Dáil debates adoption access Bill

Friday 09 May 2014 15.32
The new Bill proposes allowing birth and adoptive parents to arrange an access plan
The new Bill proposes allowing birth and adoptive parents to arrange an access plan

The Dáil has debated a Bill which, if enacted, would provide access to adopted children by their natural parents or relatives.

Labour's Anne Ferris told the Dáil that the Bill comes from the experience of many lifetimes of adoption including her own. 

She said the Bill was an amendment of the Adoption Act 2010.

Comparing the current law to a door that slams shut after the adoption with the child on one side and its natural family on the other side, she said that this Bill seeks to open that door. 

Allowing birth parents and adoptive parents to come together and arrange a plan, specifying rights of access for the birth family to the adopted child.

The adoptive family would have to sign up to that agreement before adopting the child.

Ms Ferris told the Dáil that the Bill will not address the scandalous refusal to allow adopted children to have access to their birth records.

She said she only found out about her own adoption when she was 17 and even then in an "unmanaged and chaotic" way from a sibling.

Ms Ferris said that her own first-born daughter was taken from her when she was 17 and for her and many others found the door of adoption was slammed shut and despite many efforts it remains closed.

She said that she would like to see an open door adoption policy that would allow children to have access to their birth family and their adoptive parents.

She said the idea of open door adoption places the child in a broad family setting, which can only be good for that child.

Ms Ferris said that it is not a new idea and is currently in place in 26 states in the US.

She speculated that the US tolerance of complex family units might be because of that country's acceptance of divorce and separation.

She told the House that in 1955 when Philomena Lee's son was adopted there were over 700 adoption orders - this had doubled by 1971 when her own daughter was placed for adoption.

She said now there were far fewer adoption orders.

Ms Ferris said the Bill could make a real difference to a small number of children and that she wanted to see the term 'open adoption' on the statute book.

She said that hers was one of the lucky stories as she was reunited with her daughter after 23 years but she said that countless others have not been so lucky.

She had heard several stories including Philomena Lee's where either the adopted person or the birth-parent had died before they could be reunited.

The biggest excuse used by the State in preventing adopted children to have access to their birth medical records is because of the privacy of the mother, she said.

The mothers of Ireland have never been asked if they want their privacy protected by the State and the Church in this way, she said.

Charlie Flanagan made his first speech as Children's Minister on this issue and he noted a comparison between it and his first speech as TD back in 1987 which was also on adoption.

He said that a recent US publication outlined the positive benefits for all those involved in open adoption not just from a legal perspective but from emotional one.

However he said such analysis was still at a very early stage.

He said that in practice - even though we have closed adoptions here - there are often informal arrangments.

Recognising the need for the legislation to be updated to reflected international practice in terms of adoption, he said the enactment of adoption legislation is a priority for his department but that a review had to take place.

He said that consideration of Deputy Ferris' Bill would be given by the Health and Children's Committee and would assist in modernisation of our adoption law.

While he was in favour of modernisation and reform of our adoption laws - it would have to done after full consideration of all the issues, he said.

He noted the complications that this would have on inter-country adoptions. 

Expressing his gratitude to Deputy Ferris for her work in relation to the Bill, he said her personal experience would add to a constructive debate on the issue.

He said that as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs he wanted to ensure the best outcome for children.

He asked the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children to examine the Bill as proposed by the Deputy.

Fianna Fáil's Robert Troy welcomed Minister Flanagan's decision to forward the Bill to the Health Committee for its consideration.

He said that the severing of all birth family contacts for the adopted child had to be examined.

He said that the best interests of the children had to be the priority.

The concept of open adoption had garnered much support in recent years and it demonstrates the need for us to look at our current adoption legislation, he said.

Explaining how semi-open adoption works, Mr Troy said this was in place in many jurisdictions.

He said that the level of contact with the child can vary but he said that key advantage of open adoption is that the adopted child is aware of their origins and have can have some access to their birth parents.

He said that one of the benefits of open adoption is that it will encourage children to be adopted when it is in their best interests.

He said that research in Ireland in 2005 found that adoptions as a result of crisis pregnancy were now rare.

The availability of open adoption arrangements would have been considered by many respondents in that survey.

He pointed out that Olive Braiden of the Crisis Pregnancy organisation said that open adoption would have been a real solution to many women because they would have been able to maintain some form of communication with their child.

He pointed out that the previous Children's Minister, Frances Fitzgerald, had said some three years ago that the Family Tracing and Information Bill had been a priority of hers and he called for this to come before the House.

Mr Troy said there was frustration at the pace of change in this regard and the State was failing people who were trying to get in touch with their adopted child or birth parents.

He said even when both parties are agreeable to meeting each other there is nothing in place to allow this to happen.

After unanimous agreement in the House, the Bill has gone forward to Committee Stage.

Keywords: adoption