Many deputies in this house have received much correspondence specifically on the issue of the Bilateral agreement with Vietnam which has been allowed lapse since May of this year with no interim arrangements put in place whilst we wait for this tacking on of the Hague Convention to our own Adoption legislation. It does beggar belief that the Minister knowingly allowed this to peter out over the previous twelve months without doing anything. The worst aspect of this was both his and his predecessor’s inability to communicate to the many prospective parents within the adoptive system about what was and is going on. There are between four and five hundred declarations of suitability issued annually by the Adoption Board. To my knowledge there are up to twenty people at a very advanced stage in the process of intercountry adoption with Vietnam.
I am glad the Minister last week acknowledged in his opening statements the debacle that has occurred this year. His admittance at this stage is of little comfort to those that have been so badly affected.
It is 1996 since we in Ireland signed the Hague Convention and now thirteen years later we are getting around to the issue of a child centred adoption process.
Substantial elements of our legislation were introduced by my colleague Deputy Shatter through Private Members because of his own professional expertise in Family Law. I do feel that the Minister should use the contributions as made by Deputy Shatter throughout the process of adopting this Bill both at Committee stage and on the floor of both Houses of the Oireachtas.
In relation to the overall Adoption Bill there are some points I wish to make.
The process for assessment of suitability to adopt seems quite ridiculous in that it can take a couple or individual up to three or four years to be assessed. It has to be recognised that people now marry and start families at a later age in life. Prospective parents through no fault of their own can become bogged down in our system facing an unsuitable to adopt due to age conclusion because of the glacial movement of our Irish systems.
I cannot see a legitimate reason why the reality of families beginning later in life and the ever increasing life expectancy for both men and women cannot be acknowledged as reflecting the reality also in the adoptive process.
The Productivity of Social Workers is supposed to be 18/20 assessments per annum. We are currently achieving 8/10 assessments, this has to indicate a problem with our processes. The timeframe also has a geographical national variation. A person who lives in one part of the country might have the assessment completed in a year to 18 months but for a person living in another location this might take anything up to 5 years.
This is wholly unacceptable and needs to be specifically addressed by this legislation and not merely legislatively nodded at with the “as soon as is practicable” phrase.
A “Grandfather Clause”, which has been recommended by the Law Reform Commission, is not included in this Bill. As the legislation stands, families who have adopted a child from a country, which falls outside the restrictions, are prevented from adopting a second child from that country.
Inter-country adoption aim to build families, of more than one child, that come from the same country of origin who have a similar background and similar experiences.
Without a Grandfather Clause, a child could be precluded from growing up with a sibling from their country and culture of origin. It can be argued that this restriction would not serve the best possible interest of the adopted child who lives in a family that wishes to adopt a second child from the same country.
Also, if a biological sibling came available for adoption, the parents wouldn’t be able to complete the adoptions because of the absence of this Clause. The Minister does need to consider this discrepancy and amend the Bill accordingly.
We do have an opportunity at this time to establish a robust piece of legislation in relation to Adoption both from an intercountry perspective and from that of our own processes and laws concerning both child and parents. At this stage the Bill as proposed by the Minister has many shortcomings and is not particularly comprehensive. I would hope that during its time in the Oireachtas it can be developed and improved.