prejudice against adopted people
Though it is not widely recognised or reported, adopted people
experience a significant level of prejudice, both on a systemic basis in
their daily interactions with State institutions and in a wider context
as a community of people. This
prejudice takes many forms and is rarely acknowledged.
People as Disruptive Forces
The most common form of prejudice is the tendency to of social workers
and unqualified agency staff to predict negative outcomes in the area of
reunions e.g. that the natural mother will not want contact in the first
place, that any attempt to make contact will be regarded as highly
disruptive in her life. Similarly,
discussions surrounding information legislation are peppered with
assumptions that most natural mothers don’t want contact and adopted
people are somehow intruding on their lives. This attitude was
exemplified in former Minister for Children, Mary Hanafin’s 2001 draft
bill on “Adoption Information and Tracing”, which proposed a new
crime – applicable only to adopted people – that of contacting their
natural parents without their express prior permission.
agency staff speculate about natural mothers’ circumstances, adopted
people are often told “she may have moved on and had a family”
rather than “you may have siblings to look forward to meeting”.
A negative slant is frequently placed on outcomes that would
otherwise be viewed as positive in any other area of society.
to be grateful
Conversely, adopted people are often criticised when they express
criticisms towards the effects of closed, forced, secret adoption, with
support groups sometimes viewed as “bitter” or “negative”.
In an effort to smooth over the cracks of closed, forced, secret
adoption, an undue emphasis is put on how successful an adoption is
perceived to be, how lucky the adopted person is to have such lovely
adoptive parents, etc. Irrespective
of how wonderful any set of adoptive parents is, adopted people
experience a profound loss when separated from their natural mothers and
that loss is further compounded by denying them permission to express
this loss and to question the reasons for it (i.e. the temporary
circumstances that had life-long effects).
myth of “turning up on the doorstep”
Adopted people are often left with the impression that social workers
and unqualified agency staff are preoccupied with the notion of adopted
people “turning up on their natural mother’s doorstep”, despite
there being no evidence to support this. In some cases, this bias
reaches almost hysterical proportions, e.g. in a recent case, an adopted
person seeking the release
of her file, reported to Adoption Rights Alliance that her Dublin based
social worker predicted that
if she got her file “you'd run straight to where your mother
lives”. At this point in
her trace, the adopted person hadn’t actually considered reunion, she
was merely seeking information.
of adopted people
Adopted people are forever infantilised because, no matter what age they
are, they are registered on the “Adopted Children’s
Register”. And, with the
greatest of respect to Minister Fitzgerald, adult adopted people are
currently under the jurisdiction of the Department of Children.
This infantilising is also promoted and practised by the Adoption
Authority, the so-called national centre of excellence on adoption.
In a draft publication sent to our predecessor organisation, the
then Adoption Board referred to adopted people’s searches as being an
opportunity to “take or regain control over their lives”.More worryingly, in exchange for the release of birth
certificates, the Adoption
Board operated a practice of forcing adopted people to sign affidavits,
promising not to contact their natural parents when they had no legal
authority to do so, ironically repeating the bullying and coercive
tactics of agencies involved in forced adoptions.
The practice was discontinued after a successful campaign by our
it is rarely expressed in so many words, there is an underlying
preconception that natural mothers need to be protected from adopted
people (and sometimes, vice versa) and an unfounded notion that there is
a lack of control amongst adopted people and that they need to be
somehow “regulated", a view expressed by Barry Andrews while he
was Minister for Children.
versus righteous anger
Another common misperception is that adopted people are angry and over
emotional. There is a
difference between anger and righteous anger at an injustice that
is being experienced. The
vast majority of adopted people we have assisted over the years are
happy and successful in their ordinary everyday lives.
It is the fact that they are treated as “less than” by the
lack of legislation that causes them to speak up in righteous anger.
Being vocal about an injustice should be applauded and not
discouraged, yet Irish adopted people are often made to feel that this
is unhealthy and ultimately, unhelpful.
Adopted people commonly say that they feel as if they are under scrutiny
in meetings with social workers and that proceedings can take on an
“inquisitorial air". Instead
of feeling that the social worker is an objective professional
advocating for them, adopted people frequently report that they are
afraid to show any kind of emotional weakness, for fear of jeopardising
their position. One adopted
person recently reported to us that her Health Service Executive (HSE)
social worker asked her if she was prone to depression.
The adopted person said she was not, at which point the social
worker said: “Oh.
Well, I’ve found your natural mother”.
