New legislation has left voluntary adoption agencies in limbo


When the Adoption Board was replaced by the Adoption Authority on Monday, agencies, prospective parents and children up for adoption were left in a state of uncertainty, writes KATE HOLMQUIST

DOMESTIC ADOPTIONS have been stalled by the enactment of the Adoption Act 2010 this week, causing frustration for those going through voluntary agencies, rather than the Health Service Executive. Several Irish-born babies in hospital or in care, who were about to be placed by those agencies, are now in limbo, putting them at risk of being too old to emotionally “attach” to adoptive parents by the time they are placed, say agency social workers.

Meanwhile, some adopted adults tracing their birth mothers have had this psychologically gruelling process stalled suddenly.

“This legislation is taking Irish adoption back 50 years,” says Hazel Douglas of Pact, a Protestant adoption agency.

The complaints outlined here relate to a small proportion of adoptions. In 2008, 41 children were placed through domestic adoption, 13 by adoption societies and 28 by the HSE.

When the Adoption Board was replaced by the Adoption Authority last Monday, voluntary adoption agencies lost the accreditation they had, leaving them confused about where they stand, what they are legally allowed to do and what to tell their upset clients.

The lack of clarity and information from the authority means the agencies don’t know when or if they will be able to resume working with their clients, they say. “The fact there has been no transitional arrangement creates hardship for those parties already in the process and engaged with voluntary agencies,” says Sheila Gallagher, secretary of the Council of Irish Adoption Agencies (CIAA).

The act was designed to implement the Hague Convention, thereby protecting the interests of the nearly 400 foreign-born children adopted annually by Irish people, as well as those of the foreign birth parents and the Irish adoptive parents. To protect against trafficking in babies, the act states that no single can provide all aspects of the adoption process because birth parents and adoptive parents must be kept entirely separate.

The CIAA and Douglas say this is welcome when a child is being adopted from overseas as often the services are underdeveloped. The effect on domestic adoption, however, has been to undermine decades of work by Irish agencies to create a child-centred system that relies on having all aspects of adoption — including tracing and post-adoption counselling — handled in one place, they say. “The act fragments the domestic adoption services,” says Douglas. “It’s destroying the integrated model we built up and is replacing it with an outdated system.”

It will also make the practice of open adoption, where the birth parents maintain contact with the child, almost impossible to manage if birth parents and adoptive parents must be dealt with through separate agencies.

There’s no need for this, Douglas says. “There is no conflict of interest if assessments of prospective adoptive parents and counselling of birth parents are carried out by different social workers in the same agency,” Douglas says.

Joan O’Keeffe of St Catherine’s Adoption Society, part of Clarecare, a voluntary support agency, says dealing with all sides of the adoption triangle allows agencies “to provide a full and integrated service right through life for the birth parents, the children and the adoptive parents. But under the act if you do assessments, you can’t also work with the birth mother and place the child.”

Regarding the splintering of the various roles of adoption agencies, the Adoption Authority states: “There should be no potential conflict of interests and roles (or indeed any scope for public perceptions of any such potential conflicts of interests and roles) within any particular registered accredited body.

“As regards ‘domestic’ Irish adoptions and inter-country adoptions, it was felt that, although the circumstances under which these different types of adoption may take place vary considerably, there should, nevertheless, be a clear public commitment by Government to the concept of an equality of transparently high standards across the spectrum of adoption in general.

In response to allegations by the voluntary adoption agencies that there has been a lack of communication, the Adoption Authority states that it held “a full information and briefing day for all agencies involved in the domestic adoption process on Friday 8th October.

The council of adoption agencies says their agencies attended the briefing but did not receive answers to specific queries about the implications for their services and were advised to get their own legal advice, which some of them cannot afford to do. It was only after the briefing that the agencies understood the potential impact on their services and the implications for adoptive parents.

Since then, the adoption agencies say they have not received answers to their queries, leaving them without answers to give their clients.

On Monday

Birth mothers tell Kate Holmquist their stories of open adoption

Shock, grief, turmoil The couples waiting to provide a child with a home

Dave and Niamh, a childless couple from Kildare, are in a state of raw grief having been told by Cunamh, the adoption agency assessing them, that the process had to stop due to the enactment of the Adoption Act 2010 on November 1st.

“After a year’s intensive effort in the assessment process, we were left high and dry with unanswered questions,” says Dave, himself an adoptee who was placed through Cunamh as a baby, and who has also traced his birth mother with its help.

“Now it feels like the past nine months have been wasted, it’s yet another upheaval,” says Dave. “ My wife is exhausted from crying, shock, grief, turmoil – we had tried to move on and now face the prospect that all those counselling sessions were possibly fruitless. It’s very cruel and shows very little humanity to be stopped at this stage.”

Before considering adoption, the couple had spent €25,000 on six attempts at IVF. They were thrilled when Niamh, having already suffered a miscarriage at 12 weeks and the side effects of fertility treatment, became pregnant with twin boys. Their sons were born at 21 weeks but died later. “It was a heart-rending journey,” says Dave.

The couple felt “a glimmer of hope” when Cunamh accepted them into the assessment process for adoption last January and they have completed six out of eight initial steps in adoption assessment.

These involved intense psychological scrutiny during two-hour sessions every three to four weeks with a social worker, as well medical and Garda checks. There were many other steps to take too, from seeking affidavits from friends to writing pen pictures of themselves for the prospective birth parents.

He and Niamh don’t know where their files will be sent, how they will be handled or whether they will have to go to the bottom of the Health Service Executive queue and start the whole arduous assessment process again.

Not even knowing how long the uncertainty will last, the couple, now aged 34 and 36, say they are seriously facing life without the prospect of ever having a child of their own because of this act.

In a letter to Minister for Children Barry Andrews, whose department created the legislation, Niamh has written: Do you understand in any way the pain of being childless? Do you understand how difficult it is to hold on to some shred of hope . . . Do you know what a couple endures before coming to the decision that adoption is their last hope in what is often an otherwise hopeless situation?”

In urgent need of answers, the couple has sought an explanation from the Adoption Authority, the HSE and the Minister for Children without success so far. “There isn’t even a phone number to ring,” says Dave.

They are among 15 couples, being assessed with the voluntary adoption agency, Cunamh. Another worried adoptive parent is Anthony, who says his wife is distraught. Having already adopted a baby girl through Cunamh, they had gone through assessment again and were very close to being put on the list for a second baby when Cunamh told the couple the process had to stop. “We have been going through the assessment process since last February and had hoped to have it finished by the end of 2010, so we are extremely disappointed,” Anthony says. “ Cunamh is an excellent agency with a good and rigorous process. It seems to have been caught in the crossfire of the act.”

Another adoptive father, who prefers not to be named, says of the confusion: “No one will answer our calls and now we are all in limbo. I know of two babies in hospital now who are there waiting.”

Already the adoptive parent of one child, he is concerned that these babies could be left in care for too long, making it difficult for them later on. “Every day in foster care makes it more difficult to bond and attach with the adoptive parents,” he says.

In response to the concerns of parents wishing to adopt, the authority said: “All applicants for domestic adoption will have to be assessed for eligibility and suitability by the appropriate regional HSE adoption service, pending the accreditation of suitable agencies in that regard. It will be a matter for the HSE to carry out those assessments on a case by case basis as provided for under the act.”

It added that the accreditation process of the adoption agencies has yet to commence. This confirms adoptive parents’ fears that either they will have to go into the HSE queue, or will have to wait indefinitely for their adoption agencies to be accredited.

Some adoptive parents who feel they are in limbo are starting a campaign. You can contact them at