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2010 Act saves adoptive child and couple from pitfalls


Irish Times, Fri, Jan 27, 2012

ANALYSIS: THE QUESTIONING of 11 Irish couples in connection with alleged illegal adoptions in Mexico has highlighted once again the pitfalls to be found in the world of intercountry adoptions.

Until late 2010, adopting a child from abroad into Ireland involved obtaining a declaration of suitability from the Adoption Board, following an assessment by the Health Service Executive. This could be lengthy and onerous, and delays in obtaining such a declaration were the subject of many complaints.

Having obtained their declaration, the couple concerned were then at the mercy of whatever adoption system prevailed in their country of choice, subject only to its adoption law being substantially the same as Irish adoption law. This often involved paying large sums of money to facilitators who arranged transport, accommodation, translations, legal services and medical checks, and, in some instances, “humanitarian aid” to the institutions providing the children.

The family’s next encounter with the Irish State was when they arrived back in Ireland and went to register the child in the Register of Foreign Adoptions.

Given that most of the countries sending children abroad for adoption are much poorer than the receiving countries, the possibilities for corruption are considerable and issues have been raised by the UN’s International Social Service, among others, about the nature of the consent to the adoption given by the natural mothers.

In 2010, a new Adoption Act was passed, repealing previous Adoption Acts and incorporating into Irish law The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions.

This means that the entire process of intercountry adoption, and not just the issuing of declarations of suitability, is now regulated and arranged between the central authorities of the sending and the receiving countries. In Ireland, the central authority is the Adoption Authority.

Children may only be adopted from countries that have signed up to The Hague convention, or with which Ireland has a bilateral agreement, and adopted children are matched to adopting families through the two central authorities, following guidelines laid down by the convention. It is no longer possible for prospective adoptive parents to contact an orphanage or an agency and arrange an adoption directly with them.

In addition to signing The Hague convention, countries from which Irish couples can adopt children must sign an administrative agreement spelling out how adoptions are effected. This includes the preparation of a report on the applicant in a form to be agreed in advance and a report on the child, also in a form to be agreed in advance.

The report on the child includes establishing that consent to the adoption on the part of the birth mother is freely given, following counselling; is not induced by payment; and has not been withdrawn following a period of reflection. Proofs of such consent are required, and the report must specify how and why the adoption is in the best interests of the child. The placement of the child for adoption can only be made when the consent of the Irish authority has been obtained.

This means that both central authorities have to sign off on the adoption and on the process. It is they, not any third party or the families themselves, who arrange the matching of the child with the adoptive parents, and this matching process has several stages.

While this process may appear bureaucratic and cause frustration to many adoptive parents, it is there for their protection and for that of the children, who must be at the centre of the adoption process, according to the chairman of the Adoption Authority, Geoffrey Shannon.

“We have been criticised for delays but that is due to the rigour of the process,” he told The Irish Times.

On the bright side, from the point of view of prospective adoptive parents, obtaining approval to adopt should take much less time now, following the accreditation by the Adoption Authority of three organisations to carry out the assessments previously conducted by the HSE.

However, The Irish Times understands that the HSE has not yet handed over to any of these organisations any applications for assessment. This is puzzling, given that the HSE has been severely criticised for not having sufficient social work resources to cater for the needs of the children in its care, and its assessment service requires social workers.

Meanwhile, as recent events in Mexico show, couples who do not go through the process provided for by the 2010 Adoption Act could face severe difficulties if they attempt to bring to Ireland children adopted abroad. If the children have not been adopted legally under the Act, they will not be registered in the Register of Foreign Adoptions and will have no legal status.

Indeed, they could face even further sanction. Under section 41 of the Act, a declaration of suitability can be withdrawn or amended if new information on the couple emerges. Involvement, even unwittingly, in an illegal adoption abroad could amount to such new information.

Carol Coulter is Legal Affairs Editor

2012 The Irish Times

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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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