1938 "Legal Adoption would confer little advantage on a child who was adopted by desirable people except the slight one that in the matter of death duties the child would be in the same position as lineal issue. Legalised adoption might, on the other hand, be a serious disadvantage to a child in the event of the circumstances of the adoptive parents disimproving". (Inter-Departmental Memorandum from Department of Justice)
1944 "I am still awaiting a reply to my application of last September for a Grant from the Local Government and Public Health Department towards a Home for unmarried mothers (first offenders)." (Letter from Rev. Mother General, Sisters of Charity of St. Patrick's Guild Adoption Society)
1946 "We must ensure that childless married couples may take their part in the life of the country by bringing up families, fully assured that no interference from outside may occur".
"Reform of birth certificates would benefit our country because children with an unfortunate background are more likely to become juvenile delinquents".
"Adoption means the re-creation of the child and the completion of a perfect family unit".
(Information Leaflet by The Adoption Society for the Propagation of Legal Adoption).
1946 "Her application is greatly weakened by her own conduct, and the rather casual refuge she offers is not comparable to the foster parents' settled home where the child can grow up without any stigma. The foster mother seems to be a devout Catholic. The mother is a lapsed Catholic. She is not a fit person to be granted custody". (High Court dismissal by Mr. Justice Gavan Duffy of Miss Bridget Noonan's application for the return of her child)
1946 "Many childless couples are denied the opportunity of providing a home for a child". (Letter to Minister for Justice from The Joint Committee of Womens Societies and Social Workers)
1950 "Please get on with it now....My boy has no idea that he is not our very own flesh and blood....he is now at school and we must produce this birth certificate shortly". (Letter to An Taoiseach from Mrs E. K. of Dublin 6 - an adoptive parent - urging him to introduce legal adoption)
1952 "Single mothers are fallen women and grave sinners, whose children are the product of wickedness". (Father Cecil Barrett, Head of the Catholic Social Welfare Bureau)
The Adoption Act was passed in 1952
1970 "It wasn't easy to keep a child if you weren't married, he assured me. Mostly it was inadequate women who wanted to keep their children; mature ones realised the damage it would do to the child and gave them up for adoption". (Father Fergal O'Connor of ALLY to Maura O'Dea - from "Single Issue" - published 1998)
1972 "But the feeling that our only use to the society as a whole was to carry our babies and then give them away for adoption, quietly and without any protest, please - and the expectation that we should disappear again leaving no ripple on the layers of the collective consciousness - was the one thing that filled us with anger".
"At first, we hoped that some of the women who had their babies adopted would still be part of CHERISH, but it was an unreal expectation. We never worked through that loss with those women. Nobody did. They handed their babies away and disappeared again into the shadows". (Maura O'Dea-Richards - "Single Issue" published 1998)
The Unmarried Mothers Allowance was introduced in 1973
1974 "I think that we are all agreed that the consensus opinion in our society is to the effect that adoption is better for the illegitimate baby than to be cared for by its mother". (Paddy Cooney, Minister for Justice. Speech at First Irish Adoption Workers Conference
1976 "This tendency (for mothers to keep their babies) may have progressed too far. Fewer babies are coming onto the adoption market as a result". (Marie Louise Colbert, The Adoption Board. Article in The Irish Independent)
1983 "Not a day passes without my thinking about my daughter (and) every other woman who has given away her child is also going through the same daily sadness and loss. What is most devastating for me is the thought that she might be dead - might have died at some time over the past thirteen years - and I don't even have the right in law to know this". (Ms. R. M. (a natural mother) - Submission to Review Committee on Adoption Services, Department of Health)
1992 "Over the fifteen years of the Adoption Advice Service there has been an enormous and growing increase in the number of people in this category (birth parents) who have contacted the service. Many birth parents who contacted us have felt great distress since placing their child for adoption". (Barnardo's Report "Trends and Issues in Adoption in Ireland in 1992")
1999 "When I finally found her, we had only a dozen or so years to get to know each other before, sadly, she died. However, she left me a totally unexpected legacy of an amazingly welcoming extended family which is a source of immense delight and getting to know them has been one of the most positive experiences of my life.
