Adoption Amendment Bill 2013

20 December 2013

Speaking Points

Jillian van Turnhout

Welcome Minister.

Minister both you and colleagues have clearly outlined that the scenario leading up to the need for this legislation.  Minister, it is evident that you, your officials and indeed the Tánaiste, have sought resolution through other channels and at every level but that proved impossible.  Changes to Russian family court laws have had serious implications in conjunction with existing Irish legislation for prospective adoptive parents. Which brings us to the legislation before the house today.

I believe it is tightly framed with limitations added and will address the calls you have received from approximately 5 prospective adoptive parents.  However it also opens up any unused Russian Declarations as of 31 October 2013 which you have clarified is a maximum of 23 prospective adoptive parents.

Anyone who talked or has met the prospective parents appreciates the heartbreak and emotional roller-coaster of the journey that they have had and so I realise that for them today is a good day.

I will not oppose the Bill.  I do not want to frustrate the resolution to this particular situation. However, I am duty bound to raise my general concerns and some specific questions about how we approach adoption in Ireland.

Ireland has a very chequered history when it comes to Adoption.

In 2010 we incorporated the Hague Convention into Irish Law.  The Hague Convention of 29 May 1993 on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention) .  It protects children and their families against the risks of illegal, irregular, premature or ill-prepared adoptions abroad. This Convention reinforces the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Art. 21) and seeks to ensure that intercountry adoptions are made in the best interests of the child and with respect for his or her fundamental rights

Article 21 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child addresses the protection and promotion of children’s rights in the context of adoption. It establishes the paramountcy of children’s best interests in all adoption arrangements and details minimum requirements for adoption procedures.

Yet, let us not forget that while Ireland signed the Hague Convention in 1993 we had to be dragged kicking and screaming to incorporate it into our law.  When we brought in the Adoption Act in 2010 we were the last EU country to ratify and over 55 countries had already done so.

I think we need to fundamentally reconsider how we approach adoption in Ireland.  I believe our system of closed adoptions is not always in the best interest of the child.

  •  Closed adoption is the process by where an infant is adopted by another family, and the record of the biological parent(s) is kept sealed.
  •  Open adoption is a form of adoption in which the biological and adoptive families have access to varying degrees of each other’s personal information and have an option of contact.

 

In my experience children can cope and distinguish.  It is us adults who tie ourselves in knots.

It is my sense that some people misunderstand the rationale behind adoption is the right of couples who cannot conceive to have a child.  It was not.  Adoption is about, where needed, finding alternative family arrangements for a child and fundamentally it is about the best interests of the child.

Minister, I am keenly aware that as we stand here today there are approximately 50,000 adopted people in Ireland who have no automatic legal right to their birth certificate, no legal right to their medical information or history, or any legal right to tracing information about their identity.

I believe that we will be able to partly address these issues via legislation but aspects of this issue will need to be addressed at constitutional level. I noted last October when we were discussing the Children’s Referendum Bill that it was a missed opportunity not to address right to identity.

I realise that information and tracing is complex but we have to start moving on where change is possible.  There is a clear lack of a legal framework.  Is the State collecting and ensuring that it has access to important and vital records in relation to children’s identities?  Have, for example, the religious orders handed over records to the State that will help when the necessary legislation is in place?

Specifically on the Bill here today, I say well done to the drafters who have worked hard to produce a clear, tightly constructed Bill.

As I stand here I am thinking that in less than 18 years these children will be adults – will they have access to information on their identity?

We saw the fall of Communism 14 years ago and the rush for adoptions?  Will Ireland over the coming years have issues to deal with?

I think of Ireland’s history in relation to adoptions and how many ‘went to America’ or in reality were sold to so called ‘good called families’ for a better life.

I don’t think anyone who went to see the movie Philomena wasn’t touched and conflicted by her story.  We don’t want to creating situations today that will be the films of tomorrow.

Are we setting a precedent today?  The adage ‘hard cases make bad law’ springs to mind. Will we change the law for other groups of people who are not in line with our law and the Hague Convention?  Does this not open the gates for other “one-off” fixes?

We have all heard the understandably emotional calls from the 4 or 5 prospective adoptive parents.  But let us remember the law today will extend the period for up to 23 prospective adoptive parents.

