Birthlink has evolved with the times in our 110 years - Gary Clapton

We are one of the oldest Edinburgh charities in existence. We’ve been stymied from celebrating our 110-year anniversary so often in the last year that we’ve decided to go ahead this month with as much “virtual” activity as possible. This contribution briefly notes over a century of our work.

Dr Gary Clapton, reader in social work and programme director for BSc (Hons) in social work, Edinburgh University.
Dr Gary Clapton, reader in social work and programme director for BSc (Hons) in social work, Edinburgh University.

Our roots date from 1911 when, as a branch of the National Vigilance Society, we offered a community service and refuge for women with “moral implications” and staff were stationed at Leith Docks and Waverley Station to save women from falling into prostitution. Inevitably, we were involved in supporting pregnant women and providing shelter and care for single mothers and their babies. In 1941, we transformed into The Guild of Service when much of the work continued to support mothers and families. We also began recruiting foster carers and training adoptive couples as well as organising and arranging adoptions. During the 1960s we developed a busy casework service and opened services across Edinburgh, one in Muirhouse is especially remembered for proving practical help to families short of clothes.

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The introduction of the 1968 Social Work (Scotland) Act signalled a decline in involvement in arranging adoptions as local authorities began to assume greater responsibility. Plus, by 1975, social changes also meant there were fewer babies available for adoption – the Abortion Act had been implemented, contraception was more effective, financial allowances had become available for single parents and there was less disapproval of single mothers. In 1975 the Children Act gave adopted adults the right, for the first time south of the border, to access their original birth certificates and trace their families of origin. Even though this had always been a right in Scotland, it had an obvious knock-on effect for our work here given that we held the case records of adoptions and details of birth parents.

By the late 1970s more and more adopted adults were returning for help to find out about their origins, and birth mothers were also approaching us to ask what had become of their children lost to adoption in the past. In 1978 the name of the agency was changed to Family Care to better reflect the work. Six years later arising out of an informal register that we had begun to keep of adopted people and birth relatives looking for contact, we established the Adoption Contact Register for Scotland. This was, and remains, one of the things we take pride in. The Register is a formal system that provides for a register of those who are seeking contact with someone from whom they have been separated by adoption. The Adoption Contact Register allows for two people to meet knowing that the feeling is mutual – no doorstep surprises or out of the blue social messaging. The Register is recognised by the Scottish Government and is the only professionally staffed such service in the UK. In 2007 after feedback was obtained from service users, we changed our name to keep up with the times and became Birthlink. Looking ahead we have begun to offer support and counselling to people who have been in care, another example of our ability to change with the times.

Dr Gary Clapton, reader in social work and programme director for BSc (Hons) in social work, Edinburgh University.

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