with the other agency as to which course of action they would prefer to follow.

If an Adoption Case File is sent to another agency:

  1. Two copies of the standard agreement should be sent to the agency setting out:

    1. the frameworks within which Oxfordshire operates;

    2. the expectations of the other agency;

    3. the limits of Oxfordshire’s accountability;

    4. the requirement to have a signed agreement to the conditions;

    5. the requirement that the Adoption Case File should be returned after 3 months;

    6. the requirement that copies of any written information provided will be given to Oxfordshire.

  2. One copy of the signed agreement should be returned to Oxfordshire;

  3. The Adoption Case File should be sent by recorded delivery and a receipt requested;

  4. The receipt should be received;

  5. The Adoption Case File should be returned after 3 months or be chased up.  

6.5

Disclosure of information is also mandatory where a child is to be or has been placed for adoption when the placing authority must notify the child, parents, prospective adopters and their GP, the local authority, health trust and education authority for the area where the prospective adopters live - see Placement for Adoption Procedure.