Amended Bill Sets Out Pathway to Long Overdue Open Adoption in Ireland

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins with Minister Katherine Zappone
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins with Minister Katherine Zappone

“Open adoption allows for more honest and compassionate recognition of the complexity of many family situations,” says Senator Alice Mary Higgins.

The Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2016 passed through the final stages of the Dáil this evening, Thursday 13th July 2017. This Bill, which contains a number of progressive proposals on adoption, also contains a ground-breaking amendment brought in by Senator Alice-Mary Higgins in the Seanad.

The amendment is a vital step in bringing Ireland’s adoption laws in line with EU norms and the rights of a child as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children’s Rights referendum of 2012.

The amendment sets a legal deadline of 10 months from enactment of the Bill for a government review and consultation around the potential introduction of open or semi-open adoption in Ireland.

Barnardos, the Care Leaver’s Network and others who represent those affected by adoption have expressed their support for the amendment, which was accepted by Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone during the Report Stage debate in the Seanad, and approved in today’s Dáil debate.  

Many countries across Europe have a system of open or semi-open. However, to date Ireland has only ever allowed for closed adoption, in which there are no formal or recognised ongoing connections between a new adoptive family, a birth parent and a child who is adopted.

Open and semi-open adoptions can allow for greater transparency and exchange of information, including health information, access to the original birth certificate, and even structured communication or regular contact with members of the birth family where this is in the best interests of the child.

Speaking about the amendment, Senator Alice-Mary Higgins said “Closed adoption, with the associated severing of connection or communication, can make the decision to adopt, be adopted or consent to an adoption feel like a zero-sum game, something which can contribute to stress, guilt, grief and anxiety for all involved.

 “For example, although a birth parent may recognise that their child might receive better long term care with an adoptive family, it could still be in the best interest of the child for that former parent to maintain a meaningful relationship through structured communication. Or an uncle or grandmother in a child’s birth family who, perhaps due to health constraints, may be unable themselves to foster or adopt that child, may nonetheless be very important ongoing contributors to the child’s identity and wellbeing.  I believe open adoption could allow for more honest and compassionate recognition of the complexity of many family situations”.

“The Constitution has sometimes been invoked as a defence of closed adoption – however as I argued in the Seanad, the Children’s Rights Referendum of 2012 gave children their own rights under the Constitution - this includes the right to security, but it also includes the right to relationship and the right to identity.”

“Many adoptive families currently have informal arrangements regarding contact with the birth parents, where they believe it is in the best interest of the child. However, there are no public supports or good practice guidelines around those arrangements and they have no legal status or security. An open or semi-open option could ensure that we are getting this right and giving everyone the post-adoption supports they need.”

Senator Higgins also welcomed the passage of Senator Lynn Ruane’s amendment to the Adoption Bill which creates an obligation on the Child and Family Agency to ensure birth parents are offered relevant supports when their child is taken into foster care. This greatly increases the chances of an eventual successful family reunification where appropriate.

 The Bill passed through final stage in the Dáil today, Thursday 13th July.


Editor’s notes

Official amendment wording:

“Not later than 10 months after the passing of this Act, the Minister shall initiate a review and consultation in respect of the potential introduction of open or semi-open adoption in Ireland. Such a review shall include public consultation and legal policy analysis. A report on the findings of this review and consultation shall be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas not later than 18 months after its initiation.”

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