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From orphanage to home and back, but now Tristan is where he belongs


Tristan's identity papers

Tristan's identity papers

Tristan with his adoptive family

Tristan with his adoptive family

Tristan at play in his Indonesian home

Tristan at play in his Indonesian home


Tristan's identity papers

Ann O'Loughlin HE was a month old, and his adoptive parents intimated they would raise him as "their own flesh and blood". But little Tristan Dowse's fate was to take a very different turn. Just before his second birthday, his world was turned on its head, and he was placed in an orphanage in Indonesia.

The story would ultimately have a happy ending, but there would be many difficult turns and twists along the way for the star-crossed child.

At the time, the small boy with the Irish passport was unsettled and troubled in his new surroundings.

Only able to speak English, he cried "persistently and was very unsettled and withdrawn".

But at the time of his adoption in July 2001, Joseph and Lala Dowse had high hopes for their new child, Tristan Joseph. His second name came from his adoptive Irish dad, an accountant from Wicklow. In the Indonesian orphanage, he was renamed Erwin.


Last summer - still in an orphanage - the little boy was described as being hurt, confused and somewhat bewildered.

Yesterday, the High Court in Dublin moved to secure his future.

Mr Justice John McMenaminalso revealed during his judgments the sequence of events that led to Tristan being placed in the orphanage in May 2003.

It was the Dowses' case, the judge said, that the adoption of Tristan "did not succeed" - unfortunately "very little or no bonding took place".

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The couple claimed this became clear just one month after the adoption.

They said Tristan did not react or bond in a positive way. He fretted and became aggressive and upset in the presence of Ms Dowse.

Mr Dowse informed the Adoption Board that Tristan's adoption and his name was entered in the Irish Register of foreign adoptions in September 2001.

But matters then took a turn for Tristan, and they were to have a life-altering impact on his future.

According to a letter sent to the board by the Dowses' solicitors on April 19, 2004, shortly after the entry into the Registry of Foreign Adoptions in 2001 the Dowses discovered they were expecting a baby. This baby girl was born in Indonesia on May 29, 2002.

The judge said it was stated in the letter that the adoption of Tristan had been "interfered with" by Lala's pregnancy and the subsequent birth of the girl.

"Thus proper bonding did not take place," Mr Justice McMenamin said, addding that this differed from earlier contentions about when the failure to bond had begun.

The Dowses said they called in a psychologist and the advice was that continuing the adoption was not in Tristan's best interests. They considered fostering or finding the natural mother, and legal advice in Indonesia suggested the boy could be re-adopted there.

In May 2003, the Dowses went back to the court in South Jakarta for an order relinquishing care of Tristan to nominated third parties.

Tristan was placed in an orphanage in the Bogo district of South Jakarta. He was one of only two children under the age of five in the home.

The court had heard how the Dowses were married in Azerbaijan in June 2000. Ms Dowes, who is from Azerbaijan and is a doctor, met Mr Dowse while he was working in Baku.

A senior social worker with the Irish Adoption Board, Patricia Smyth, who visited Tristan in the orphanage, found him to be a bright and communicative child.

"Ms Smyth's view is that the attachment between Tristan and his adoptive family would have been firmly established and consolidated during the period of residence with them," the judge said.

Tristan spoke only English. He had to get used to using Indonesian when he moved to the home and, in addition, had to adapt to his change of name.

"It is probable that Tristan developed a mistrust of adults as a result of what occurred to him," the judge said.

In May 2005, Tristan was moved to the State orphanage where conditions were not the same and he had to sleep in the same room as 34 other children.

The judge said: "In a form signed by the applicants for the purpose of the original adoption on July 25, 2001, they wrote that they wished to raise Tristan as if he was their 'own flesh and blood'. What occurred is difficult to reconcile with that statement. It is hard to conceive of the effect which these traumatic changes must have had on this young child."


After Tristan's placement in the orphanage, the couple returned to Ireland with their two other children for 10 days; but the judge said no attempt was made to inform the adoption authorities.

Mr Dowse said while it was easy now to look back in hindsight, what he and his wife had been trying to do was to make the best decision they could at the time in Tristan's interest. They felt if they could bring about his re-adoption while avoiding the matter becoming public then the child's best interests would be protected.

Mr Dowse testified he gave a total of $1,900 to the orphanage while the boy was there. Last year, the Dowses filed in the South Jakarta court to surrender the child.

Tristan now lives in Tegal with his natural mother, Suryani, in the north coast of Java, 350km from Jakarta. He lives with her in a house owned by his great grandmother along with two stepsiblings from Suryani's earlier marriage.

The judge said the evidence suggested Suryani's family was above the level of poverty but was nonetheless far from well off.

The Irish Ambassador to Singapore and Indonesia, Hugh Swift, who travelled to Tegal on the request of the High Court on October 17, 2005, said Tristan was in apparent good health and humour. At last, it would appear the little boy has finally found happiness.

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