When a country ratifies the Hague Convention we have seen again and again how the number of children eligible for adoption dramatically falls.  Why? Obviously it is because the children were never legitimately available for adoption and often have fallen foul to criminal activity, including corruption and the sale or trafficking of children.

Can we be assured that in any one or more of these cases that significant money has not and will not change hands?

I ask these questions now because one or more of these children, upon turning 18, may have the same difficult questions for their parents. Will we be able to give answers?

It is critical that a rigorous verification process be put in place for all adoptions.

In ending, may I wish each of the children who are to be adopted and to their prospective parents a really happy and fulfilling life.

Nevertheless lets us not forget that adoption is the right of a child, not of adults, and we must ensure that this is not lost sight of. If anything is to be learnt from the Reports such as  Ryan and Murphy, it is how crucial it is to have adequate systems in place to protect vulnerable children.

We urgently need to re-examine our approach to adoption. Let us lead and show that we really have learnt from our chequered past.

Email Newsletter December 2013

Before we break for the Christmas period I wanted to send you a short update on my recent work.

Child and Family Agency Bill 2013

Tobacco Related Bills

Comhairle na nÓg/Dáil na nÓg

Launch of the Youth Media and the Irish Presidency Report

Children’s Rights Alliance Dinner with Young Film Makers

 

I want to warmly thank you for your support, ideas and encouragement over the last year. I would especially like to thank my researcher Amy McArdle and intern Conor Booth, whose support is invaluable to my work.

I am looking forward to 2014 and the opportunities and challenges it brings. We have a full legislative agenda ahead. I plan to actively engage on a number of Bills including the: revised Heads of Children First Bill; Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013; Family Relationships and Children Bill; Freedom of Information Bill 2013;, Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010; and the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2014. As always, I welcome any contribution you have to these and other issues and I invite you to contact my office at any time.

All my interventions, speeches, and media contributions can be viewed on my website http://test.jillianvanturnhout.ie/ and you can follow me on Twitter https://twitter.com/JillianvT for regular updates.

Wishing you a very happy Christmas and peaceful New Year.

Best wishes,

Jillian

Child and Family Support Agency

The Child and Family Agency Bill completed its passage through the Seanad on 5 December 2013. From the outset I have supported and welcomed the establishment of the new Agency. It is an historic and unique opportunity to ditch ineffective systems and to finally make sure that children get the treatment they deserve, and families the help they need. I engaged extensively with the Bill at all stages of its passage and my contributions can be read from my website http://test.jillianvanturnhout.ie/?p=1084

The new Agency is set to become operational on 1 January 2014. I will continue to pursue issues relevant to the proper and effective functioning of the Agency, particularly around resources and staffing. I have sought additional information on these issues from the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, and await her written responses in advance of our next Quarterly meeting of the Health and Children Committee this Thursday.


Tobacco Related Bills

I am very happy to co-sponsor the Protection of the Public Interest from Tobacco Lobbying Bill 2013 with Senator John Crown and Senator Sean Barrett. The Bill will start in the Seanad this Wednesday and I hope it receives support. Then on Thursday, we will re-start the process for another tobacco related Bill, the Protection of Children’s Health from Tobacco Smoke Bill 2012, which I initiated with Senator John Crown and Senator Mark Daly.  The Bill aims to ban smoking in cars in which children are travelling. Having been stalled by the Department of Health for the last 19 months, we have tabled amendments to our own Bill in order to restart the process.

Comhairle na nÓg/Dáil na nÓg

I have long been a supporter of Comhairle na nÓg, which through a National Executive coordinates 34 youth councils across the country giving young people a voice on local services and policies. I was therefore delighted to have been asked by the Ceann Comhairle to join a team of TD’s and Senators to work with the incoming Comhairle na nÓg National Executive to enable a more effective link between the work of Comhairle na nÓg and the work of parliament.

Launch of the Youth Media and the Irish Presidency Report

I was delighted to launch the Report of European Movement Ireland’s flagship Presidency Programme, Youth Media and the Irish Presidency (YMIP), Final Report on the Irish Presidency of the EU: A Youth Perspective, on 20 November in the European Commission’s office in Ireland.

YMIP was an all-Ireland Programme, which succeeded in opening up the Irish Presidency of the EU to young people in Ireland by recruiting a team of 25 young journalists to report on the Presidency and broader European affairs.