However successful an adoption may be, most of us have a deep seated need to know our own origins and to have a place in the continuity of things. I don't think it is ever too late for mothers and children to seek each other out and I do hope that with the help of this new facility, many other families separated by adoption will have the chance to rediscover each other...". (Rosemary J. May - an adopted person - letter to The Irish Times regarding the APA's Irish Adoption Contact Register)
1999 "We can only hope now that the State will do its part to undo some of the heartache caused to natural parents and their children by its draconian implementation of outdated adoption laws". (Bernie Harold, Chairperson of the Natural Parents Network of Ireland - Speech at Launch of APA's Irish Adoption Contact Register).
CHERISHING the CHILDREN of NATURAL MOTHERS (before 1973)
Natural mothers did not qualify for any statutory financial assistance to keep their children, though they could apply for National Assistance under The Poor Laws. Information about this was difficult to get, and many who applied for it were refused. Ironically, if a mother gave her child into foster care, the fostering couple received a statutory allowance to care for that same child. Widows also received a statutory allowance (even those without children). In some cases, the natural mother's own family accepted her and her child and assumed the financial responsibility, but the social stigma associated with births out of wedlock ensured that these remained in the minority.
The State paid a per capita sum to religious institutions for girls/women and their babies in Mother and Baby Homes throughout Ireland. The more women they took in, the greater the funding they could claim. In addition, the women worked without pay in the laundries, kitchens and farms of these institutions, and also cared daily for their babies until (often at more then two years old) they were parted by adoption.
HISTORY of ADOPTION
Prior to 1952, most of the religious denominations who ran Mother and Baby Homes, Childrens Homes or Adoption Societies (almost all of whom were receiving State subsidy) carried out a practice known as "de facto" adoption - where a child was given to a couple for "love and affection". These couples did not receive payment by the State. It was not uncommon that if a child was taken from the natural mother at an early stage, the birth was registered and the child baptised in the name of the adopting couple, although this was illegal.
LOBBYING for LEGAL ADOPTION
From the 1930s onwards, many adopting couples began to demand that the Government should legislate for legal adoption, having seen it introduced in other countries.
Two principal pressure groups were formed in the 1940s (The Adoption Society for the Propagation of Legal Adoption and The Joint Committee of Womens Societies and Social Workers) and they comprehensively and unceasingly lobbied the Press, Government, Political Parties and Local Authorities.
THE POWER of the CATHOLIC CHURCH
Successive Governments were reluctant to change the status quo, and often cited "religious difficulties" as the reason. They knew that without the support of the Catholic Church, legislation was unlikely to be passed by the Dail. The Catholic Church had expressed its reservations about legal adoption to the Government. The Church's reasons appeared to be threefold:
Firstly, their views on "illegitimacy" (eg: at that time, "illegitimate" men could not be ordained for the priesthood without dispensation from Rome)
Secondly, a belief that irrevocably parting mothers and children was unnatural.
Thirdly, they were fixated by the danger that "Catholic" babies might end up being adopted by Protestants.
There was much correspondence throughout the 1930s and 1940s between various Ministers and the Catholic Church on the type of adoption legislation which could be enacted so as to ensure that proselytisation could not occur.
THE ROLE of the STATE
Civil Servants in the relevant Departments of the Taoiseach, Justice, Health and Local Government devoted many years of work and consulted widely on the adoption issue. Their consulations included contact with the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist Churches as well as with the Religious Society of Friends and the Jewish Community. They were careful legislators, it must be said. However, they were also the prisoners of their time, and they, like their political masters, heard only the loudest and most powerful voices.
There was an unremitting flood of letters from adoption lobby organisations and individual adoptive parents whose primary concern was the introduction of "new" birth certificates and new legal names for adopted children and a system in the Registrar of Births Office whereby it would be impossible for anyone to discover that the children had been adopted
THE INTRODUCTION of LEGAL ADOPTION
The State resisted the demand to "hide" the original birth records, but in all other respects, acceded to the adoption lobby's demands, and legal adoption which irrevocably severed the connection between mothers and their children was introduced in 1952.
