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Adoption Explainer: What’s the first step to take if you want to trace your parents

There are a couple of routes you can take, says the Adoption Authority of Ireland, but added there are delays, so you should start your search as soon as possible.

THE ADOPTION OF children is something that has been ingrained in Irish history for decades. Every now and again a movie or programme is shown and the issue of the adoption services in Ireland is pushed to the fore.

If you are adopted it might seem like a minefield to begin to start the journey of looking for your birth parents. But there are steps that you can take, when you are ready,  that might result in reunion.

The Adoption Authority of Ireland

Speaking to the TheJournal.ie, the Adoption Authority of Ireland said adopted people really have two options when they begin their search.

They can join the National Adoption Contact Preference Register – see application form and leaflet here – which is open to any adopted person and any relative of an adopted person.

Registration is voluntary so it obviously requires both the adoptee and at least one birth relative to join. There are currently around 11,000 persons registered, roughly 70:30 adoptees to relatives, and there have been over 600 “matches” where more than 600 adoptees have been matched and put in touch with a birth relative.

A review of the register undertaken in 2007, looked at the types of calls the Adoption Board received on a typical day:


A spokesperson said that the register is something that has to be welcomed but said that due to the Adoption Authority having its resources cut year on year, there are significant delays in matching people.

He added:

The problem is that Minister Frances Fitzgerald said that a draft bill on this issue is imminent, however, we have not seen this draft. I wish there was more we could do, but we don’t have the legal basis to do what we need to do.

For example, all the births, marriages and deaths are now computerised. There is no reason why we should not have access to those records on our computers, but we do not. When someone comes to us looking to be traced, I physically have to go down to the Register Office with over 70 or so documents.

He added: “With the delays, I would urge people who are considering looking for their family to put their name on the register. When we get to you and if you feel you are not ready to proceed that is totally fine, but it is best to get the wheels in motion sooner rather than later,” he said.

Adoption agency

Another option people have is  to contact the agency that arranged the adoption or whoever now holds the relevant records and they will try to locate and make contact with the birth parents and/or other birth relatives on behalf of the adopted person with a view to obtaining background/medical information and/or arranging for more direct contact if that’s agreeable to all concerned.

If the person doesn’t know which agency holds their records, they can contact the Adoption Authority of Ireland and they will be able to point you in the right direction.

However, similar to the resource shortages in the Adoption Authority of Ireland and due to the ongoing lack of any statutory basis for the provision of such services, they have been particularly hard hit by the cutbacks in the public service over the last five years and there are now very
considerable waiting lists for these services.

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Waiting list

“There can be waiting lists of up to three years for depending on what agency you were adopted by. For instance, the HSE took over the remit of one agency which entailed over 14,000 adoption documents being handed over to them and only one extra social worker was assigned to handle that work load, so you can imagine the pace at which things can move,” said the AAI spokesperson.

He added that under the 2010 legislation, the AAI is the central authority for registered agencies but that they have “no real power over them”. He added that if someone has a complaint about one of the agencies, the AAI can be contacted, but again, due the lack of clarity around their legal status, they can merely point out to that agency where they went wrong.

He added that sometimes information people were provided about their birth parents may be wrong, stating that the thinking behind it was that “these children were going to new parents and there was really no thoughts that they would meet their birth mothers again, so sometimes information that was untrue was given, so that can be an obstacle. Also, due to stigma at the time, or due to instruction, mothers often gave different names.

Often, people choose not to go through the AAI, the register or their agency and armed with their date of birth, birth name and place of birth they go to the Register Office to get their birth certificate and then perhaps go on to look for their parents possible marriage certificate.

“Going through the index for the year you were born can be tedious rather than difficult,” said the AAI spokesperson, adding, “after much searching, you may well find the information you are looking for, but then what?”

He said that people should be careful about how they go about things, stating that knocking on someone’s door or sending a letter to their house might not have the same result you want.

People often need supports when they decide to trace their family. Supports can be offered from a range of services from the Adoptions Rights Alliance, the Adoption Authority of Ireland itself and the HSE.

“Even for the reason of finding out your medical history, it can be worthwhile, but I would urge people who are contemplating taking that step to do it now, take the first step and at least register,” he said.

Column: A review of guardianship, adoption and surrogacy law is underway, but what can we expect?>

Read: Calls for independent investigation into Ireland’s illegal adoptions>

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