New legislation has
left voluntary adoption agencies in limbo
Irish Times, Sat, Nov
When the Adoption Board
was replaced by the Adoption Authority on Monday, agencies, prospective
parents and children up for adoption were left in a state of
uncertainty, writes KATE HOLMQUIST
DOMESTIC ADOPTIONS have
been stalled by the enactment of the Adoption Act 2010 this week,
causing frustration for those going through voluntary agencies, rather
than the Health Service Executive. Several Irish-born babies in hospital
or in care, who were about to be placed by those agencies, are now in
limbo, putting them at risk of being too old to emotionally “attach”
to adoptive parents by the time they are placed, say agency social
Meanwhile, some adopted
adults tracing their birth mothers have had this psychologically
gruelling process stalled suddenly.
“This legislation is
taking Irish adoption back 50 years,” says Hazel Douglas of Pact, a
Protestant adoption agency.
The complaints outlined
here relate to a small proportion of adoptions. In 2008, 41 children
were placed through domestic adoption, 13 by adoption societies and 28
by the HSE.
When the Adoption Board
was replaced by the Adoption Authority last Monday, voluntary adoption
agencies lost the accreditation they had, leaving them confused about
where they stand, what they are legally allowed to do and what to tell
their upset clients.
The lack of clarity and
information from the authority means the agencies don’t know when or
if they will be able to resume working with their clients, they say.
“The fact there has been no transitional arrangement creates hardship
for those parties already in the process and engaged with voluntary
agencies,” says Sheila Gallagher, secretary of the Council of Irish
Adoption Agencies (CIAA).
The act was designed to
implement the Hague Convention, thereby protecting the interests of the
nearly 400 foreign-born children adopted annually by Irish people, as
well as those of the foreign birth parents and the Irish adoptive
parents. To protect against trafficking in babies, the act states that
no single can provide all aspects of the adoption process because birth
parents and adoptive parents must be kept entirely separate.
The CIAA and Douglas
say this is welcome when a child is being adopted from overseas as often
the services are underdeveloped. The effect on domestic adoption,
however, has been to undermine decades of work by Irish agencies to
create a child-centred system that relies on having all aspects of
adoption — including tracing and post-adoption counselling — handled
in one place, they say. “The act fragments the domestic adoption
services,” says Douglas. “It’s destroying the integrated model we
built up and is replacing it with an outdated system.”
It will also make the
practice of open adoption, where the birth parents maintain contact with
the child, almost impossible to manage if birth parents and adoptive
parents must be dealt with through separate agencies.
There’s no need for
this, Douglas says. “There is no conflict of interest if assessments
of prospective adoptive parents and counselling of birth parents are
carried out by different social workers in the same agency,” Douglas
Joan O’Keeffe of St
Catherine’s Adoption Society, part of Clarecare, a voluntary support
agency, says dealing with all sides of the adoption triangle allows
agencies “to provide a full and integrated service right through life
for the birth parents, the children and the adoptive parents. But under
the act if you do assessments, you can’t also work with the birth
mother and place the child.”
splintering of the various roles of adoption agencies, the Adoption
Authority states: “There should be no potential conflict of interests
and roles (or indeed any scope for public perceptions of any such
potential conflicts of interests and roles) within any particular
registered accredited body.
‘domestic’ Irish adoptions and inter-country adoptions, it was felt
that, although the circumstances under which these different types of
adoption may take place vary considerably, there should, nevertheless,
be a clear public commitment by Government to the concept of an equality
of transparently high standards across the spectrum of adoption in
In response to
allegations by the voluntary adoption agencies that there has been a
lack of communication, the Adoption Authority states that it held “a
full information and briefing day for all agencies involved in the
domestic adoption process on Friday 8th October.
The council of adoption
agencies says their agencies attended the briefing but did not receive
answers to specific queries about the implications for their services
and were advised to get their own legal advice, which some of them
cannot afford to do. It was only after the briefing that the agencies
understood the potential impact on their services and the implications
for adoptive parents.
