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Alison O’Connor: Adoption red-tape is a cruel process but a necessary one


Movie stars
Angelina Jolie and
Brad Pitt with two
of their extended
brood: adopted son
Maddox and
adopted daughter
Zahara. Photo: AP

Movie stars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt with two of their extended brood: adopted son Maddox and adopted daughter Zahara. Photo: AP

Movie stars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt with two of their extended brood: adopted son Maddox and adopted daughter Zahara. Photo: AP

Anyone who complains about the bureaucracy which can be encountered when engaging with the State -- be it applying for the dole, or headage payments for livestock -- should attempt to adopt a child from abroad to get matters in perspective.

Assessment for an overseas adoption has to rank as one of the most cruel, head-wrecking processes ever to be endured. The chances are that if you are a couple considering inter-country adoption you have been trying to have a baby for years already anyway.

You've possibly spent thousands of euros on fertility treatment. Once you finally accept this is not going to work for you there is the prospect of (a ballpark figure of) €20,000 more to adopt a child from overseas -- by the time you've sorted out all the various fees, administrative, flights etc, involved.

Many people want to keep this matter a private one so have the added pressure of the secrecy, compounded by the question constantly asked of childless married couples: "So, have ye any news for us?"

Then there is the extended, seemingly endless, interaction with the HSE. For some it has taken up to seven years between initial contact and final approval. There is a process of approval to be gone through which is lengthy and thorough. In many aspects it is relevant, informative and necessary. In others it can be ridiculous, tedious, inconsistent and small-minded. There are some excellent people working in inter-county adoption, but also some who are a lot less so.

But all the way through the prospective parents just grit their teeth because this is a relationship where all the power rests on one side. There is no choice. So through out it all one must remain (outwardly) calm and balanced. The ever prevalent fear is that at any visible sign of stress could immediately deem you as an unsuitable candidate to adopt.

Once couples got that all important piece of paper from the Adoption Board approving them for adoption, the next battle was to actually find a baby.

This involved facing the rigours of whatever process existed in their country of choice, quite varied from country to country. In the last two to three years this final hurdle became all the more complicated as difficulties arose in a number of the countries to which Irish people traditionally travelled to adopt.

Vietnam has received particular attention, but there were also problems elsewhere, including Russia and Ethiopia. These countries were excluded for us to adopt from once Ireland enacted a new Adoption Bill and ratified the Hague Convention in 2010 covering international adoption standards.

While inter-country adoption was first recognised in Irish law in 1991 and numbers had been increasing, the changes mean that it's no surprise that the latest figures show the number of children adopted here from abroad has fallen significantly from just under 400 in 2008 to just over 200 last year.

Since we do not have a good history with adoption in Ireland societal attitudes can be mixed. Adopting a child from abroad raises a whole host of additional issues and complexities. On the face of it, the process usually involves a wealthy couple (relative to the local population) removing a child from their culture and bringing them back to their own country so they can fulfil their need to have a family. The flip side of this is that if you're living in a orphanage there usually isn't much culture to be had; there is no one to pick you up and give you a cuddle when you need it most; and if you are not adopted you are destined to remain in state institutional care.

All the while when foreign adoption is being discussed the spectre of cash being exchanged for babies has hung in the air. After all, if you are dealing with countries which have a culture of corruption to begin with, or even those that don't, things can get complicated.

Everyone is very well intended. It's entirely understandable that on a human level people might want, for example, to contribute financially to an orphanage from where they are going to adopt or have adopted from. Or that, after waiting for so long a couple might wonder what harm there is in throwing in an extra few hundred US dollars, if it speeds up the process a little.

The danger though, as evidenced by international reports examining the situation in Vietnam, or by those recent reports from Mexico, where 11 Irish couples are caught up in an alleged adoption scam, is that an adoption 'industry' can spring up which becomes dependent on impoverished mothers handing over babies.

Lately things have begun moving again here in the world of overseas adoption. Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald, who takes an active interest in the area, has just returned from a trip to Vietnam. It looks as if the adoption of Vietnamese babies is set to resume shortly after the two governments reached agreement on issues concerning the rights of children. The safeguards relate to consent on the part of the mother, money, and having to deal with central authorities, rather than simply those in a local area.

But it's not just for Vietnam that things will change. Back at home the aim is that the ridiculously long assessment process will be shortened because the new legislation allows for the HSE to outsource adoption assessments to accredited agencies.

We have our first Hague accredited adoption agency, Arc, a mediation agency, and a second, Pathways to Adoption, to be involved in conducting assessments.

Initially all of these changes, overseen by the Adoption Authority, will be a further bureaucratic nightmare for those waiting couples. But in the end it will mean that when it comes to adopting a baby the process will be transparent, and to the best international practices.

That is in the best interests of prospective parents, and -- most importantly -- the children.

Irish Independent