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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 18 Nov 2009

Vol. 198 No. 5

Adoption Services.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey. It seems I always put Adjournment matters to him and I trust he has good news for all the couples and families waiting to adopt babies from Russia.

I call on the Minister for Health and Children to indicate when the blacklist regarding post-placement records of children adopted into Ireland from Russia will be cleared. This clearance is necessary to allow new adoptions from Russia to proceed for Irish families with referrals for babies. Russia is the second biggest provider of babies to this country. Hundreds of couples are waiting to adopt babies from there.

I have received an e-mail from an agent based in Ireland, representing Irish families, who cannot deliver because of the block resulting from the position on post-placement records. The e-mail relates how a couple with a referral for a baby in Moscow on 15 October and were due to speak to the Moscow ministry of education on 24 November. That would have been their third referral, or offer of a baby, the couple had received. They received an initial referral for a baby in Guatemala in December 2007 but lost the opportunity due to closure in Guatemala, a matter unrelated to the position in Russia. Another referral was arranged for 18 May this year but again they lost out as a result of Ireland being blacklisted because of non-adherence to the agreed protocol on post-placement reports. The entire reason the couple need a second extension is the blacklisting. The timeline runs from the original application made in May 2003 which means they are now waiting six and a half years for a baby. They have been offered this opportunity on three occasions but because of the blacklisting of Ireland by Russia, due to the fact that the HSE has not completed 29 post-placement records, no babies can be adopted from Russia.

How many outstanding post-placement reports remain to be completed? What is the reason for the delay? What is the Minister of State doing about it and what steps is he taking to ensure the blacklist is cleared? When will this matter be sorted out? I can cite many other examples of couples waiting for babies. This is a painful and spiritual journey. I say this from my experience. It is very difficult for a couple to be refused a baby. Each time a couple or family are offered a referral and it does not proceed, part of them goes with it. I hope the Minister of State has good news. I want to know when this matter will be sorted out in order that we can give guidance to Irish families on when it is likely they will have babies in their homes.

I thank Senator Healy Eames for raising this matter. I am responding on behalf of the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs, Deputy Barry Andrews, who is currently speaking in the Dáil Chamber in the debate on human trafficking on Private Members' business.

The Government's objective in regard to adoption is to provide a regime in which the child will be at the centre of the adoption process, whether inter-country or domestic, and that adoptions will be effected in a manner that is legal, safe and secure. A key component in achieving this objective is the development of an appropriate legislative regime that recognises the changed and changing global situation with regard to adoption in the past 20 years.

The Adoption Bill 2009, published on 23 January, provides an assurance for children, their families and the State that appropriate procedures have been followed and that the adoption was effected in the best interests of the child. A core principle of both the Adoption Bill and the Hague Convention is that the child's interests must be paramount. The Hague Convention which is given the force of law in the Bill effectively puts in place an agreement between states to regulate the standards that will apply in each jurisdiction. It is to put in place safeguards that acceptable standards are being applied in other countries over which we have no jurisdiction. I am encouraged at the progress that has been made in the past year, including the publication of the Bill and its passage through the Seanad. It is being debated today in the Dáil and I remain hopeful Ireland will finally ratify the Hague Convention early in 2010.

The Bill is designed to give force of law to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-country Adoption. The new legislation is designed to provide a framework to ensure appropriate procedures have been followed and that all adoptions are effected in the best interests of the child. This applies in the case of adoptions from Russia and other countries that have not yet ratified the Hague Convention and seem unlikely to do so in the immediate future. Future intercountry adoption arrangements will be governed by the terms of the Bill when enacted. Chapter 3 of the Bill sets out extensive provisions regarding non-contracting states and mirrors precisely the standards required for Hague Convention countries.

There is no prohibition on adoptions from non-Hague Convention countries. However, such adoptions must be carried out in the context of a bilateral agreement in line with the current policy position, as set out in the Bill. For an adoption to be registered under the Bill, it must be effected in a country with which Ireland has a bilateral agreement or have been effected prior to the commencement of the new law. This applies to ensure a single standard applies and that applicants can have some degree of confidence in the systems in place in the sending country. It provides a protection for children, their parents and adoptive parents.

Neither the Adoption Board nor the HSE has a statutory function in the provision of post-placement reports, although they have facilitated and continue to facilitate the preparation of same. The key commitment given concerns the legal affidavit, required of all applicants, to co-operate in the provision of such reports. Recent discussions have focused on the completion and submission to the Russian authorities of a number of outstanding post-placement reports from adoptive parents of children adopted from Russia. This issue is being followed up by the Adoption Board and the HSE with the parents involved. I understand the greater number of the outstanding reports have been completed and are with the adoptive parents for translation, apostilling and notarisation. In other words, the social workers have conducted the home visit and the report. In a small number of cases parents have neglected to or have been unwilling or unable to arrange for a home visit with the social worker. Further contact has been made to arrange for all outstanding visits to be undertaken and this is being prioritised by the HSE adoption services to ensure parents can have the required reports forwarded to the Russian Embassy in Dublin.

In the past few months the Minister has met regularly both individual prospective adoptive parents and representative groups. The Government is deeply aware of the angst, frustration and emotion that prospective adoptive parents continue to experience at this time. The Minister has communicated updates on these matters at every opportunity and is committed to continuing with this process.

From what the Minister of State said, the blame rests with adoptive families who have not facilitated home visits by the HSE. Can they not be hurried?

I would not take that interpretation from my reply.

That is clearly what was said.

The record speaks for itself and I have nothing further to add.