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'I felt so humiliated, I burst into tears': Woman questions why she was asked for adoption cert when applying for PSC

The woman’s adopted status is not well known and she was unaware she would have to discuss the topic in public.

Image: DEASP

A WOMAN HAS questioned why adopted people are requested to provide their adoption certificate when applying for a Public Services Card (PSC).

Anne*, who is aged in her late 40s, recently returned to Ireland from Spain, where she ran a bar for over two years.

She had returned with enough savings to live off for a few months while she looked for work. She previously ran her own business in Ireland for several years and has a background in social care.

Anne recently secured a full-time job with a company that provides at-home care packages. She was due to start work during the week but the process has been delayed as she waits for garda clearance.

Anne said she applied for social welfare to tide her over for a few weeks until she started work. As part of the process, she applied for a PSC.

The card, which has been the subject of some controversy since it was introduced, can be used to access a range of public services and people who apply for or receive social welfare payments are required to register for one. In 2018, it was announced that the card would be a mandatory requirement for those seeking a driver theory test – a stance that was later reversed.

Anne attended an appointment at Mullingar Intreo Centre in Co Westmeath earlier this month. She said she was informed of the appointment over the phone, rather than in writing. She said she produced her driving licence as her form of identification but the staff member had trouble locating her on the system.

Anne said she was asked if she had ever used another name and she presumed this related to the fact she was divorced and had reverted to her maiden name, although this happened over 20 years ago.

Over the course of the conversation, Anne realised the issue in locating her information may have been because she was adopted and she informed the staff member. Most people in her life, including her adult daughter, are not aware she is adopted.

‘Humiliated’ 

Anne said she was told she would have to produce her adoption cert if she wanted to continue the PSC application process. Both her adopted parents are dead and she does not have a copy of the adoption cert.

Anne said she was “absolutely flummoxed” upon hearing this and, as the issue came up unexpectedly, she was unprepared and became emotional.

I felt so humiliated when I was asked to produce my adoption papers. I just burst into tears. To my own embarrassment, I just could not stop. I felt totally violated.

“It’s a time of my life that is in the past and that’s where I thought it was until, out of the blue, it arose. I’m almost 50 and to be made to feel totally helpless in a public place has greatly upset me.”

Anne said she thought the appointment would be a straightforward exercise where she had to fill in forms and have her photograph taken, not discuss her past in a public setting.

As she only intended to receive social welfare payments for a few weeks until she began work, she said she regrets applying for a PSC.

“If I had know that I was going to have drag all this up, I would have borrowed money from friends rather than go into the social welfare office. I just need help for a couple of weeks until I start work.”

A spokesperson for Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) said people should not be asked for their adoption cert in such a scenario. However, a number of people said they have been asked to provide one

Anne said she doesn’t like talking about her adoption but when she does it should be “on my own terms”.

“I wasn’t ready for it to be just thrown at me in a public place … For some people, talking about it doesn’t affect them but it wasn’t a great time in my life and it’s not something I feel comfortable talking about.”

‘My daughter doesn’t know’  

Anne questioned if staff at Intreo offices receive training in how to handle sensitive situations such as this. She said the woman she was dealing with was very polite but didn’t know what to do when she broke down.

“To be fair to the poor woman who was dealing with me, she obviously had no training in dealing with people like me who completely break down on the spot…

“It wasn’t her fault, she was a nice lady but you could see she was caught in headlights. She didn’t want to have this conversation any more than me. I started to cry and couldn’t stop, then I felt ashamed that I couldn’t stop.

Both my parents are dead, I have no siblings and my daughter doesn’t know [I'm adopted]. I couldn’t go home and talk to anyone about it … I get very upset when I think about it, I sobbed all night long after it happened.

Anne said the woman in the office couldn’t answer why she needed to produce her adoption papers, beyond that it was a prerequisite. She said at one point in the conversation she was also told she may need to produce her divorce cert but was later told this wouldn’t be necessary.

What if a person doesn’t know they’re adopted? 

About 90,000 people in Ireland are adopted and it’s estimated that some 40% of these are not aware they are adopted.

Anne said discussing her adoption was an upsetting experience but at least she was aware of her history, noting that some people who apply for a PSC may not know their adopted status.

Imagine if they found out this way. Imagine if there was a person who suffered the indignation of finding out through a government official that they’re adopted.

Anne said staff need to be trained in the event of something like this happening and that counselling should be offered to the person in question if needed.

“You’re asked to come in to get your photo taken for the PSC, but this could be a life-changing experience for some people. Some people in similar situations might not be able to cope.”

The DEASP previously told us its staff would not be aware of somebody’s adoption status. TheJournal.ie has written about issues adopted people have faced when applying for the PSC, with one man initially being denied a card because he refused to get an adoption cert – a stance that was overturned several months later.

When asked about Anne’s experience, a spokesperson said the department “endeavours to handle all cases with due sensitivity and care”.

Face-to-face registration, referred to as SAFE (Standard Authentication Framework Environment) registration, is necessary when applying for a PSC. The spokesperson said details such as the person’s date and place of birth and their mother’s birth surname are taken from their birth registration record during the meeting.

They noted that the DEASP has access to the Irish Birth Register and where an individual’s birth certificate details are on this register, it is not necessary for them to provide a birth certificate when requesting a PSC.

The department does not have access to the adoption register. If a SAFE officer cannot locate a person’s details on the birth registration database, the person is “advised that their record cannot be found and they are asked to bring in a birth certificate for the details to be verified”.

The spokesperson said if a person presents a short-form birth cert rather than a long-form version (which an adopted person may not have), and the birth registration details cannot be located on the Birth Register, SAFE officers are “advised to accept the short form certificate without asking any questions of the person”.

However, based on the experience of Anne and others, this protocol is not always followed. The spokesperson said statistics on the number of people who produced an adoption certificate during a SAFE Registration “are not maintained”.

They noted that divorce certificates are “not requested as part of a SAFE registration”, adding: “Where a person wishes to revert to a pre-marriage name they may provide evidence of separation or divorce.”

Anne said she wanted to share her story to highlight the issues adopted people face and to show others who may have found themselves in a similar position that they are not alone.

Anne has applied for her adoption cert so she can provide it to the Intreo office. Her PSC application is ongoing.

“I only wanted a little help until I start work. I don’t consider myself a burden to the system, I think that’s the least the State owes me in over 20 years. I’m just devastated,” she said.

*Anne’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

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Órla Ryan

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