A long-awaited overhaul of the Irish adoption process has finally been enacted, but Aoife Valentine notes that there are still flaws in the system
A complete overhaul of the Irish adoption process was marked by the enactment of the Adoption Act 2010 on November 1st. This legislation renders all previous adoption acts enacted and amended between 1952 and 1998 null and void, setting in place a new framework to guarantee that correct procedures are followed in all adoption cases, with the welfare of the child always at the core of the process.
Despite the fact that Ireland signed up to the Hague Convention thereby agreeing to comply with the rules regarding inter-country adoption in May 1993, the practice is only now being ratified into Irish law. It accounts for the biggest changes that have occurred through the enactment.
The Hague Convention is a means of safeguarding inter-country adoptions. It aims to prevent the sale, trafficking or abduction of children who are up for adoption and tries to ensure that the child’s best interests are the principal concern. Consent of birth parents, and the child where appropriate, must also be at the centre of the process.
Previously, there had been an obligation for the prospective adoptive parents to make a donation in ‘humanitarian aid’ to the child’s birth country, but this sort of transaction is no longer permitted. Adoption cannot be secured through payment; there must be a distinct divide between the two.
The act only allows for inter-country adoptions to take place with countries that have ratified the Hague Convention, or those countries with which Ireland has a bilateral agreement. This opens the process up to many new countries, but also closes it off to others.
In 2008, the top four countries from which Irish couples adopted were Vietnam (182), Russia (117), Ethiopia (26) and Mexico (22). Since then, adoptions from Vietnam and Russia have been barred, while Ethiopia is a non-Hague Convention country, so three of these four countries have been cut off. Vietnam looks set to sign the Hague Convention and it is hoped that a bilateral agreement can be reached with Russia, however, theoretically being able to adopt from 83 countries won’t necessarily mean that more children are available for adoption.
The Hague Convention requires that a designated authority be set up to manage inter-country adoptions. This has resulted in the abolition of the Adoption Board, and its replacement by the Adoption Authority, which has been granted statutory independent status and now has a range of new functions. It holds the responsibility for making adoption orders and granting declarations of eligibility and suitability to adopt, but will now set standards for adoption and supervise and register accredited bodies.
Moreover, any body that places children for adoption must be registered with, and granted accreditation by, the Adoption Authority. This new stipulation will mean that it is no longer possible for private adoptions to take place.
The new rulings have thus left adoption agencies that existed before the enactment of the Adoption Act (mostly those dealing with domestic adoption) unsure of where they stand. With many upset clients and little information from the Adoption Authority as to when or if they will be re-accredited, the lack of a transitional arrangement for those already working with or about to receive children through voluntary agencies has caused frustration. This ruling is an unnecessary and insensitive oversight considering the emotionally agonising process at hand.
It is hoped that the process itself will become less arduous under the new act. Previously it took up to six years to complete, whereas in the UK or US it would generally only take two years.
The length of time which the scheme took to implement was the biggest complaint made by adopters and given that there is a gross disparity between the nine months it takes to for a baby to come into the world, versus the amount of time spent in the adoption process, it does perhaps seem outrageously long. However, it is understandable that the process must be rigorous and thorough. The child’s interests are at stake and the balance of equality must be tipped in its favour.
The new legislation allows for the Health Service Executive (HSE) to outsource adoption assessments to bodies accredited by the Authority, whereas previously it had to deal with all non-private assessments itself. It is hoped that this will both speed up the process and also free up social workers. However, the outsourcing is unlikely to occur for a couple of years and even when it is implemented, all applications must initially be sent to the HSE who will then assign cases to agencies. Perhaps it’s necessary for supervisory purposes, but it seems pointlessly complicated.
The act is intended to be a modern, reforming piece of legislation that implements a rigid system, ensures more focus on the children in question and eradicates abuses of the process. Ultimately, it will lead to a more just, streamlined system. However, the transitory period until the new system settles leaves much to be desired, with numerous delays, and both agencies and couples being left unsure as to the status of their adoption. It may have aimed for a greater transparency of the process, but for now, it has muddied the waters.