Planned changes to adoption laws are likely to mean that up to 2,000 children would be eligible for domestic adoption.
Major legal obstacles mean domestic adoptions of children in State care are rare. Just 17 children were adopted from foster care here last year. However, new legislation would make it much easier to adopt children if they have been in “long-term” foster care for three years.
There are more than 6,500 children in foster care and up to one-third of them have been there for three or more years.
The planned changes will give fresh hope to would-be parents who have found that intercountry adoptions are increasingly difficult to arrange as a result of new legal restrictions.
However, they may prove controversial among some campaigners who regard it as an encroachment on parents’ rights.
At present, a child in the State may be placed for adoption from foster care only if there has been a total abandonment of parental rights and duties, or with the consent of the birth parents. In practice, this means adoptions are rare, even in cases where parents have been prosecuted for neglecting their children.
Legislation paving the way for a more flexible adoption regime has been drafted by the Government and is due to be enacted, if the result of the children’s rights referendum is formally ratified. The outcome of a legal challenge to the 2012 result is expected next month.
A Supreme Court judge recently ruled authorities were free to reform adoption laws regardless of the outcome of the referendum.
The impact of proposed changes will be discussed at a conference today to be held by the Adoption Authority of Ireland. Authority chairman Geoffrey Shannon said if the referendum result is formally ratified, a significant number of children in foster care would be eligible for adoption from the long-term foster care system.
This would give more children a “second chance” at a safe and secure childhood, he said.
“Adoption is not the answer in every situation, but where a child is in foster care without a realistic hope of returning home, adoption can allow the child a secure family that has legal permanence,” he said.
The authority has set up an implementation group to ensure it is in a position to deliver any changes likely to result from new laws.
More flexible system
Legislation was drafted at the time of the referendum to allow for a more flexible system.
The Child and Family Agency will tell the conference it estimates about 2,000 children in the foster care system would be eligible for adoption under planned changes. The State’s low domestic rate is unusual in international terms. In the UK, most adoptions are drawn from its long-term foster care system. By contrast, there were 13 domestic adoptions from foster care here in 2012.
Wayne Dignam of the Irish Care Leavers’ Network said he welcomed the measure as a “good option”, as long as there was accountability and the best interests of the child applied.