Successive amending legislation over the years has copperfastened this severance.
THE ROLE of THE ADOPTION BOARD
The Adoption Board was established, and an agreement had been reached that at least two Board places would be reserved for Protestant members. A further (unwritten) practice was that at least two places would be reserved for adoptive parents. Adoption Agencies were required to be registered with the Adoption Board, which was also supposed to act as the regulating body for such Agencies. However, there is no evidence that the Board carried out any monitoring of their practices. Most of the Agencies were run by Catholic religious orders and all qualified for statutory funding (initially from the Department of Justice) usually based on the number of adoptions handled by them. Again, as with Mother and Baby Homes, the greater the number of adoptions, the larger grant they could expect to receive.
Finally, the regulations did not require Agencies to submit audited accounts to the Adoption Board.
THE ROLE of the ADOPTION AGENCIES
As it was in their interests to do so, the Agencies over the past forty years have effectively acted as baby procurers for adoptive parents (whom they regarded as their only clients).
Agencies required only two things from natural mothers: Firstly, their babies, and secondly their signatures on the Consent to Adoption Forms.
Counselling or advice to help women to keep their babies was non-existent. Mothers (post 1973) who were trying to keep their children and who requested help from Agency run Baby Homes, were charged weekly nursery fees which were far in excess of the Unmarried Mothers Allowance at the time. Visits to their babies were restricted to ten minutes twice a week. When they found themselves unable to continue paying the nursery fees, mothers were pressured into agreeing to their babies' adoption.
THE STATE ABDICATED
In conclusion, we contend that the State, following pressure to introduce legal adoption, sub-contracted what should have been its primary responsibility - the care of vulnerable women and children - to the religious institutions who received State finance and substantial donations from adoptive parents.
THE ADOPTION AGENCIES' PRACTICES
Studies have proven that Agencies did not approach their responsibilities properly when assessing prospective adoptive parents, and we would contend that:
Devotion to religious observance was the primary consideration
The wealth of the adoptive couple rather than their suitability as parents was the determining factor
Many adoptive couples were in non-consummated marriages
They usually refused permission to mothers who wished to visit their babies in the Home prior to the adoption. They frequently falsely informed mothers that their children were already placed in their adoptive homes when in fact they were still in Care or in Hospital.
Until recent years, official Agency practice was to refuse even simple non-identifying information to natural mothers who enquired about their children. They were also frequently falsely told that their children did not wish contact. (This would be discovered when their adult children found them having completed their own Searches after being thwarted by the Agency).
To this day, they will often seek permission from adoptive parents before approaching an adult adopted person whose natural mother wishes contact.
We commend the Child Care Legislation Unit Staff for the clear manner in which most of the issues have been covered in the material which was sent to us.
However, we feel that some historical perspective is missing and we have supplied this in an Appendix to this Submission.
COMMENTS on CONSULTATION TEXT
We feel that mention should be made of the reasons underlying this Consultation Process. It is obvious that closed, secret adoption is a failed social experiment. Ourselves and our children were the human guinea pigs. The State began to realise this when thousands of adopted people were coming forward to demand access to information about their natural families. Concurrently, thousands of women were seeking help with problems of depression. Doctors, Social Workers and Therapists realised that these women shared a major life event: the parting from a child to adoption. The "experts" up to the 1970s in Ireland had propounded (unsupported by any research) that we could "forget about our children" and "get on with our lives". This was not - and never will be - possible.
Recent Studies have found that the psychological and emotional effects of adoption on both mother and child are profound and long-lasting. Adoption is abnormal. Adopted people tell us that they experienced a "rejection of difference" while growing up. Their "negative" characteristics were attributed to their natural mothers, while their "positive" characteristics were attributed to their adoptive parents
We vehemently protest at the use of the term "birth" mothers throughout the Consultation Papers. The legally accepted definition is "natural" mother and we defy anybody who might try to suggest that our visceral connection with our children ends with their birth. We further point out that many thousands of natural mothers cared for their children in Mother and Baby Homes for several years before parting with them, and to describe such women in this way is doubly insulting.
