The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Dr. James Reilly has published the General Scheme and Heads of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill. The bill was considered at Cabinet last Wednesday and the government has agreed to refer the bill to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children for pre-legislative scrutiny.
The new legislation, which will provide a statutory basis for the provision of information related to adoption, will be both prospective and retrospective. The Bill will give an adopted person aged 18 years or over, who was adopted prior to commencement of the Bill, a statutory entitlement to the information required to apply for his or her birth certificate, following a request to the Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.
The Minister stated “In drafting the legislation we faced a particular challenge in the attempt to reconcile an adopted person’s request for information about his or her identity with the right to privacy of his or her birth parent. We recognised that adopted persons are a unique part of this process and the information that they are seeking is about their own identity. A birth certificate is an important piece of identifying information that is shared by an adopted person and his/her birth parents. We are distinguishing it from other identifying information which can be more readily characterised as belonging to one or the other.”
The new proposal includes a contact preference mechanism that will operate alongside a undertaking by adopted persons not to contact his/her birth parents. In addition there will be an offer of guidance and support from Tusla social workers to both adopted persons and birth parents.
There will be an initial period of one year after commencement of the Bill for an awareness campaign, to publicise the provisions of the Bill and to allow birth parents to indicate on the Register if they want “No contact at present” or otherwise, before the adopted person will have a statutory entitlement to their birth certificate under these provisions.
The Minister emphasised
“While this Bill is about providing a right to information it is critical that birth parents’ constitutional right to privacy is protected. I believe that by allowing birth parents an opportunity to specify the extent of contact, if any, in addition to the other safeguards to be put in place will ensure that this important right is protected.”
The Bill also provides for a copy of a birth certificate, an adoption order and other information to be provided to an adopted person whose adoption was effected after the commencement of this Bill, following application by that person. It provides for the sharing of information about a child who was adopted, between birth parents and adoptive parents, where both parties agree. In addition, it provides for information to be given to an adopted person whose adoption is registered in the Register of Intercountry Adoptions.
The Bill provides that persons who were the subject of “informal adoptions” and “wrongful registrations”, and birth parents of these persons, may avail themselves of information and tracing services and be provided with information, where such information is available.
The Bill provides for the establishment of the Adoption Information Register and for the safeguarding of all adoption records to be operated by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.
The Minister said “I have been working in cooperation with the Attorney General to develop this scheme. The draft Heads now prepared involve a scheme that will greatly improve access to information, including provision of an adopted person’s birth certificate, with appropriate protections and an appeal mechanism to protect the rights of all parties. The proposals are the result of an intensive effort to identify a means of dealing with the significant legal and practical challenges that arise.”