Since then, the
adoption agencies say they have not received answers to their queries,
leaving them without answers to give their clients.
Birth mothers tell Kate
Holmquist their stories of open adoption
turmoil The couples waiting to provide a child with a home
Dave and Niamh, a
childless couple from Kildare, are in a state of raw grief having been
told by Cunamh, the adoption agency assessing them, that the process had
to stop due to the enactment of the Adoption Act 2010 on November 1st.
“After a year’s
intensive effort in the assessment process, we were left high and dry
with unanswered questions,” says Dave, himself an adoptee who was
placed through Cunamh as a baby, and who has also traced his birth
mother with its help.
“Now it feels like
the past nine months have been wasted, it’s yet another upheaval,”
says Dave. “ My wife is exhausted from crying, shock, grief, turmoil
– we had tried to move on and now face the prospect that all those
counselling sessions were possibly fruitless. It’s very cruel and
shows very little humanity to be stopped at this stage.”
adoption, the couple had spent €25,000 on six attempts at IVF. They
were thrilled when Niamh, having already suffered a miscarriage at 12
weeks and the side effects of fertility treatment, became pregnant with
twin boys. Their sons were born at 21 weeks but died later. “It was a
heart-rending journey,” says Dave.
The couple felt “a
glimmer of hope” when Cunamh accepted them into the assessment process
for adoption last January and they have completed six out of eight
initial steps in adoption assessment.
These involved intense
psychological scrutiny during two-hour sessions every three to four
weeks with a social worker, as well medical and Garda checks. There were
many other steps to take too, from seeking affidavits from friends to
writing pen pictures of themselves for the prospective birth parents.
He and Niamh don’t
know where their files will be sent, how they will be handled or whether
they will have to go to the bottom of the Health Service Executive queue
and start the whole arduous assessment process again.
Not even knowing how
long the uncertainty will last, the couple, now aged 34 and 36, say they
are seriously facing life without the prospect of ever having a child of
their own because of this act.
In a letter to Minister
for Children Barry Andrews, whose department created the legislation,
Niamh has written: Do you understand in any way the pain of being
childless? Do you understand how difficult it is to hold on to some
shred of hope . . . Do you know what a couple endures before coming to
the decision that adoption is their last hope in what is often an
otherwise hopeless situation?”
In urgent need of
answers, the couple has sought an explanation from the Adoption
Authority, the HSE and the Minister for Children without success so far.
“There isn’t even a phone number to ring,” says Dave.
They are among 15
couples, being assessed with the voluntary adoption agency, Cunamh.
Another worried adoptive parent is Anthony, who says his wife is
distraught. Having already adopted a baby girl through Cunamh, they had
gone through assessment again and were very close to being put on the
list for a second baby when Cunamh told the couple the process had to
stop. “We have been going through the assessment process since last
February and had hoped to have it finished by the end of 2010, so we are
extremely disappointed,” Anthony says. “ Cunamh is an excellent
agency with a good and rigorous process. It seems to have been caught in
the crossfire of the act.”
father, who prefers not to be named, says of the confusion: “No one
will answer our calls and now we are all in limbo. I know of two babies
in hospital now who are there waiting.”
Already the adoptive
parent of one child, he is concerned that these babies could be left in
care for too long, making it difficult for them later on. “Every day
in foster care makes it more difficult to bond and attach with the
adoptive parents,” he says.
In response to the
concerns of parents wishing to adopt, the authority said: “All
applicants for domestic adoption will have to be assessed for
eligibility and suitability by the appropriate regional HSE adoption
service, pending the accreditation of suitable agencies in that regard.
It will be a matter for the HSE to carry out those assessments on a case
by case basis as provided for under the act.”
It added that the
accreditation process of the adoption agencies has yet to commence. This
confirms adoptive parents’ fears that either they will have to go into
the HSE queue, or will have to wait indefinitely for their adoption
agencies to be accredited.
© 2010 The Irish Times
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