Adoption patterns have changed a lot in recent decades, forum hears
Giving up of children from unwed parents down from 97% in 1967 to less than 1%
Child law expert Dr Geoffrey Shannon: said a variety of factors, such as a softening in attitude towards lone parenthood, have contributed to the changes in adoption. Photograph: Alan Betson
The number of children born to unmarried parents and placed for adoption has fallen dramatically over recent decades, new figures show.
In 1967, 97 per cent – or 1,493 – of children of unmarried parents in Ireland were placed for adoption. Last year that proportion had fallen to less than 1 per cent, or fewer than 50 children.
The figures were contained in an address by child law expert Dr Geoffrey Shannon to an international conference on European Family Law.
He said a variety of factors have contributed to the change, such as a softening in attitude towards lone parenthood, the availability of contraception and the welfare payments for unmarried mothers.
Dr Shannon said the recent referendum to strengthen children’s rights is likely to lead to an increase in domestic adoption. This is because the wording recognised the need for adoption as an option for some children in long-term foster care. “This is a welcome move for children and families seeking legal and permanent recognition, enhancement and strengthening of the family attachments that have grown between them through their years of shared family life,” he said.
Dr Shannon said the numbers of children being adopted internationally has also been falling in recent years.
This was due to new legal standards and the fact many countries which traditionally placed children for adoption were putting child protection frameworks in place domestically, aimed at maintaining children at home. The profile of children being placed for adoption internationally has also changed significantly over recent years, he said.
While newborn children were most likely to be adopted until relatively recently, now children are more likely to be between three and six years old and to have spent significant time in institutional care. They are also likely to have additional health or medical needs.
Dr Shannon, who is chairman of the Adoption Authority of Ireland, was addressing the conference in a personal capacity. He was selected as expert adviser to address the European Parliament on potential EU-wide legislation on adoption.
He also explained how different legal procedures across EU member states can pose problems for cross-border adoptions. Issues such as habitual residence, the nationality of the child and the age of adopters can pose barriers to the recognition of cross-border adoptions.
These issues potentially affect thousands of families, given that 13 per cent of marriages across the EU involve parents of different nationalities.
In addition, varying approaches to surrogacy, he said, raised the risk of “stateless” children being left in legal limbo.
Dr Shannon said there was the possibility of a resolution for EU legislation to deal with these kinds of cross-border legal problems. Similar provisions are in place for recognising the dissolution of marriage, for example.
This legislation could ensure greater unity in legal consequences following an adoption order.
While the Hague Convention sets out minimum standards for international adoption, European legislation could introduce uniform rules across member states and help remove uncertainty for parents.