We think it worth mentioning that many natural fathers are also coming forward to seek their children
We would assert that the number of natural mothers who do not wish any contact with their children is very small, and in the absence of proper research, the Department cannot presume anything on their behalf.
We also contend that there is a need for research into the number of adopted people who do not wish to have contact with their natural families, and the Department cannot presume for them either.
As women who have placed our children for adoption through Agencies, Homes, Ministers of Religion, Doctors etc., we can vouch for the fact that none of us were promised, nor did we seek, secrecy. Every single one of us lived with the burning hope and determination that we would meet our children some day. There is no mention of confidentiality in relation to the natural mother in any of the adoption legislation. Secrecy was imposed by the Agencies who gave a guarantee to the adopting parents that the natural mothers would never appear in their childrens' lives again.
No Consulation Paper on the subject of adoption in Ireland can be complete without acknowledging the malpractice, forgery, false birth registration and unknown financial practices of the various agents in adoption over the years.
We are profoundly indebted to the wonderful women who founded CHERISH - who lit the flame and declared to the world that the practice of separating children from their mothers was unnatural. Against all odds, they battled State and churches until statutory provision was made for single parents in housing and social welfare benefits.
We totally agree that access to birth information is a human right, and contend that access to information about our adopted children is also a human right.
We wish to expand upon the "other characteristics" mentioned alongside medical information. We believe that adopted people also need to know the talents, personalities and interests of their natural families.
Not mentioned anywhere in the Consultation Papers is the horrendous reality that the legislation currently in place severs the connection between mother and child so absolutely that she:
a: Is not informed if her child dies
b: Is not informed if the adoptive family's circumstances deteriorate to the point where social workers have to intervene
We totally reject the legal opinion of the Supreme Court because we know that the adoption legislation does not guarantee confidentiality to either the adopted person or the natural mother. Further, we know that the two people who applied for information about their natural mothers were in fact fostered, not adopted.
We recommend that the State should sponsor an Appeal by them of the Supreme Court Judgement to the European Court.
We will accept nothing less than the introduction of an Open adoption system.
Both mother and father (where practicable) should be required to sign Adoption Consents, having chosen a suitable adopting couple. This Consent should be a Contract of Care made between the adopting parents and the natural parent/s for the future well-being of the child. The Contract would obviously place obligations on the natural parent/s also, and promises must be kept in relation to visits, letters and presents etc. We recommend that a minimum yearly meeting should occur between natural parent/s and child - preferably on or near the child's birthday. We agree that it is difficult to legislate for this, and a possible corollary is the recommended legislation which will compel adoptive parents to inform a child about his/her adoption.
We are sadly aware that in some current adoptions, where non-identifying letters and photographs are being exchanged, some natural mothers have not maintained regular contact. We contend that the reason for this is that without regularly meeting the child - being unable to touch, see and hear her child - she finds the frustration of this very difficult to cope with. We acknowledge that in some instances, usually related to the circumstances of the conception of the child, there may be a desire by the natural mother to insist on a closed adoption. While we think this unfortunate, we understand that this should also be legislated for. However, the mother should be told that her child will inevitably wish to make contact with her at some stage, and she should be prepared for this with proper supports.
We contend that the separation by adoption of a natural mother and child should be rather like a marriage separation agreement, where the spouse who leaves the family home usually has visiting rights and particular duties in relation to the children of that marriage.
Finally, future adoptions (and we recognise that these will be mainly from abroad) should not be driven by the (apparent) duty of the State to provide children for childless couples, but rather to provide families for children in need.
And we mischievously point out that spinsters and bachelors don't have the right to oblige the State to provide them with husbands and wives.
Information rights should apply to adopted people and their natural families and no veto should be allowed whatsoever on any information.
Information on the current address of a party should only be withheld if a Contact Veto is in place.
We believe that an adopted person should be given information about their natural families when they ask for it, at whatever age. We further believe that natural parents should be given information about their adopted children - at whatever age.
The natural mother or child should each be informed when either party dies and should be encouraged to attend the funeral ceremonies. Further, we believe that the natural mother should be informed if her child is seriously ill or if the adoption has irretrieveably broken down, so that she can be consulted about the future care of her child. Bereavement counselling should be statutorily available to both parties.
