Dáil debates

Friday, 9 May 2014

Open Adoption Bill 2014: Second Stage [Private Members]


11:25 am

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

Before speaking to the Bill, I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, on his appointment and look forward to constructive and robust engagement with him in the time ahead on the many important issues relevant to his portfolio. I also wish his predecessor, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, all the best in her new responsibilities. She played a significant role in the area of child welfare in the past three years. While we were not always in agreement, I always enjoyed our exchanges in this House.

I welcome the opportunity to debate this issue and compliment Deputy Anne Ferris on the introduction of this Bill. I welcome the Minister's statement that the Bill is to be sent to the Joint Committee on Health and Children for examination in terms of the merits of what is proposed.

The Bill seeks to allow adoptive parents and close blood relatives of an adopted child to agree access arrangements. It also proposes that the existing law be changed to allow the natural parent or relatives to agree measures to facilitate ongoing access to the child with the Adoption Authority in advance of an adoption or the adopters afterwards. Currently, once a child is adopted, no such entitlement exists for natural parents and their relatives, such as grandparents. That existing law provides that all contact be severed must be examined.

In bringing forward this legislation the Deputy cites her own experiences and makes clear that this is about the needs of the adopted child. It is welcome that in this legislation, as in much other children-related legislation that we discuss, the best interests of the child are paramount. The Deputy's point regarding modern Irish family life having changed so much is particularly valid. She contends that an adopted child growing up knowing about his or her two mothers should become as normal as the childhood of a classmate who has parents and step-parents. It is difficult to disagree with such an assertion.

The Bill also seeks to amend the Adoption Act 2010, brought through the Oireachtas by former Minister of State, Barry Andrews, which did not provide for open adoptions. As rightly pointed out earlier by the Minister, as society changes legislation dealing with social issues must also change and continue to evolve. The concept of open adoption has garnered much support in recent times. It is worth looking at the concept as we seek to update and review our adoption laws. Open or semi-open adoption or adoption with contact has become ever more popular. In each case, the fundamental principle of adoption remains, namely, the adopting parents are responsible for the child.

Open adoption enables the birth mother and other family members to choose from a number of prospective adopters. In some cases, the birth mother may meet the prospective adopting parents before an adoption order is made. With a semi-open adoption, there is no direct contact and the birth mother may be informed in such a way that does not identify would-be adopters, and consequently does not impinge on the anonymity or privacy of those involved. Various models of open adoption in place in other jurisdictions - Oregon in the United States being an example - permit an arranged level of contact between the child and its birth parents and other family members to be maintained. The level of contact can vary on the basis of the wishes and priorities of the various parties but may include occasional visits, phone calls and e-mails.

As pointed out by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, the independent child rapporteur and expert in child law,the key advantage of open adoption is that, without compromising the legal integrity of the adoption process, the adopted child is aware of his or her origins, can have preplanned and controlled access to his or her birth parents and the pain of permanent separation of birth parent and child can be tempered. Open adoption is permitted in a number of jurisdictions in the United States, including, as already mentioned, Oregon and Minnesota, Washington and New Mexico. It is also permitted in some Canadian and Australian provinces.

A key contention made by those in favour of open adoption is that it would provide a greater incentive for more birth parents to place a child for adoption where this would be in the best interests of the child. There is no doubt but that open adoption has had encouraging results in places such as New Zealand and Canada, with much better adjustment on the part of older children. This is further supported by statistics from The Hague Permanent Bureau and the Adoption Authority of Ireland. It would also be in keeping with Article 11.4 of the 2008 EU convention on adoption.

Research conducted in Ireland in 2005 by the Crisis Pregnancy Agency and the Adoption Board on domestic adoption found that legal provisions should be put in place to secure open adoption agreements within adoption orders. The research involved women who had placed their babies for adoption in 2002. The report found that adoption as a solution to crisis pregnancy is now rarely the choice of single mothers and the number of babies available for traditional non-family adoption has fallen dramatically. Of the 266 adoption orders made by the Adoption Board in 2002, some 76 were non-family adoptions of Irish children placed by registered adoption agencies. The availability of open adoptions where the birth parents have some continuing contact with the child was an important consideration of the birth mothers who participated in the research. Current arrangements in Ireland for open adoption are voluntary and unenforceable. The study called for legal provisions to be put in place to ensure that where a birth parent wishes to have continued contact with his or her child following the making of an adoption order, such contact should be made a condition of the adoption order and be legally enforceable. However, the long-term consequences of open adoption arrangements need to be monitored and evaluated. This should include consideration of what services need to be in place to keep the channels of communication open between the adopters and the natural parents. The need for ongoing supports for all parties should be assessed and a designated service should be provided.

As stated by Ms Olive Braiden, former chairperson of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, open adoption agreements, where a woman can still have some level of contact with her child, can be a real solution for a woman considering adoption. However, without the legal provision for these agreements, the woman is left uncertain as to her entitlements to have contact with her child. Dr. Shannon also made the point that the success of an open adoption scheme depends largely on the goodwill of the adoptive parents, who, in many cases, may be anxious to foreclose the prospect of being perceived as something other than the child's primary caregivers.

It is critical that any open adoption scheme provide for a thorough discussion of the proper boundaries for access arrangements prior to the adoption order being made. Any agreement made would be the basis of a legally binding contract. Today, we are discussing open adoption. For many people adoption remains a closed issue. One of the key criticisms of the Adoption Act 2010 was that it did not adequately address the issue of information and tracing, in respect of which this Government pledged to act. Former Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, said more than three years ago that a priority issue for her was the introduction of the adoption tracing and information Bill. However, that Bill has yet to come before the House. I believe introduction of that legislation is a priority and ask the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, to ensure that it gets the attention it deserves. Approximately 45,000 to 50,000 people are being denied their fundamental right to their identity because information in this regard is being withheld. In my view, the State is not doing enough to ensure their rights are vindicated. The Adoption Rights Alliance is rightly frustrated at the pace of this legislation and has repeatedly called for a sense of urgency in this regard.

I was recently approached by a lady who put a child up for adoption many years ago and has since made contact with her child. While both parties are agreeable to their records being released, they are not available.

Although the natural mother and adopted child are willing to have their records made available, there is no facility for this. Even with both parties consenting, we do not have a mechanism in place to facilitate them.

I again compliment Deputy Anne Ferris on her Bill and sincerely look forward to a Committee Stage debate on it. There were just 39 domestic adoptions in Ireland in 2011 and there are many prospective parents who want to give a child a happy home. As long as we continue to put the best interests of the child first, we should look to explore all options in adoption. In doing so, however, it is vital that we reassure those who may have concerns about open adoption. Perhaps we should proceed gradually towards open adoption and examine semi-open adoption as a stepping stone on the way.


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