Should there be an age that children are told they are adopted by law?

Children|January 29th 2019

I recently read an article in the Telegraph & Argus about a Bradford man who found out he was adopted at the age of 49.  He is now calling for a change in the law so that every adopted child is told the truth when they turn 18 years old.

Reading his experience made me consider my own situation. I always knew I was adopted however it would have been very difficult for my parents to hide that given they are Caucasian and I am Sri Lankan. I knew the truth from a very young age and I was always reassured that I could ask as many (or as few) questions as I wanted to. This meant I was able to digest information at a pace that was right for me rather than being overwhelmed.

Should there be an age that children are told that they are adopted, or should the decision be left to the adoptive parents?

Having thought about this for some time, I do not think there is a right or simple answer!

To go 18 years believing the people in your life are your biological family and then be told that everything you thought was true isn’t, is likely to have a very serious impact on someone’s mental health. Someone in that situation could experience trust issues in the future, feelings of loss and confusion. In family law it is recognised that children are different: one 8-year-old may be much more mature than a 13-year-old and the way to deliver news to people should be varied depending on their personality. Shouldn’t this common-sense approach be applied to telling someone they are adopted?

What should a child/adult be told?

Should an adopted person be told everything in one go or should they be told at a pace appropriate for them? This follows on from the above point that everyone processes information differently. As an adult, I prefer having all the information I possibly can as that helps me process things but as a child that would have been overwhelming.

What if the circumstances surrounding a child’s adoption are upsetting?

My story was straightforward: my biological mother wanted a better life for me. Not everyone can say that. I have family friends who adopted a child who was taken away from his birth mother because she abused drugs, another adopted because her biological mother was raped. In those circumstances, I am not so sure I would want to know my background.

Not all family relationships are straightforward

As a family solicitor, I understand relationships are complicated. As the saying goes you cannot choose your family. We regularly see clients who are estranged from members of their family for various reasons or parents that are no longer involved in the lives of their children because of separation. Practically speaking, how would that be dealt with if there was a set age that a person must be told they are adopted?

The practical side

I am well versed when it comes to explaining why I have no idea if there is a history of heart disease in my family. I was diagnosed with a genetic condition at the age of 19 yet this is something I probably would have been aware of sooner had I had knowledge of my family medical history. On the other hand, many people don’t necessarily want to know, if given the choice, what the future might hold for them, in this regard.

The chance to have a larger family

The article I read referred to the person who found out he was adopted, feeling as though he had lost out on having two families and sad for the time that he had missed with them. Having a law compelling parents to tell their child they are adopted would give people the opportunity to search for their biological family if they wished to and to find out the truth about where they came from.

Changing the law

When thinking about whether it would be appropriate to introduce a change in the law, it struck me how complicated it would be to do so. There are many charities out there who support families through the adoption journey because it is so complicated emotionally. Therefore, any change in the law would need to be considered with the implications and complexities in mind.

 

Shanika Varga-Haynes is a solicitor based at Stowe Family Law's Leeds office. She has a particular interest in domestic abuse cases and children work and has also been involved in external and internal relocation cases. Shanika is part of the adoption team.

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