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What the Tracey Fay case teaches us about adoption

by Claire McGettrick, 7th March 2010

Carol Hunt wrote in the Sunday Independent of 7th March that the “only way Tracey stood a chance was if she had been adopted”, in relation to the sad case of Tracey Fay and, this is probably true.

Tracey Fay’s case is an example of what adoption is supposed to be about – i.e. giving a home to a child who genuinely needs one.  I cannot comment on Tracey’s mother’s ability to parent her, because I wasn’t there to see it, but it’s probably safe to assume that all was not well since Tracey was in care in the first place.  So, assuming there was nobody within Tracey’s immediate family who was willing or able to care for her, then yes, absolutely, adoption was the best thing for her.

Similarly, the horrific Roscommon case is an example where adoption would have been very appropriate, an option that would have drastically improved the lives of the children involved.

Though adoption would probably have been the best option for Tracey Fay and the Roscommon children, the question should be asked, at what stage these children should have been adopted and by that I mean what was the best stage for them as children?  The answer is probably a lot earlier than 14 years of age when Tracey Fay went into care.  Sadly the Roscommon children never even stood a chance.  This comes down to the parental rights vs. the right of a child to a caring and nurturing family.  This wasn’t about Tracey’s mother’s rights, but her mother’s rights ultimately won out.  It certainly wasn’t about the rights of the abusive parents in the Roscommon case, but they seemed to get their way too.

I’m conscious of using the personal and very hurtful stories of these two families in order to illustrate my point, but I feel it is a point worth making.  The reason the point is worth making is because more people need to think about opening their homes to children like Tracey Fay and the children in the Roscommon case, instead of hopping on a plane to Vietnam to adopt a child who probably doesn’t need a home (certainly not in Ireland anyway) in the first place.

On the one hand there have been some news reports about the lack of foster carers in Ireland and how there is a significant waiting list where children are living in overcrowded situations because of this shortage.  Then on the other hand there have been many many more news reports of prospective adoptive parents waiting and waiting for assessments and approvals and whatnot in order to adopt children from overseas.  Though I have joined the dots for people many times in letters to newspapers, urging those on waiting lists to explore the idea of long-term fostering rather than rushing to adopt abroad, I seem to be one of very few people who are joining those dots (at least publicly) and regrettably nothing seems to change. 

Even if foreign adoption didn’t exist, (and let’s be clear, for this to be true there would have to be a multitude of Irish babies available for adoption), the likes of Tracey Fay and the Roscommon children would still have trouble finding homes.  Why?  Because the majority of the prospective adopters who travel to adopt are looking for babies, not traumatised toddlers, not needy children and certainly not troubled teens. This is because it is often assumed that babies are more of a “clean slate”, that these children will seem more like their own. 

The reality couldn’t be further from the truth.  Whether you’re adopting a baby, a toddler or a teenager; you’re adopting a traumatised child who, whether he/she has been willingly relinquished or not, will be experiencing rejection and a feeling of abandonment.  What many people fail to realise is, adoption is not like regular parenting.  You can never assume that an adopted child is 100% yours no more than you can assume that an adopted child will not have issues.  Sadly for the internationally adopted children in Ireland today, this fact has been proven by the reports we have heard of foreign adopted children ending up in care.  This situation is unacceptable – an already traumatised child has now experienced rejection for a second time and faces an uncertain future – and for what?  So a childless couple can have a child “to call their own”. 

Adoption should not be about finding that child “to call your own” and in principle it is not; rather it is about finding a home for a child that genuinely needs one.  In practice however, things are very different.  Adoptive parents, once they bring home a baby from abroad would like for the most part to be left alone, to enjoy private family life in peace without interference from the HSE.  The fact is that the HSE, for all its failings, interferes for good reason – i.e. to ensure that the child is safe, happy and coping with the adjustment.  The reality is though, that not all adoptions are happy ones and it should be said that not all unhappy adoptions are obvious as some troubled adopted children and teens will keep their worries very much to themselves.

Another so-called “advantage” with a baby is that you can change his/her name to your own, something you cannot do with a toddler or teenager and this is another crucial part of that sense of ownership.  The likes of Tracey Fay, at 14 would not have stood for being called a different name, but baby Xiao Ming from China has no choice in having his name changed to Sean Murphy.  A child who is genuinely available for adoption is not looking to have his/her identity changed; rather he/she is looking for security and stability. 

To return to the original point, it is this need for a sense of ownership, to have “a child of our own” that will prohibit many prospective adopters from considering the likes of Tracey Fay for adoption.  

Though there are some wonderful and completely selfless adoptive parents who have adopted slightly older disabled children (e.g. children who have survived Chernobyl), even then there can be issues of ownership, which I saw clearly displayed recently in a TV3 interview with a couple having difficulty adopting a girl from Belarus.  They had begun the process of adoption when they said the natural parents “came back on the scene”.  This was treated like it was bad news, an inconvenience and a glitch in the plan.  Granted, the girl was receiving medical treatment here in Ireland and there appeared to be some hold ups with her receiving the treatment after she was in the custody of her natural parents, but to be quite honest, if I had to deal with this couple as a natural mother I would find it difficult at best as the level of contempt with which the natural parents were treated was appalling.  This couple appeared to be unable to see beyond the fact that their master plan was interrupted by the return of the natural parents.  

In adoption you can never assume that you’re going to get the fairytale happy ever after – you are always going to share this child with the natural parents, you are always going to be dealing with a troubled child.  It isn’t about you, it is about the child – it’s always about the child.  When you lose sight of that – and people often do – then adoption becomes a selfish act. 

I do feel for people who cannot have children of their own, but, speaking as an adopted person, let me assure you that adoption is not a solution to this problem.  It is very wrong to expect a traumatised child to fulfil the needs of a childless couple and whether or not adoptive parents are aware that they are doing it, it often happens. 

If you have been living in ignorant bliss up until reading this piece, before you assume it’s a load of nonsense, buy yourself a copy of the Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier, an adoptive mother who dared to explore the mind of the adopted child.  And, the next time you hear about a child being adopted from abroad, think about whether it is in the best interests of that child and ask yourself if that child was truly available for adoption or if that available home might have been better filled by a needy Irish child languishing in the care system.

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“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning . . . and the most disquieting loneliness." 

Alex Haley, Author of Roots 





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