My husband and I were invited to this meeting following on from a general enquiry we had made to our health authority about adoption. The meeting took place in a hospital conference room on an unusally snowy day. There were about 100 persons present, mostly couples but also single persons. We were asked to both sign in on arrival and took a seat. A slideshow presentation was set up. The meeting was chaired by two social workers and an administrator in the adoption services. This meeting focused on adoption services for the particular region of the country in which I live (Ireland).
A number of points were mentioned at the outset of the meeting. Firstly it was stated that adoption is a service for children, not for prospective parents. Everyone has the right to an assessment of suitability but not necessarily the right to a child. Adoption is a permanent legal process which establishes a new legal relationship with the adoptive parents and child and terminates the pre-existing legal relationship. Adoption Services also deal with domestic adoptions including step family, family and the small number of non-family adoptions processed. Intercountry adoption was the main focus of this meeting.
Background was given to the legislation currently underpinning adoption in Ireland. This was originally the Adoption Act 1991 which allowed a statutory right to assessment. An official Adoption Board grants a Declaration of Eligibility and Suitability to approved applicants. Section 42 of the Act noted that it is illegal for money to be exchanged. This is to prevent trafficking. The Adoption Act 2010 is the most recent legislation on this matter. This ratifies the Hague Convention into Irish Law and repeals all previous acts. It consolidates the legislation governing adoption. It is now only possible to seek to adopt from a country that has ratified the Hague Convention. This tightening up has meant that there are fewer children available for adoptions with many of the referring countries operating quotas.
Section 33 of the Act deals with the Criteria for Eligibility.
- married couple living together
- married person living alone (spouse consent needed unless legally separated/divorced/deserted)
- mother/father or relative of the child
- sole applicant
The position is complicated in law for cohabitees.
The minium age limit is 21. Although there is no upper age limit as such, this is a factor that is considered and the referring country may itself have a preferred upper age limit. In reality the upper age limit would appear to be about 55 for married persons and 50 for a single person with state of health being a key issue.
There are also ‘Suitability Criteria’ based on 5 standards.
- Capacity to Safeguard the Child throughout his/her childhood
Here the age and health issues will be taken into account as well as financial status, experience minding children and the referee’s report.
2. The capacity to provide the child with family life that will promote his or her development and well being and have due regard to the physical, emotional, social, health, educational, cultural, spiritual and other dimensions.
Here the presence of social and support networks, relationships and friendships will be considered as well as lifestyle and domestic arrangements. It is expected that one half of a couple should be prepared to give up work for a year to help an adoptive child settle. Placing a child in crèche is not favoured thereafter, but rather having a childminder in the home or placing a child with a dedicated childminder. A crèche environment is not seen as attentive enough to the particular needs of an adopted child.
3. The capacity to provide an environment where the child’s original nationality, race, culture, language and religion will be valued and appropriately promoted throughout childhood.
Here some of the issues that we were asked to consider were those of bullying or racism and how we might deal with this should our child encounter it.
4. The capacity to recognise and understand the impact of being an adopted child from an overseas country on the development of the child’s identity throughout their childhood and beyond.
Here the importance of being sensitive to your child’s losses to date was stressed. We were asked to consider how we would maintain links to the child’s past.
5. The capacity to recognise the need for and to arrange for appropriate support and intervention from health, social services, educational, and other services throughout childhood.
Here we were told that we have to be prepared to actively advocate for our child to ensure that they get whatever resources and support they need.
Stages of the Adoption Process (Intercountry)
The meeting then outlined the steps involved in applying to be assessed. These are:
- Initial Enquiry
- Information Meeting
- Follow up request for Information Pack
- Completion of documents within Information Pack and return to Adoption Service
- Processing of Information Pack documents
- Social Work Management Review of your documents (invitation to meet with Social Worker if any issues arise)
- Placed on waiting list for Group Preparation Course (adult education)
- Attendance at Group Preparation Course
- Homework tasks arising from Course
- Homework returned to assigned Social Worker
- Assessment/Home Study
- 30 page Home Study report prepared by Social Worker.
- Social Worker makes recommendation
- Local Adoption Committee screen this and endorse or seek further information.
- Material forwarded to Adoption Authority who grant Declaration of Eligibility and Suitability.
- Appeals process exists if needed
- Apply to your chosen Country and go on waiting list
The Information Pack
This Pack contains all the forms and documents to be completed in order to apply to be assessed. These include:
- Application form (all questions must be answered, even with ‘not applicable’)
- Documents to be supplied include original civil birth certificate, civil marriage certificate (or divorce/separation documents), up to date photos, Certificate of income.
- A GP medical form to be completed is included.
- Consent forms for consultant/counsellor’s report
- Consent form for police clearance
- Consent form for child protection/social service clearance
- Consent form for post placement visits and reports
In the event that an applicant has lived abroad for more than 6 months foreign police clearance and foreign social service/child protection clearance is also required.
