Imposing age limits for people adopting abroad `may be illegal'

 

A decision by the Adoption Board to introduce age limits for people wishing to adopt children from abroad may be illegal.

Mr Francis McGeough, chairman of the International Adoption Association, said last night it had sought advice and "first indications are that it is illegal". He expressed surprise at the board's decision, as a previous attempt by it to introduce age limits in this context had failed.

In a circular issued on December 2nd, the Adoption Board announced it had decided "in the interests and welfare of a child adopted from abroad, to introduce an age limit for intercountry adoptions".

It said: "In the case of a joint application [to adopt], the youngest applicant should be no more that 42 years of age and the older of the applicants no more than 45 years of age at the time of application to the agency for assessment for inter-country adoption. Age limits for joint applications cannot be aggregated for eligibility purposes."

It continued: "In the case of sole applicants, the applicant should be no more than 42 years of age at the time of application to the assessing agency."

The age limits were applied "with immediate effect in respect of any applicants applying in writing to an adoption agency for assessment for inter-country adoption".

Adoption agencies were advised to ensure procedures were put in place to record the date of receipt of each written application for assessment for intercountry adoption and to note the date of application on the assessment report.

However, the board retained the right to waive age limits in cases "where there is a pre-existing relationship between the applicants and the child or where a sibling of a child already adopted becomes available for adoption".

Currently no upper age limit legally applies to people wishing to adopt Irish children. However, a lower age limit of at least 21 applies for both where a couple are concerned. Where either married partner is related to the child just one has to be over 21.

Meanwhile, the Government has agreed to increase funding by £500,000 to speed up the assessment of foreign adoptions for Irish couples. The money, which has been allocated to the health boards, is in addition to the £500,000 allocated last summer for the same purpose following a recommendation in a report prepared by Dr Valerie O'Brien, of UCD. It brings to £2 million the amount of State funding now allocated to such assessments.

Between 1991 and 1998, 814 children from abroad were adopted by couples in this State. However, in her report, published last July, Dr O'Brien estimated that, at the beginning of this year, the number of applications would have risen to 1,160.

Last night, the Minister of State for Health and Children, Mr Frank Fahey, said it was expected most of the additional funding would be spent in the Eastern and Southern health board areas, where the greater number of applicant couples live. He also said the Government was currently negotiating a bilateral agreement with the Russian authorities about the adoption of children from that country. In 1998, Ireland concluded such agreements with Romania and China.

Mr Fahey said at a meeting before Christmas that he had agreed in principle to assist parents financially whom he had met at his office who had been approved by the health boards for adoption and were now actively seeking children abroad.

It has been reported that couples have spent between £15,000 and £20,000 with international agencies to help them find children. The figures are considered exorbitant by voluntary groups working in the area.