Dáil debates

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Topical Issues

Inter-Country Adoptions

5:35 pm

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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I am pleased to have the opportunity before the end of the term to raise the issue and I thank the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs for her attendance. I am concerned about both the cost and the delay involved in the assessment for those involved in inter-country adoption. I recognise the need to have the most rigorous of procedures in place, particularly with regard to vetting, home studies, HSE approval and approval of the Adoption Authority of Ireland, as well as suitability of applicants and those wishing to provide home and shelter for underprivileged children on a long-term permanent basis. Notwithstanding this, there are a number of issues that must be addressed, and I refer particularly to the case of inter-country adoption with Bulgaria.

Prospective parents who have completed the legal documentation and home study and signed up for an inter-country adoption find themselves in a somewhat precarious position consequent to the completion of the Hague Convention. They include couples who signed an agreement clearly setting out a payment and cost schedule which has since changed because the State has delegated certain functions to private companies. I am anxious that the State satisfy itself as to the financial affairs of the private agencies or companies in question. What is the position regarding the guarantee of funds and bonding, having regard to the fact that money for services is required to be paid in full and up front, which is a somewhat unusual practice in respect of the provision of services in both the private and public sectors?

I am also concerned about duplication in respect of the assessments carried out prior to the ratification of the Hague Convention. I understand that €3,700 is required for 11 hours of social work that is done prior to referral. This is a sizeable sum and I am anxious to be assured that it is considered in order by the authorities. I also require assurances that private agencies do not have the power to refuse a referral and that such power is vested in the Adoption Authority of Ireland.

I am concerned at the period for which a declaration remains valid. As the Minister will be aware by dint of correspondence earlier in the year, I am most concerned about the fee schedule involved for professional and translation fees, overheads and direct costs. I understand from the Adoption Authority of Ireland that its accountants have been examining these schedules for some time. I raise this matter because replies to correspondence I have submitted since the early summer have been unsatisfactory.

I am pleased the Minister is present and anxious that the issue be addressed. Full accountability and transparency are required and the costs associated with inter-country adoptions must remain reasonable.

5:45 pm

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Charles Flanagan for raising this issue and appreciate the reasons he has done so. I assure the Deputy I am addressing this issue.

The Hague Convention and Adoption Act 2010 are designed to provide a framework to ensure all adoptions are effected in the best interests of the child and to the highest possible standard. The interests of the child must be paramount throughout the adoption process. This is best achieved through the full implementation of the highest national and international standards governing adoption practice. The Hague Convention provides a set of minimum standards which are designed to ensure good practice based on the principles of subsidiarity and consent and a requirement that no money should change hands. Inter-country adoption is not without risk. It is for this reason that the principles, as set out in the Hague Convention, were developed.

Currently, the costs related to inter-country adoption have mainly been charged by agencies, both state and private, in the sending country. The Adoption Act 2010 envisages a model which incorporates the use of accredited agencies in both the sending and receiving country. In some instances, however, this may be the same agency in both countries. The Adoption Authority of Ireland, AAI, has accredited three agencies for the purposes of inter-country adoption. These agencies intend operating in a range of countries.

With the signing of the Hague Convention, the position as regards inter-country adoption changed dramatically and extremely difficult transition issues have arisen, particularly for prospective adoptive parents in this country. It is written into our legislation that we cannot have inter-country adoption with countries that have not signed the Hague Convention, except where we have a bilateral or an administrative agreement with the country in question. Serious difficulties, including constitutional issues, arise in respect of many of the countries with which we are seeking to develop bilateral agreements and administrative arrangements. I am addressing these and other issues arising from the sudden transition caused by the signing of the Hague Convention. I am advised that Ireland is one of only a few countries which wrote the convention into their adoption legislation. This decision has made for considerable difficulties.

As I stated recently in response to parliamentary questions on issues related to the level of fees, I am aware that a number of prospective adoptive parents have recently been asked to pay substantial fees to an accredited body within a short timeframe. I met the individuals in question some weeks ago and discussed with them the issues the Deputy raises. I have asked the Adoption Authority of Ireland to address with the relevant adoption agency the issue of requiring fees to be paid up front. It should be possible to pay fees over a longer period. The authority, with the assistance of its auditors, is examining a number of issues related to accredited bodies, including an examination of levels of fees being charged by Irish agencies vis-à-vis international norms. The auditors will also report to the Adoption Authority of Ireland on the proposed payment schedules by accredited bodies.

I am aware that a number of couples have been caught, so to speak, in the transition phase as they paid money previously, for example, in Bulgaria, and are now being asked to pay here. I have asked the Adoption Authority of Ireland specifically to examine the position of these couples to ascertain whether arrangements can be made to facilitate them. They entered the adoption process in the expectation of incurring a certain level of costs. They did not anticipate that costs would reach the level required of them, which is creating a significant difficulty. I will examine this matter.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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I am pleased with the Minister's statement that auditors will examine the fees schedule. Has the State satisfied itself as to the financial standing of the agencies or bodies involved in the inter-country adoption process? Are prospective adoptive parents who have been in the system since before the Hague Convention was signed legally obliged to deal with the designated authority, notwithstanding that the adoption process in their cases has long since commenced?

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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Yes, such adoptive parents are expected to deal with the agency. We can, however, examine the terms and conditions, as it were, under which they are entering the arrangement to ascertain whether we can facilitate them to a greater degree than has been the case thus far. Given the slow pace of inter-country adoption, I am highly conscious of the issue of sustainability of accredited bodies. I have asked the Adoption Authority of Ireland to maintain close contacts with the agencies in question to monitor the current position and to examine the sustainability issue in the coming months and years. It is important that such bodies are in place but their financing is difficult given the delays in inter-country adoptions. There is a complex relationship between the number of adopters, the fees applied and the sustainability of the agencies. As I noted, however, the issue the Deputy raises is on my agenda. I have had meetings on the matter recently and I have asked the Adoption Authority of Ireland to examine it most seriously and revert to me with a full report.