Type of Issues that Arise for applicants
- Age- especially if they are in their late 40s and early 50s.
- Health- physical and mental. Proof that a condition is being well managed is required.
- Convictions- the nature of the conviction is important. The nature of the conviction as well as when it happened will be taken into account. A minor conviction many years ago will be recognised as such. The potential safety of the child is the concern here.
- Area clearance
- Age of children (if any) in applicant’s care
- Bereavements- you can ask to put your application on hold for a time, some time out is expected for major bereavements.
- Infertility Investigations- these will tend to be highlighted in medicals. A couple is not required to undergo IVF to prove their infertility but it is expected that they will have had basic medical investigations. Before a couple attends the Group Preparation Course, they must have completed all IVF treatment. All frozen embryos must be used up.
- Cohabiting Relationships- these are complicated regarding adoption as only one of the partnership can adopt at present.
- Other Issues
Deferrals- it is possible to defer an application for a maximum of 2 years, it is essentially ‘frozen’, you do not have to go back to the start and repeat it again, although depending on the time lapse you may have to repeat the Group Preparation Course.
Group Preparation Course
This is an adult education courses specifically designed for prospective adoptive parents. It takes place over 6 sessions once every 2 weeks for 3 months in total. As it is a morning session, arrangements would need to be made with work.
A Social Worker is assigned to the prospective adoptive parents. They will receive the homework that the couple must do following the Group Preparation Course. The homework tasks deal with attachment and identity and looks at drawing up a Child Care Plan.
This takes place over 7 sessions (once every 2 weeks, one or two of which will be in the family home). The Social Worker will meet the referee also.
A 30 page typed report will be prepared by the Social Worker- the Home Study report.
Changes in Circumstances to be notified to Adoption Services
- House Move
- Criminal Conviction
- Pregnancy- if you become pregnant the application is deferred until the child is 9 months old, there is a preference for a 2 year gap between the child and adopted child.
- Change in relationship
- New Relationship
- Any other relevant information
Non disclosure will be taken very seriously.
When choosing a referee, it is necessary to choose someone who knows you well. Often in the past a clergy person or similar would do it.
Question and Answer Session
Timeframes for Processing Applications
The completed Information Pack takes about 6 months to process.
Police clearance can take 3-4 months
From 8 weeks of the Group Preparation Meeting, a social worker will be appointed to you. It takes about 4 months to do the Home Study stage and about 4 weeks for the report to be written.
It takes about 13-14 months in all to reach the declaration of Eligibility and Suitability, the biggest wait is then for your chosen country to make a referral. There are waiting lists for all countries. This could be a wait of 3-5 years. It is only possible to choose one country. If the country you choose ‘closes’, you can have your documents returned and reapply to another country.
Dual assessment for domestic and intercountry adoption is possible but you cannot apply for both. There are very few non family domestic adoptions in Ireland today. The waiting list is so long that anyone over their early 30s is advised against it. There is no waiting list for fostering children. Legislation is not yet in place to allow the adoption by foster parents of foster children, though a referendum on this matter was recently passed. Ironically it is technically possible to adopt children from the foster system in the USA though it is an extremely expensive process.
Adoption of Special Needs Children, Older Children, Sibling Groups- these may or may not result in shorter waiting lists but the adoption authority will require evidence to know that you can support children in these circumstances and that you are aware of the additional challenges such children may present. There may be more requirement for you to take time of work for a longer period for example.
- Check out international adoption association support groups and the official adoption authority websites for your own country.
- Learn more about the Countries that are signatory to the Hague convention and which are open for adoption.
- Gain more experience with children, with nieces/nephews, babysitting etc
- Start saving – the whole process can cost from 16k-40k depending on the country.
- From my own point of view I think it would be good to read some books on the subject as well and perhaps books and blogs about other people’s experiences. If you know someone who has been through the process and can talk to them that would also be great. Twitter may also help here if you can interact with those who have been through the process.
So there was plenty of food for thought at this meeting. It was quite sobering. Certainly if you came into the meeting thinking that adoption was an easy option (I didn’t) you would have had your eyes opened. It is a long tough journey too with lots of waiting and waiting and hoping also. I would love to corral the ‘just adopt’ brigade in here to show them the reality!! Although I could have picked up an information pack before I left the meeting, I opted not to but to go home and reflect on it. I am mid 2ww of my last FET with my current clinic so I will at least wait for the outcome of that. Requesting the pack only involves the sending of an email so another week will make little difference. This is a big decision too and not one to be rushed. I wasn’t sure what my husband was thinking but on speaking to him I discovered he was reflecting more deeply on the whole thing than I had thought and was quite in tune with the particular challenges that may be faced in raising an adopted child of another nationality.
It feels like being at a crossroads and sometimes it is so hard to know which way to turn, which avenue to pursue. I really could do with a Crystal Ball!!