With the UK celebrating Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee this weekend, we look back at the history of adoption from her accession to the throne in 1952 and over her past three major Jubilees. Contributions are provided by best-selling author Jacqueline Wilson, who recently published a young adult novel on adoption in the 1960s; Stephanie Bishop, independent social work consultant; and James Lawrence, head of communications & engagement at New Family Social, a charity providing support for LGBTQ+ families that adopt or foster.

We must start by acknowledging that in the 1950s, when Queen Elizabeth II was crowned, and in the two decades that followed, hundreds of young mothers were forced to give their babies up for adoption because they were unmarried. Most children adopted by strangers (not stepparents) were babies. In Jacqueline Wilson’s new novel Baby Love, set in 1960, a pregnant teenage girl is sent away to a Mother and Baby Home and her baby is given up for adoption.


Jacqueline Wilson

“In 1960, teenagers were given no proper sex education. We were told we were going to learn about reproduction in Biology, but we were simply given some very stiff dead rabbits to dissect and asked to look for their sex organs. It wasn’t the greatest introduction to the Facts of Life!

“Girls had no access to any reliable form of contraception. The Pill wasn’t yet available, and certainly not to schoolgirls. Some naïve inexperienced girls found themselves pregnant without really understanding how this had happened. There was very little compassion or understanding then. They were considered ‘bad’ girls and often sent away to bleak Mother and Baby Homes to have their babies so that no-one would know about their ‘shame’. They were strongly encouraged to give up their babies for adoption, told that if they really loved them they would do this brave thing for their child’s sake.

“Many women my age still quietly grieve for their lost firstborn child. I wanted to show young people today what life was like then – and how radically different things are now. Thank goodness we accept that you don’t have to be married to be a brilliant parent and young single pregnant women are given the help they need. Children are still adopted, but only if their birth family can’t keep them safe, and only after a lot of skilled and sensitive assessment.”

By the time The Queen celebrated her Silver Jubilee in 1977, older children, not just babies, were being adopted. But support for adopted people and adopters was limited.


Stephanie Bishop

In 1973, the book Children who Wait by Jane Rowe and Lydia Lambert was published. It heralded the start of an understanding that adoption could meet the needs of older children, sibling groups and children with more complex needs. This was the beginning of the move that led to the current scenario in which almost all adopted children have been removed from their birth family through the courts because they have suffered or are at risk of suffering significant harm.

“Little was offered in the way of adoption support. The granting of an Adoption Order was marked with flowers at the court door and good wishes for a wonderful life! In 1975 it did become legally possible to pay adopters adoption allowances to support them as they parented children with more complex needs who were considered ‘hard to place’. The Adoption Act 1976 placed a duty on local authorities to provide a comprehensive service to all involved in adoption, but there was little understanding of a lifelong need.

“The Children Act 1975 initiated services for adopted adults giving them the right, after counselling, to gain access to their original birth certificate. However, the Adoption Contact Register didn’t come into existence until 1991.”

In 2002, our country celebrated the Golden Jubilee: 50 years of Her Majesty’s reign. By now, birth parents and adopters were being encouraged to have a one-off meeting, and letterbox post-adoption contact had become the norm.

Adoption support had been developed to meet the needs of children who had suffered trauma, and to help the families parenting them. Therapeutic support varied between local authorities, however, and the Adoption Support Fund, giving access to privately provided therapeutic services, wasn’t introduced until 2015. 

The Adoption and Children Act received Royal Assent in the year of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, allowing unmarried people and same-sex couples in England and Wales to adopt. This would result in significant changes over the next two decades – in 2012, the year that The Queen celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, the first LGBT Adoption & Fostering Week was launched by New Family Social. By 2021, one in 6 adoptions in England were to same-sex couples.


James Lawrence

30 December 2005 was the first day that same-sex couples in England could legally adopt. Of course, LGBTQ+ people parented before then, but they were unseen in statistics, unprotected by law.

 “In 2007 the initial effects were seen – as same-sex couples adopting first appeared in the government statistics. Early numbers were low. LGBTQ+ people were bruised. They’d experienced systematic prejudice from legislation throughout the 1980s. They'd lived through the hostile environment it generated. 

“New Family Social formed as the first LGBTQ+ adoptive parents realised that the adoption sector didn’t offer the support they needed. LGBTQ+ people wanted to adopt but didn’t see themselves as potential applicants. They were invisible in promotional materials, ignored by information events. The community’s expectation of discrimination wasn’t addressed by agencies that didn’t appreciate the distrust LGBTQ+ people had of public services.

“When New Family Social launched the first LGBT Adoption & Fostering Week, one in 31 adoptions in England were to same-sex couples. In 2021, it was one in six – a huge shift in a decade of work. Our annual campaign remains the only one devoted to speaking to LGBTQ+ people. It brings them together with agencies that recognise the unique skillset we bring to parenting.”

As we celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, we should recognise how much has changed for adopted people and adoptive families during her 70-year reign.

Importantly, the lifelong impact of adoption – on adopted children but also on their birth and adoptive families – and the complexity of growing up as an adopted person are now more widely understood. It is recognised that adoption is more than ordinary parenting, and helpful advice, support and training is available.

Adoption has changed significantly since 1952, but there’s still much more to achieve. The adoption community will keep adapting and evolving in its aim to help and support vulnerable children and young people.


By Alison Woodhead, Adoption UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Communications