Adoption body sees ‘glimmers of hope’ for prospective parents

Although progress has been made implementing the Hague Convention, international association says there is much yet to be done

The International Adoption Association (IAA) sees "glimmers of hope on the horizon" for would-be adoptive parents as it prepares for its annual conference in Dublin this Saturday. Although progress has been made in the implementation of the Hague Convention, the association "questions the capacity of the Adoption Authority and the mediation agencies to establish the relevant infrastructure".

Trish Connolly, the IAA administrator, says amending the 2010 Adoption Act also needs to be a priority – and not just to extend the right of assessment for suitability to adopt to those in civil partnerships, as already drafted. "We need legislation that is consistent with practice. And we need it urgently,"she says.

For example, now that the post-assessment phase takes so much longer, the association wants declarations of suitability to adopt to be valid for five years, instead of the current two with the option of a year’s extension before reassessment is required.

This is something the adoption authority is "open to looking at", says its chief executive, Patricia Carey. In terms of timeframes for adoption, she says the best-case scenario is etween 18 and 24 months, and the worst case between two to seven years. The process depends on many variables within assessment and matching processes. Carey, along with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, James Reilly, will be among the speakers at the IAA conference.

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We also need legislation for post-adoption support, says Connolly. Although article 9 of the convention states that central adoption authorities should promote the development of post-adoption services, this was not included in the 2010 Act. At present, voluntary agencies, such as Barnardos and Clarecare, do what they can.

“We are acutely aware there are very limited services,” says Carey. “It is one of the things the authority wants to research.” Adoptive parents talk about different requirements, so the first step is to quantify the issues, she says, “and then try to work with the Government and the agencies to put measures in place across the country”.

The Barnardos post-adoption service has a national helpline and provides training on a national basis, but its therapeutic work is on offer only to intercountry adoption children in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow, and there is a five-month waiting list.

“Obviously, families are attending general services, but our argument has always been that this particular type of work is best provided in a specialist setting by people who understand the lifelong nature of adoption,” says Christine Hennessy, manager of Barnardos post-adoption services.

There is a span of needs in the lifetime of an adopted child, she explains, starting with supporting children to recover from attachment issues and early trauma; issues of identity and birth family loss come later; and then support in tracing may be needed for those over 18. The changing profile of incoming children would also suggest a greater need for specialised services.

The IAA is learning “bit by bit” what “children with additional needs” means, says Connolly. China is one country that has started matching such children with families here. During assessments, which are now carried out by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, applicants are asked what level of special need, as well as what age of child, they have the capacity to cope with.

“It can be anything from something as minor as a hernia or cleft palate, which is very common in China, to a child with Down syndrome or autism; it is up to you to show that you can do this,” she says. “In general, people are choosing a minor additional need with correctable measures.”

At assessment stage, people also have to specify the country they are interested in adopting from. Historically, people chose somewhere they had perhaps visited or had a special affiliation to, and worked with mediators or orphanages there. Now, says Connolly, it is more about where is open, how quickly could an adoption be processed and what fees the two accredited agencies, which all prospective adopters must now go through, charge.

Adopting through the Bulgaria programme with Arc Adoption, for example, will involve total fees of €12,356, which is down from €16,000-plus since August, after interim funding of €10,000 a month for Arc and Helping Hands in Cork came through from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. (The Adoption Authority is not a funding body.) The total cost of adopting from the US, also through Arc, is in the range of €40,000-€50,000.

Despite the problems with the implementation of the convention, and the increased costs, the AAI welcomes the protections that come with it. “We welcome the fact that we can stand up as parents to our children in years to come [and say], ‘You weren’t trafficked, you weren’t stolen: we followed a process that our government asked us to, and your country of birth did the same’.”

Connolly doesn’t want people to be put off considering adoption, which, she stresses, is in the best interests of the child if there are no other options available. You only have to look at the news on the TV, she says, to see there are still many, many children who need a family.

Her own two adopted children would have been better off with their birth parents, in China and Ethiopia respectively, if that had been possible, she adds, but it wasn’t. “I think they are better growing up in a chaotic house in Dublin than in the slums of Beijing or Addis Ababa.”

The International Adoption Association annual conference is on this Saturday, November 8th, from 9.30am in the Carlton Hotel, Dublin Airport. For more information and to register, see iaaireland.org.

Barnardos runs a post-adoption helpline, 01-4546388, every Tuesday and Thursday from 10am-1pm, and offers support through email: adoption@barnardos.ie.