On behalf of the International Adoption Association (Ireland), IAA, I thank the joint committee for the invitation to address it. The IAA is a voluntary support group and the leading support organisation for families engaged in intercountry adoption in Ireland. Currently, more than 5,000 children are entered on the register of foreign adoptions.
We understand that Ireland is in a transition period since the enactment of the Adoption Act 2020, but we have identified a number of concerns and issues within the current process. I will outline the priority issues for us, the first of which is the capacity of the Adoption Authority of Ireland, AAI, to carry out its functions. We also believe that the Adoption Act 2010 is too restrictive and should be reviewed.
Inconsistencies have emerged across the country through the assessment process. Tusla is the agency managing the assessment process and there are huge inconsistencies in how people are treated during that process. We also believe the AAI is not adequately resourced to carry out its functions.
The IAA acknowledges that the landscape is changing across the globe as regards intercountry adoptions and that numbers are falling. As a group of parents and prospective parents, we welcome this because we see that, as reported by the ISS, standards are improving within countries. This is leading to increased domestic adoption locally, which is welcomed by all of us.
There is no denying, however, that adoption figures have dropped. Reports commissioned by the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption show that they have dropped by over 50% globally. By comparison, Ireland is looking at a post-Hague Convention situation. It is not that our adoption figures have dropped by 50%, they have completely collapsed to 11, which is an accurate post-Hague number of adoptions in Ireland in a three-year period.
The fact remains that, despite improvements at local level in countries, there are still hundreds of thousands of children languishing in institutions worldwide. They are not getting the opportunity to become part of a family. It is estimated there are just under 18 million orphans who have lost both parents. They are living in orphanages, in institutions or, worse still, on the streets. We believe they deserve and warrant the opportunity to be part of a family. We must remember that that is one of the core principles of the Hague Convention.
In November 2010, Ireland enacted the Hague Convention which is to protect children and their families against illegal and irregular activities. The IAA and the wider community welcome the introduction of the Hague Convention. We recognise strongly that adoption is a service for children and not for prospective adoptive parents. We have no doubt about that. However, since the convention's introduction, there has been growing frustration and disillusionment across the community over the lack of effective implementation of the principles by our own central authority.
An article by Rosita Boland, published in The Irish Times in March 2004, revealed that the number of adoptions was 446 pre-Hague and 11 post-Hague. That is the future scenario.
We have a higher standard of implementing bilateral agreements compared with our other fellow convention member states. Currently, the condition is that every proposed bilateral agreement is required to be passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas. We contend that the power of bilaterals should rest with the central authority, as is the case with other convention states. We also believe that if a country has signed up to the Hague Convention, but has not fully ratified it and is thereby working within the principles and spirit of that convention, it should be accepted as a sending country by way of an agreement.
We are concerned that intercountry adoption has no direction. There does not seem to be any real responsibility or idea about how we want to perform. There is continued wasted expenditure by the State on the assessment process, which is costly. Once people get their declaration, they have little hope of ever effecting an adoption.
The Adoption Authority has advised us that it has made 23 submissions to the Department on proposed amendments to this young legislation which only dates from 2010. The IAA is concerned about the defensive approach that the Adoption Authority has taken, particularly in its defence of the 11 post-Hague adoptions. We believe it is a deliberate distraction from performance failure. We are calling for greater transparency and accountability by the authority.
Since 2010, the AAI has accredited three adoption mediation agencies. The authority has indicated to us that that was based on the expectation that adoptions would not collapse as they have done, but that intercountry adoptions would continue into Ireland. The Adoption Agency now confirms that there is not a need for three agencies. We understand that the Department has confirmed it will only fund one agency.
The time, effort and cost spent by the State in processing these accreditations should be examined, along with the apparent lack of consideration for the agency's long-term sustainability. We firmly believe that the authority needs to engage urgently with countries where children are available for intercountry adoption. Those engagements and plans should be regularly updated and advised to those who are interested in the process.
Tusla is the agency responsible for the application process and, as I mentioned earlier, we believe there are inconsistencies. This is our experience from people who are currently being assessed across the country. It is broadly recognised that the age profile of a child will be older and they may also have additional needs. However, there appears to be a lack of willingness to assess couples for adopting older children or children with additional needs. For example, a couple advised us that they asked their social worker to assess them for an older child, but were told: "No. The criteria is that you either need to have a medical background or children in the family already." When they said they were aware of another couple who had been approved, the response was: "Oh, that must just be in a different region." It is a matter of grave concern to us that if a person is assessed in Cork, it may be a different experience from being assessed in Dublin.
We would support the Adoption Authority on the idea of amending the legislation with regard to the current lifespan of the declaration. The declaration has a definitive lifespan of up to three years, which is not sufficient to effect an adoption. That matter needs to be re-examined.
When the Adoption Act was enacted in 2010, the IAA was extremely disappointed that there was no provision for post-adoption services, as laid down in our Act. While the Hague Convention does not call for the mandatory provision of such services, it certainly highly recommends them. While there are certain providers, their accessibility for parents and families in need of such services is not standard throughout the country.
I will now summarise the IAA's recommendations. We request that an external review of the Adoption Authority’s operations over the period of time since Ireland ratified the Hague Convention be carried out. The adoption legislation is too restrictive and should be reviewed. The Adoption Authority should be adequately resourced to make the changes necessary to implement the Hague Convention to a standard that meets the criteria as set out in the convention.
As I have already mentioned, we are concerned that the assessment process should be consistent throughout the country.
A review of Tusla policy is necessary to ensure we are adequately and responsibly assessing people throughout the country in line with global intercountry adoption changes. We require a review of availability and provision of post-adoption services on a national basis.