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Adoption reunion is a delicate matter - Jan 08, 2013








Not all Secrets & Lies: Debbie Eades and Jonathan Sledge reunite in ITV's adoption documentary Long Lost Family.

As ITV screens Long Lost Family, charity leader of Norcap, Jean Milsted, reflects on the legal and emotional difficulties of reuniting

Norcap supports adopted adults who want to apply for their original birth certificates or access information from their adoption files. We also provide support for birth relatives. Most reunions work well, some wonderfully well, and others well enough. Then there are people who don't want to be found, let alone reunited. When we send out an intermediary letter, we can never predict the response. Some relatives are ecstatic to find the missing piece to their family, but others can be left feeling angry, frightened or upset. To some, it can feel like an unwelcome intrusion. Having buried their losses, digging them up again is just too painful.

The organisation often receives media requests and we were pleased to be approached for ITV's Long Lost Family, a series on finding and reuniting relatives. With adoption as a key theme, the initial discussion covered the legalities around who was allowed to make contact (only registered intermediary agencies can do this) and how this could be done sensitively and professionally.

We advertised the need for participants online, provided the searching and intermediary services for some of them, and were filmed providing our "revisiting the past" interviews with several of the birth relatives. We offered support during the process and afterwards, and production company Wall to Wall was consulted about the adoption support regulations to ensure the programme remained within the bounds of legality.

Norcap has support groups scattered across the country that meet regularly and we hope to increase these. The national service of reconciliation and thanksgiving is also available for all people affected by adoption. Held the day before Mother's Day, the service's venue varies each year as we try to include people nationwide. It involves attendees writing the names of the people they want to think about on pieces of ribbon. These are tied together and joined to the ribbons of previous years, and at the end of the service taken to the venue for the following year. We also have a brief memorial service for those whose relatives have passed.

The charity was struggling financially, and we thought we'd have to close by February 2011. We've always tried to keep our costs down and perhaps were trying too hard. It's difficult to turn people away when they cannot afford the fees but desperately want to find their relatives. It can be difficult to explain to someone that without a fee you cannot help to reunite them with the family that has been long absent from their lives. The 2002 Adoption and Children Act, which allowed birth relatives the right to ask for an intermediary service, also increased demand for a service like Norcap, but no financial provision was made.

Therefore, we took on a radical restructure to cut our staffing costs and scrutinize all other expenditure. Yet, though we're now recovering well, we cannot afford to take on service users who can't afford to pay for themselves. There are few agencies that provide a service to birth relatives. Many local authorities have either stopped due to costs or never even provided this service. We therefore believe that we must keep going and will do everything in our power to ensure we are offering relatives the choice of support and guidance in their quests to find absent family members.

By Jean Milsted


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