The launch doubled as the graduation of the young journalists from the programme and it was wonderful to see, in addition to YMIP partner organisations, Oireachtas Members, and national press, their friends and family there to cheer them on!

Children’s Rights Alliance Dinner with Young Film Makers

I was delighted to host a dinner in the Oireachtas last Wednesday for a number of the young people (15-18 years) who, in conjunction with the Children’s Rights Alliance, made an excellent short film about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child called “Do Children’s Rights Matter?” The young people identified three problems that they face on a daily basis: bullying; poverty; and the lack of recreational spaces. I have long advocated the importance of listening to and hearing children’s voices. They are often best placed to develop solutions to the issues concerning them. Check out their video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?list=UUB1n83mvD9MTbbiu3qkrtbQ&v=TqrjjVeZNY0

Child and Family Agency Bill, 2013, Second Stage.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

http://www.kildarestreet.com/sendebates/?id=2013-11-27a.75#g85

The Minister is, as always, very welcome to the House, especially so given her introduction of the Bill before us. It provides us with immense potential to streamline and co-ordinate services for children. It is a huge and impressive undertaking involving three source agencies – the HSE, the Family Support Agency and the National Educational Welfare Board. I see the evidence and appreciate the seriously hard work that has been done by the Minister personally and her departmental officials. I thank Liz Canavan, assistant secretary at the Department, for a thorough briefing on the Bill yesterday afternoon and also the Minister for her clarification at the briefing.

I fully agree that what we are striving for now is to get the agency operational by 1 January 2014, the establishment date. In that vein, I wish to be very clear that I am approaching this Bill in as supportive and constructive a manner as possible. Any issues I raise are in the context of the fact that we are all striving to produce the best possible agency. I will do everything I can to ensure the Bill’s passage through this House.

I followed closely the Bill’s passage through the Dáil. I acknowledge and welcome the fact that the Minister has made significant changes to the Bill, in particular following suggestions from civil society organisations such as the Children’s Rights Alliance and Barnardos primarily. We have a unique opportunity to ditch ineffective systems and to finally make sure that children get the treatment they deserve, and that families get the supports they require also. I am concerned about the emphasis on management and the centralisation of services. I understand it in part but I fear the creation of a bureaucracy. What we want to do is ensure consistent standards throughout the country. An effective and accountable child and family agency will be a monumental step forward for a country that has so spectacularly failed some of the most vulnerable children in the past.

We must ensure consistency and standardised practice on the ground. This opportunity has been a long time coming. I thank the Minister for bringing it to fruition. We know that history is unforgiving. As the Minister outlined, there have been more than 30 reports. We must learn from our failings and demonstrate clearly that is the case. We are duty bound to get this right and everyone is striving for the best outcome for children. I will submit a number of amendments on Committee Stage and Report Stage in an effort to strengthen the Bill before us today. I will make every effort to ensure the Bill’s passage through the House. I look forward to a fruitful debate.

I commend the Minister on her role in securing Government approval of a proposal to strengthen legislation on aftercare, by introducing a statutory right to an aftercare plan. This will be done by way of an amendment to the Child Care Act 1991 and is an essential component to ensure stability in care and to enable young people to make the transition from care to independence in a safe, progressive, tailored and appropriate way. The Minister may be assured of our support when she brings this landmark legislation through the House.

At this juncture I want to focus on how we can ensure that we give the new agency the best start possible and restore public confidence in our child and family services. The Minister mentioned the referendum on children and when I travelled around the country, the biggest concern related to how people had been treated in the past by the agencies or how they perceived they would be treated. These perceptions are significant with regard to how people feel and we should not diminish those feelings. It is important we find ways to instil confidence in this new opportunity we are discussing today.

We heard in the news today about the potential overrun in the HSE. I will not get into a debate on that, but it gives rise to more concerns about the resources that will be transferred from the current HSE operations to the Child and Family Agency. Can we guarantee there will be enough of a budget transfer to do what is planned today? Can we guarantee there will be no loss of services? What improvements can we expect? I am concerned the agency may start with a deficit. That would be like a ball and chain being added on the starting line. I fear that the transfer of resources may mean the transfer of a deficit. This would be totally unacceptable. We have an opportunity with this new agency and we need to use it. During Committee Stage, I will look more closely at the details of the budget for the agency, particularly with regard to outsourcing. We know the agency has a budget of approximately €545 million, and I understand €100 million of that will go to outsourcing. I will seek further clarity on that on Committee Stage.

