Charade of having to adopt my own daughter
OPINION:We still have a long way to go before the rights of all our children are truly cherished in law
THERE IS lots of talk at the moment about the rights of children. Next month we will vote on the Children’s Rights Referendum. One of the stated aims of this amendment is that children’s voices should be heard in legal proceedings concerning them.
Let me tell you a story.
I got married in 1996. I already had a daughter and had parented her alone with no input from her biological father (who is not in this jurisdiction) for 10 years.
By the following January I felt it was time to put in train what I assumed would be the simple matter of having my new husband adopt my daughter. I discovered that we, as a married couple, would have to jointly adopt her.
I was to place my daughter (10) for adoption and then apply to adopt her! She was adapting well to our new life but we had had a tragic bereavement in our family and it was entirely inappropriate to shake her feeling of security by having to have her own mother adopt her. I refused to do it.
I instructed my husband that if there was a guardianship issue in my absence – for example, if she had an accident and needed medical attention – he was to sign and say nothing. I was furious at being forced into this legal limbo but I put my child’s psychological wellbeing first.
Along with being her legal guardian, the other reason we wanted my husband to adopt my daughter was for inheritance. We went on to have two more children and we wanted them equal in law in all respects.
Had I predeceased him, my eldest daughter couldn’t inherit from him without paying tax as their relationship would not be recognised in law. When she was about 16 – and could understand this charade of adoption – we put the wheels in motion.
Social workers interviewed us, separately and together. I was assessed for my suitability to be mother to my own daughter. It was nonsense. It was degrading and insulting to me. The process took no account of the fact I was this child’s mother and had been parenting alone for a decade.
In the end we were given a date for our Adoption Board hearing, where we would find out if we had been successful.The final insult was my daughter being issued with a new birth cert naming me as her “adoptive mother”.
The indignity of my experience came back to me in the last few weeks with media coverage on the forthcoming referendum, the main thrust of which seems to be to enable children of married couples to be adopted, either voluntarily or because in the eyes of the State the parents are failing in their duties.
I presumed that the anomaly I first encountered in 1996 had been corrected. But a phone call to the Adoption Authority of Ireland confirmed it has not.
Speaking in the Dáil last month on the amendment on children’s rights, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: “This wording removes inequalities in our adoption law today.” He added: “This proposed referendum offers a child a second chance of a family.”
Our family, like thousands of others in Ireland, started with my daughter and me – just the two of us. The State rode roughshod over that and replaced our family history by erasing the 10 years we spent together and making me an adoptive mother, which I am not.
In our hall we have a copy of The Proclamation containing the aspiration of “cherishing all the children of the nation equally”. Almost 100 years after those words were written and as we finally get around to enshrining children’s rights into the Constitution, it seems we still have a long way to go.
Barbara Scully is a writer and media contributor. Her blog, From My Kitchen Table, is at barbarascully.blogspot.ie