Hundreds of children currently in foster care will become eligible for adoption under proposed legislation before the Dáil, according to Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Dr Katherine Zappone.
The Minister will tell a seminar at the Adoption Authority of Ireland on Thursday morning that the legislation will allow the High Court to approve adoptions for children in foster care for 18 months or more with their applicant carers.
At the end of September, of the 6,329 children in care, 5,905 were in foster care and 30 per cent were living with relatives.
Under current legislation, it is very difficult for foster carers to adopt children in their charge. So far this year, 18 children in foster care have been adopted.
If the Adoption Amendment Bill is passed, the High Court will have revised criteria under which it can authorise adoption without parental consent.
These include when parents have failed in their duty towards a child for three years; when there is no reasonable prospect of parents caring for a child; and when children have spent at least 18 months living with the applicants.
Ms Zappone will tell the seminar the adoption of children from long-term foster care may serve to offer some “a second chance to enjoy the stability of a caring and loving family in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child”.
“Each case is of course unique and adoption may not be deemed an appropriate measure for every child in long-term foster care. However, this change does offer a real and exciting opportunity for families who may feel they and a foster child are living in limbo,” she will say.
The legislation, which has cleared report stage in the Dáil and will next be considered by the Seanad, also includes changes to the age limit for adoption.
It includes the right for any child to be adopted, irrespective of the marital status of parents, where parents give their consent and through the High Court when parents do not consent.
It also provides for the adoption of a child by a step-parent without the current requirement for the a 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.
Chairman of the Adoption Authority Dr Geoffrey Shannon, who will also speak at the conference, has said the authority “continues to highlight the rights and best interests of children, and seeks to ensure that the voice of the child is heard in all adoption matters”.
He said in domestic adoption from long-term foster care, “most children are of an age and level of maturity where they are consulted about the proposed adoption”.