Adoption via fostering must be ‘motivated by child’s best interests’

Adoption Amendment Bill: Traumatised young ‘must not see services cut’ if adopted

Irish Foster Carers’ Association Children chief executive  Catherine Bond said children in foster care have often experienced  trauma and require supports,  and adoption would not diminish their needs for such  supports. File photograph: Getty Images

Irish Foster Carers’ Association Children chief executive Catherine Bond said children in foster care have often experienced trauma and require supports, and adoption would not diminish their needs for such supports. File photograph: Getty Images

 

New legislation that will allow hundreds of children in foster care to be adopted must not result in the loss of services to vulnerable children, the Irish Foster Carers’ Association has warned.

Speaking at a seminar on the Adoption Amendment Bill, chief executive of the association, Catherine Bond, said it is imperative that increased adoption from foster care is “motivated by children’s best interests rather than State savings”.

Children in foster care have often experienced earlier trauma and require supports, she said, and adoption will not diminish their needs for those supports.

“There needs to be a commitment that services will follow the child,” she said.

“The child and carer should not be disadvantaged in any way.”

Revised criteria

The Adoption Amendment Bill, currently before the Oireachtas, will remove the ban on the adoption of children of married couples who give their consent. It will also provide the High Court with revised criteria under which it can authorise adoption without parental consent.

This will mean children in foster care may be adopted if their parents have failed in their duty towards them for three years, when there is no reasonable prospect of parents caring for them and when children have spent at least 18 months living with the applicant carers.

The Bill also provides for the adoption of a child by a step-parent without the current legal anomaly that requires the birth-parent partner to also adopt the child. And it will provide for civil partners and cohabiting couples to be eligible to apply to jointly adopt a child.

This year, 18 children were adopted by their foster carers.

Ms Bond said there was potential for up to 2,000 children currently in care to be adopted, based on the criteria set down in the new Bill, but it should not be assumed all children in long-term foster care should be considered for adoption.

“Many foster care placements offer the child the benefits of two families,” she said.

“We do not want to return to a time in Ireland where children were severed from their family of origin.”

Chairman of the Adoption Authority, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, said the new Bill was the most significant change in adoption law since the 1952 Adoption Act.

‘Twilight zone’

He said that, at the moment, a large number of children in long-term foster care live in “a twilight zone”, between “a family that cannot fully care for them and a family that cannot fully have them”.

“For a significant number of children in our care system, rehabilitation with their marital family unit or non-marital family unit is an unattainable goal,” he said.

“They no longer have access with their parents - nevertheless, they legally belong to them and up until now have not been free for adoption. That has been a real tragedy for so many children.”

The new legislation would ensure a much greater sense of dignity for many parents who, through circumstances beyond their control, are not in a position to care for their children, he said.

He warned the legislation would create a “significant additional burden on the resources of the authority” and more resources would be needed.

Also addressing the seminar, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said the Adoption Amendment Bill was an opportunity to change young lives for the better.

She emphasised the best interests of the child would come first and the child’s wishes would be determined and given due weight in the process.