A trained Mediator should approach the individual who is being sought, and should encourage them to welcome the contact.
We agree that one mandatory session with a trained Mediator should be legislated for. In the case of the natural mother, she should be given the opportunity to read her file (under current practice she is refused access to this) and have the right to add a Statement (which would amend any falsehoods and express her concern that documentation may have been removed or not placed on file) before this is shown to her child. She should not have the right to remove material from the file. The Mediator should establish the identity of the father at this session - even if the natural mother wishes to place a Contact Veto.
If the natural mother or child cannot be found or is deceased, the information should be given by the Mediator who should explain that the State cannot guarantee that everything on file is correct.
INFORMATION VETO SYSTEM
We are totally opposed to an Information Veto and maintain that this should also apply to information about adopted people, not just their natural parents.
VOLUNTARY CONTACT REGISTER
We support a well-advertised Voluntary Contact Register maintained by a specifically appointed State Body for Post Adoption Services.
Natural families and adopted people should be able to register
We do not agree with any charge for registration
The State should provide mediating services. One session should be mandatory, and counselling services should be available if requested
Because of the sheer numbers involved (more than 100,000 people have been adopted or fostered), we recommend that an informative leaflet detailing the setting up of the State Body should be sent to everybody on the Electoral Register (women and men) so that they can avail of the service.
RECORDS and ACCESS
We demand that all adoption records be made the property of the State
It should be against the law to destroy or alter a record or fail to make it available. Some discussion is needed with regard to natural mothers who will find that their records have been falsified, or adopted people whose births were falsely registered
There should be a total right of access to information when the natural mother has had the opportunity to view her file and lodge a Statement. The access to adoption records should be a corollary right.
The only acceptable denial to information is the current address of the person being sought IF they have lodged a Contact Veto
The Mediator should request the natural mother to identify the natural father and provide information about him for the file
There are no grounds for refusal of information on either side
The State should administer the Appeals through the Ombudsman's Office
We suggest two years limitation for an Appeal
We do not accept that the right to privacy has primacy over the right to information
The mandatory session should be with a Mediator - not a Records Officer. There should be the right to Counselling Services also - though not mandatory. We recommend that a Group Session with other adopted people or natural parents should be provided under the guidance of a trained adoption counsellor
Each Health Board premises should provide these services but they should be administered directly and under the control of the State Body
A Third Level Course specifically dealing with closed adoption re-unions should be a minimum requirement for Counsellors employed by the State Body
There should be no charge for these services
TRACING and REUNION SERVICES
There should be statutory guidelines for staff involved in tracing
Tracing services should be provided in each Health Board area but controlled and run by the State Body with specifically trained personnel
We agree that the initial re-union would require the support of a trained Mediator with the State Body
The services should be free
FUNDING and RESOURCES
The State should fund the services
We are absolutely against the contracting out of any of these services. All past malpractices occurred because of this, and the State is now having to deal with the resulting fall-out.
OTHER MATTERS for CONSIDERATION ,
Provision will have to be made for DNA testing if any party denies a blood relationship
Provision will have to be made to provide support for those who have been refused contact by the other party
Provision will have to be made for the specific problems which will emerge when children adopted from abroad seek information and contact with their natural families
Major discussions are needed on the whole issue of reproductive technology and its lack of connection with adoption law. Children conceived by AID, Donor Eggs or born through implantation of a Donor Embryo are presently not covered by any legislation and have no right of information about their genetic heritage
The Board of the proposed State Body for Post Adoption Services should include natural parents and adopted people
It would also be relevant to appoint a natural parent and an adopted person to The Adoption Board
Provision should be made for the entry of the natural father's name onto the Register of Births so that fully informative Birth Certificates can be issued to adopted people
We have no confidence in most of the Adoption Agencies and cannot see any role for them in the services under discussion.
We recommend that the Contact Veto should last no longer than eighteen months to two years, after which it would lapse if not renewed.
It would be advisable that the same Mediator would deal with the adopted person and their natural family so that even if a Contact Veto may be placed, it would be possible to give a first hand account of a meeting with the other party.