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HSE gave funds to unaccredited adoption agency

By Conall Ó Fátharta

Irish Examiner, Monday, May 28, 2012

The HSE has continued to fund an adoption agency despite it not being accredited to carry out any adoption services since Nov 2010.

The HSE confirmed the Helping Hands Mediation Agency, based in Cork, was funded to the tune of €35,000 in 2012.

The HSE previously stated it had ceased funding the agency in Oct 2011.

However, in a statement the HSE said the money was for the finalisation of works already committed to before Nov 2010 and which was carried out in 2011.

"All this has now been completed so no further funding will be issued to them unless they receive accreditation," the HSE said.

It has previously been reported that the HSE paid almost €420,000 for work carried out in 2010. This was broken up into two payments of €280,000 in 2010 and €136,780 in 2011. The agency has also received funding from the National Lottery in the past.

Founded it 2005 by Sharon O’Driscoll, a former member of the Adoption Board, Helping Hands was initially accredited to act as a mediation agency for couples wishing to adopt from Vietnam.

However, its authorisation to work in the country was withdrawn by the Vietnamese government following the lapsing of its bilateral agreement with Ireland in May 2009.

Ireland chose not to resume the agreement following concerns about adoption practices in the country raised in Unicef’s International Social Services report published in November of the same year.

Helping Hands was specifically singled out for criticism in the report for the fees it charged potential adoptive parents.

The agency is still in operation but has not yet been accredited by the Adoption Authority (AAI) under the Adoption Act. Despite this, it has continued to be funded by the HSE.

Arc Adoption is the only agency accredited by the AAI to work with Vietnam. This has been forwarded by the AAI to the Vietnamese authorities for approval. Arc Adoption has received no funding from the HSE.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, the chief executive of Helping Hands, Sharon O’Driscoll, said the funding was for the transmission, translation, and notarisation of post-placement reports on adoptions for Vietnam. She said the agency carried out 1,622 such reports in 2011.

"You need office facilities and have to pay people and cover overheads to do that. The board of Helping Hands is fully committed to an ethical and transparent adoption process."

"We are very genuine in our work. Every record is scanned into a database so that there is a computer and paper record. In the future, if any adopted person wants to access it, then a complete record is there for them," Ms O’Driscoll said.

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