Only in 1926 did adoption of children in England and Wales become a legal process, it was part of a process to remove illegitimate children from their ‘unfit’ mothers and place them with a respectable married couple. Until the 1926 Adoption of Children Act, adoptions were often arranged privately or via the mother-and baby-home where the birth took place.In the 19th century there were hundreds of mother-and-baby homes where an unmarried pregnant woman would be housed and her pregnancy and birth overseen. She would remain with her baby during the early weeks while an adoption was arranged. Many women attended these homes secretly to avoid the stigma of bearing an illegitimate child. As an alternative to adoption, some single mothers left their child in the care of baby farmers who would care for the child for a fee, supposedly enabling the mother to return to work. However some baby farmers were found guilty of abuse and neglect.
Prior to the 1926 Adoption of Children Act, ten bills had been introduced to Parliament by 1922 in an effort to regulate adoption. Finally the act became law on January 1, 1927. It provided assurance for the adoptive parents that the birth parents could not demand their child be returned. The court making the adoption order had to make sure that the birth parents understood the implications of what they were doing. The Act also cut out the practice of baby farming, as the exchange of money for an adoption was illegal unless sanctioned by the court. At this time the Adopted Children Register was established. This can be consulted at The General Register Office.
The Adoption Act of 1976 was another piece of legislation affecting the adoption process. Prior to this it had been assumed that adoption was final and there would be no reunion between the respective parties. The Act altered this and gave individuals adopted after 11 November, 1975 the right to access their birth records after reaching the age of eighteen. Those adopted before that date could also seek their birth records provided that they saw a counsellor beforehand.
Adoption was finally legalised in Scotland in 1930 with The Adoption of Children (Scotland) Act, 1930. Advice on tracing Scottish adoption records can be found on the National Archives of Scotland website and Northern Ireland records are kept at the General Register Office for Northern Ireland (GRONI).
This post is inspired by an article in the January 2017 issue of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ magazine.
When Rose Haldane starts to research the story of her own adoption in Ignoring Gravity, the private nature of her adoption means available records are minimal, so she applies to see a counsellor. First in the ‘Identity Detective’ series. BUY
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