We wonder what the social worker would have said if the adopted
person was prone to depression. In
the eyes of the HSE is an adopted person prone to depression considered
any less worthy of reunion?
workers as advocates for both sides
Some Irish social workers have also realised that unlike other
confidential professional relationships an adopted person might have
e.g. with a doctor, solicitor or accountant, with regard to social
workers or unqualified agency staff (most of whom have a vested interest
in keeping agency files secret), they are asked to accept the illogical
line that the one person will advocate fairly and equally for both
sides. Despite concerns
being raised over these potential clashes, little or no changes have
been made in the way that requests for information or reunions are
handled in practice. Complaints regarding malpractice are next to
impossible to make given the near complete failure of the AAI or the HSE
to conduct any monitoring of agencies’ performances coupled with the
absence of published service standards and the real fear on the part of
adopted people that their cases will be jeopardised if they complain.
The prejudices we have outlined feed into the legislative process (or
lack thereof) and having been active in the area of adoption reform
during the entire period of Fianna Fáil’s recent tenure in
government, we can wholeheartedly identify with the “mental
reservation” phenomenon cited in the Murphy Report.
goes without saying that prejudice should have no place in legislation.
However, since 1952 adopted people have been expected to bow to
the perceived needs of others, inevitably to their own detriment.
Those who choose to search are forced to carry the secrets of
others and bear the full weight of the stigma associated with their
drafting adoption information legislation there is an opportunity to
truly balance the scale of rights; however preconceptions must be set
aside in order to produce an Adoption Act that adopted people deserve.
discrimination against adopted people
approach to family history, heritage and Irishness
In recent years family research has become not only a popular hobby, but
Irish people have discovered their burning desire to learn about their
family’s history and heritage. This
is a worldwide trend, recognised by the Irish State, which has ensured
that its diaspora have unfettered access to their history and heritage
through free online access to the 1901 and 1911 Censuses.
Meanwhile RTÉ’s “Who
Do You Think You Are?” programme takes Irish celebrities on a
journey of discovery of their family’s past.
The current government has even established a scheme to provide
Ireland’s diaspora with “Certificates of Irishness”
In stark contrast,
adopted people are denied the right to know their families of origin,
their own original name, their natural mother’s name, their place of
birth, the circumstances which led to their adoption, their early care
and medical treatment. Genealogy
enthusiasts are not questioned for contacting long lost relatives, while adopted people are warned that they may be disturbing people by
This two-tier system is
a slap in the face to Irish adopted people, making them feel hugely
discriminated against. This
sense of discrimination was further reinforced in May 2011, when US
President Barack Obama was welcomed home to Ireland.
Our service users reported a deep sense of feeling let down by
the Irish state. While most
of the country was celebrating its Irishness, welcoming home one of its
most famous sons, adopted people felt left out in the cold, as if their
need to know who they are didn’t matter.
The nine grounds on
which discrimination is declared unlawful in Ireland are: gender,
marital status, family status, age, disability, race, sexual
orientation, religious belief and membership of the traveller community.
are an estimated 50,000 adopted people in Ireland; each adopted person
has two natural parents, bringing the minimum number of people directly
affected to 150,000. As we
have demonstrated above, adoption has consequences not only for the
people directly involved, but each subsequent generation is affected.
With this in mind, the population of people affected by adoption
in Ireland is a sizeable one (conservatively estimated at 300,000 people
and easily comparable with the population of the minority groups listed
in the nine grounds for discrimination.
stigma of illegitimacy is supposedly a thing of the past, however every
time an adopted person is treated differently to any other citizen of
Ireland, that stigma is unearthed and reinforced.
We assert that Irish State should no longer stand over this
discrimination and we therefore call for the amendment of existing
equality legislation to include “circumstances of birth” in the
grounds on which discrimination is considered unlawful.
urge the Irish State to amend existing equality legislation to include
“circumstances of birth” in the grounds on which discrimination is
people as Ireland’s “internal diaspora”
In most populations of diaspora, there is a sense of togetherness, an
opportunity to ensure that the cultural identity of the community is
maintained. A feeling of
stability and continuity can be created, a collective sense of self
which seems to go some way towards making up for the loss of country and
culture. Adoption Rights
Alliance contends that adopted people are Ireland’s internal diaspora,
yet their sense of belonging and culture – be that family, community
or county culture – is lost. There
is no way to maintain what has been lost, because that which has been
lost is not known to those who have been adopted – there isn’t
anybody to pass down traditions, stories and identity because the
adopted person is exiled alone.
Irish adopted people as a community have been coming
together over the past 20 or more years, with increasing volume since
the internet came into existence. The
act of coming together as a group has created a huge sense of belonging
amongst adopted people. A
strong bond exists because the experience of being adopted is so unique.
Ironically, the experience of being exiled with no links to
natural family members has created a sense of unity and identity amongst
adopted people – the internal diaspora have, through their shared
experiences, become a distinct community.
Being part of an understanding community is
undoubtedly beneficial for adopted people however the fact remains that
this population of people has been denied their sense of identity.
The damage caused by closed, secret, forced adoption can never be
fully repaired; however, automatic access to birth certificates and
adoption files would go a long way towards that end.