Tusla chief apologises to those let down by State when seeking birth information

Committee hears warnings over possible lengthy delays for adopted people seeking records

Bernard Gloster, chief executive of Tusla, the child and family agency. File photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

Bernard Gloster, chief executive of Tusla, the child and family agency. File photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

 

Significant resources would be needed to ensure adopted people seeking to access information about their birth do not face current waits of up to two years, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Bernard Gloster, chief executive of Tusla, the child and family agency, said it was crucial that proposed legislation was backed up by more resources to allow adopted people receive information about their early lives in a “timely way”.

He was speaking as the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs was conducts pre-legislative scrutiny of the Birth Information and Tracing Bill.

The legislation aims to give adopted people access to their original birth certificates, information about their birth mother and other personal or medical information from their early lives.

Mr Gloster apologised to adopted people who had been hurt and let down by the State in previous attempts to access their information.

Disappointment

Tusla had operated in a “weak legal framework”, which had resulted in “disappointment” for many adopted people in their dealings with the agency, he said.

It was crucial that people were not faced with “lengthy waiting periods” to receive information when the legislation came into effect, he said.

“The reality is, at the present time, we have people waiting for information and tracing services, approximately 800 people at the end of the first quarter of this year,” Mr Gloster said.

Current waiting times for people applying to access their information ranged from one to two years, he said.

Adopted people have long campaigned for the legislation, having previously faced major difficulties accessing their early life records and often receiving heavily redacted files.

Siobhán Mugan, Tusla’s national manager for adoption, said it was trying to “maximise” the amount of data it could provide to people applying under current laws.

Orlaith Traynor, chair of the Adoption Authority of Ireland, also said it would require “significant additional resources” in order to avoid delays.

She said the authority was aware “very large numbers” of people would wish to apply to access their personal information when the law came into effect.

“There will be a grave impact on the provision of timely services if resources are not put in place in advance of enactment,” she said.

The authority currently had a “two year plus” waiting list for services, she told the committee.

Wish not to be contacted

Under the proposed legislation, birth mothers will be able to register that they do not wish to be contacted, prior to the information being released to the adopted person.

Mr Gloster said he would support calls to fund counselling for birth parents and adopted people going through the process.

“We should have, or some organisation should have, a statutory duty to provide it if requested,” he said.

Patricia Carey, the authority’s chief executive, said there was a concern that in some cases incorrect information about the birth father had been recorded on birth certs. The authority was aware that in less than 10 per cent of cases mothers may have given incorrect details, she said.

“This may have been on advisement, or at the time she had difficulty naming the birth father…in terms of incest or rape,” she said.

Prof Conor O’Mahony, the Government special rapporteur on child protection, said he was concerned that adoption records would remain “dispersed and fragmented”.

He said records being held between several agencies and in different locations would lead to delays responding to requests.