The issue I want to focus on today is the issue of special care. The issues in this regard are indicative of some of the issues I am raising about confidence and how we go forward. Under the special care order of the Child Care Amendment Act 2011, only children and young people aged from 11 to 17 with serious emotional and behavioural difficulties that put them “at a real and substantive risk to his or her health, safety, development or welfare” and who are unlikely to receive special care or protection “unless the court makes such an order” can access these facilities. An example of this may be a child who is self-harming, suicidal, abusing drugs and-or alcohol, where all other attempts by the Health Services Executive have not stabilised the current, serious situation. Rightly, one has to go to the High Court to obtain such an order. This is an appropriate safeguard due to the nature and seriousness of such intervention and the restriction of the individual’s liberty.

The recent report by the HIQA into Rath na nÓg raised serious concerns. The response from the HSE was to close the facility, which was relativity new. One could be forgiven for thinking as a result of that action that there is no demand for places. However, I understand there are currently 16 children on a waiting list for places and as many as 40 children who have not got onto the waiting list in need of a special care placement. Having read the definition, I cannot understand how there can be a waiting list for special care.

I am conscious that we are sending children to facilities abroad. For this to be done legally involves a time limit. Therefore, this involves returning to the High Court time and again to extend the period. The State is paying substantial costs both legally and for the provision of these places outside the State. Can we not develop a home grown solution that will be in the best interests of children? I am also concerned about the current arrangements around applications and placement for special care. The personnel in the HSE who decide whether to initiate a High Court application for special care are the same personnel who manage the number of special care places that are available. This is a serious concern because of the implicit conflict. Somebody said to me that the philosophy is: “If we do not have a place, we do not make an application in the first place.” Surely need and the best interests of the child should be the driving and deciding factor in whether a special care order is sought. Are we failing children today? Are we failing the 16 children on the waiting list? They have been assessed and identified as needing special care. At the least, I ask for the Minister’s assurance that this practice, as outlined, will not carry over into the new agency. There should not be a waiting list for special care.

The Minister was right to say we need to look at co-operation and bringing services together. I agree we must break down the barriers between agencies and services. We need an informed and integrated approach and for all of them to be under one roof. One of the regrets I have as we move forward with this is that children with disabilities will not be under the roof of the agency. Public health nurses will not be included either. All too often we hear that public health nurses are identifying upstream issues relating to a young child. At a recent meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, the special rapporteur on child protection gave us what could be called a master class on children’s rights. One of the issues he raised was the issue of alcohol as a risk indicator and the need for social workers to consider this.

The issue now is how are all of these other services to communicate and liaise with the new agency. We have talked about integration and working together. Let us look for example at the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, CAMHS. We would assume, judging by its name, that this service would transfer to the new agency. CAMHS caters for young people up to 16 years, with an extension on occasion to 18 years. Social workers on the ground say they find it extremely difficult to access CAMHS, particularly once a child has been put into care. It is almost as if the perception is that once they are in State care, the State cannot outsource the facilities to CAMHS and will deal with them in the community. This is a further cost on the State. There is a concern that if CAMHS does not transfer to the new agency, this will further exacerbate the difficulty social workers are experiencing accessing these services for children. We have seen in the child death report the critical role that CAMHS plays. I do not understand why it is not being made part of the new agency. Is it because it does not want to be? This is a serious concern.

There is plenty more I could say, but I will keep it for Committee Stage. I am anxious to ensure the agency will be about all children and child welfare and that its remit is not limited. I do not question the Minister’s commitment, but the Bill is about outlining and putting down a foundation for the future. It is about a future when none of us will be here. We need to grasp the opportunity we have and maximise the potential of the Bill.

 

Link to Committee Stage: http://www.kildarestreet.com/sendebates/?id=2013-12-03a.189#g193

Links to Report Stage: http://www.kildarestreet.com/sendebates/?id=2013-12-05a.101#g110

The Lancet

In July 2021, Jillian co-authored an article in the world-renowned medical journal “The Lancet”