Historic forced adoption - scoping study: service delivery paper

Research report identifying critical factors to consider when designing services for people affected by historic forced adoption in Scotland.

4. Support with search, reunion and accessing records


This chapter explores considerations around supporting people with searching for and reuniting with family members and those who want to access their adoption records. We discuss issues related to navigating the complexity of these activities; providing emotional support during search, reunion and accessing records; understanding the documents; and accessing digital and paper records.

Navigating the complexity of search, reunion and accessing records

Research participants identified challenges including difficulties locating and understanding adoption records and other documents required to trace a family member. A crucial initial barrier is that they are not always sure where to start looking.

For this reason, the single front door concept outlined earlier in this paper could be helpful. This would enable any person affected by historic forced adoption to contact a single organisation, which could then take details from the person, such as when and where the adoption took place, before referring the case to the most appropriate organisation for support with accessing and understanding the records.

Close partnership working between the single front door organisation and the multiple organisations that hold adoption records would be required. Staff at the single front door would need detailed knowledge of these record-holding organisations and how to access them.

Another, potentially more costly and complex option, could be to transfer all adoption records to a single, independent organisation, as proposed by MAA Scotland[xviii]. SAAM has also called for a secure national database of all birth, foster and adoption records maintained by an independent central body [xix]. This would allow the organisation to provide comprehensive support throughout the search and reunion process, including help to access records, preparing the individual for making contact, acting as an intermediary and supporting contact and reunion.

Again, staff would need detailed knowledge of adoption records and the sources of information necessary to track down family members. Awareness of the complexities around search, reunion and accessing records, and how to support people through that process practically and emotionally, would be necessary too.

Advice, guidance and emotional support

Search and reunion involves many conflicting emotions for people affected by historic forced adoption. Support is crucial for people affected, including advice on what the legislation allows for, help to manage their expectations, and emotional support throughout the process, particularly if the search is unsuccessful or the other party declines the opportunity to meet. This is currently delivered by post-adoption support services that support people with search and reunion.

Emotional support is also important for people who access their records alone; they may find upsetting or distressing information, so emotional support is vital.

Some participants felt that being accompanied by a friend or family member if they are physically viewing records can help to reduce the emotional impact of reading the information.

Understanding the records

Organisations facilitating access to records must ensure they provide support to help people understand the documents.

Digital and paper records

Consistency is also important in terms of methods of accessing records. While it would be helpful to have more digital records, digitisation is a costly process. Where people can access paper files, organisations must be consistent in whether individuals can photocopy or photograph their files.


Email: Joanna.Harrold@gov.scot

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