Obtaining adoption records if you were adopted before 30 December 2005
Due to legislative changes introduced with the Adoption and Children Act 2002, the process for accessing your adoption records differs depending on when you were adopted. This page tells you how to access your birth certificate if you were adopted before 30 December 2005.
What do I need?
You will need to know whether or not an Adoption Agency was involved in your adoption or whether it was privately arranged. If you do not know this information, then you may be able to find this out through the government’s General Register Office (GRO) or the Court where your adoption order was made.
The adoption team in the local authority where you live may also be able to help and advise you about this. (See the section below.)
How do I access these records?
Adoption records can be held in a variety of places but the main locations are:
- The Local Authority
- A Voluntary Adoption Agency
- The Court where the adoption order was granted
- Central archives such as the London Metropolitan Archives
Since the local authority is often involved in adoption contacting the post adoption team in the local authority in which you live is often the first step, as they may be able to help you further once you’ve obtained the name you were given at birth (see accessing your birth certificate).
Please bear in mind that If the local authority is not the agency that arranged your adoption the local authority will need to contact the Appropriate Adoption Agency (AAA) to obtain the adoption file information, which may affect how long it takes.
If you know the name of your adoption agency you can access your adoption records by writing to them to ask for access to the information they hold. Normally they will make an appointment with you to see an adoption advisor to go through the information with you.
What information might the records hold?
The amount of information in these records can vary from a single sheet to dozens of pages depending on the agency and how the records have been kept over the years. It’s important to be prepared that in some cases the adoption records no longer exist or cannot be found.
Information that could be held includes:
- Adopted person
- Original birth name
- Place of birth
- Weight at birth
- Medical notes
- Birth mother
- Address at the time
- Social characteristics such as ethnicity, height, education/employment, family background (including details of other children)
- It could also include names, descriptions and addresses of other family members
- Birth Father – Often the information about the birth father is much less specific and detailed than information about the birth mother as it depends on the information the mother was prepared to disclose, or if he was interviewed at the time. Agencies usually refer to the birth father as ‘putative’ father if the birth mother was not married to him.
- Adoptive parents – This information will be redacted from the record unless the adoptive parents give written permission for it to be shared or you can provide their death certificate. Even then there is some discretion regarding the sharing of this information as it may have implications for siblings.
If it does contain this information it may also contain:
- Agency case notes
- Reports on home circumstances
- Circumstances/Reason for adoption (usually in the form of the agency’s case notes). For many people, this is the reason why people wish to access their records.
- Foster or other carers prior to the adoption – for those who were in care prior to adoption there may be information regarding this period, including medical information and possibly photographs. If this is the case then a subject access request may be necessary to access information about the time in care. You can find out more about how to do so in our care section.
- Other contact – in some cases it will also include more recent correspondence from the birth mother or father if they’ve been in contact.
You do not have an automatic right to the information that Agencies or Courts hold. However, over the last few decades adoption agencies have gained greater understanding about the needs of adopted people to access information about their background, and the help they can provide. In consequence, usually they are willing to share the information that relates to your birth and adoption history including the reasons why you were adopted.
Courts have the discretion to disclose information on adoptions which took place before 30 December 2005.
How else can I find my birth relatives?
See our page “beginning the search for birth relatives”
Will my records still exist?
Before 1975 there was no legislation stipulating how long adoption records should be kept, and if your adoption took place earlier there is a chance these may have been destroyed. Since the Children Act 1975 adoption agencies were expected to keep adoption records for 75 years, which was increased to 100 years by the Adoption and Children Act 2002.
Will the adoption agency still exist?
Sometimes the agency that arranged your adoption will have closed, but all the information they held should still exist. CoramBAAF’s Locating Adoption Records Database is a useful resource to go to for where records may be held including early adoption records. The database can be searched using information about the organisation or local authority involved in the birth or adoption, or a staff member who worked in one of these homes or organisations. It also has the names and details for maternity, mother and baby homes and shelters. The results show the most likely current holder of the adoption records and include full contact details so that further enquiries can be made. The locating record database can be found on the Adoption search and reunion website.
What to do if your adoption was arranged privately
In cases where private arrangements were made, there may be very little information available to you. However, you should still contact the local authority where the adoption order was made to see if they hold any information about your adoption.
You can also contact the court where the adoption order was granted as they may hold some records relating to your adoption. In these cases, you should contact the court clerk who will be able to tell you if it is possible to access the information. Sometimes an appointment can also be made to see a judge who can answer questions you have regarding the record and your adoption worker can also contact them on your behalf.
If you don’t know which court made the adoption order then your adoption certificate (which looks like a pink long birth certificate) will have this information.
Please note that Private Adoptions were only legal until 1983 (see historical context).