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access to records

Almost 900 people sign up to adoption tracing system - 32 have 'no contact' preference

A total of 891 adopted people and relatives applied to the new register in July.

ALMOST 900 adopted people and relatives have signed up to the country’s new Contact Preference Register in the last four weeks.

A total of 891 people applied to the new register in July, following the commencement of the Birth Information and Tracing Act 2022. Of this figure, 32 people expressed a desire for no contact.

The legislation provides legal entitlement to full access to birth certificates; and birth, early-life, care and medical information for any person who was adopted, boarded out, had their birth illegally registered, or who otherwise has questions in relation to their origins.

The new law also establishes a Contact Preference Register (CPR) to which applications can be made by those wishing to make contact, to request privacy, or to seek or share information with a relative. The Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) operates the CPR.

Of the 891 people who applied to register their preferences in relation to contact, 786 applications were from adopted people, 90 were from parents and 15 were other relatives.

There were 820 people who expressed a preference for contact at some level. There were 32 people who expressed a desire for no contact (24 adopted people and eight relatives), while 39 applicants (30 adopted people and nine relatives) did not want contact but were willing to share information.

A previous iteration of the Bill required adopted people seeking records to attend a mandatory information session with a social worker if the person’s biological mother or father had opted not to be contacted.

This session has since been changed to a phone call, rather than an in-person meeting. However, activists have criticised this approach – saying it is unnecessary and demeaning to explain the concept of privacy to an adopted person.

The Clann Project, which represents many adopted people, previously described the Bill as “paternalistic and unjust”.

Speaking to The Journal about the figures, Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman noted the relatively small number of people to date seeking no contact. He said that of the 32 people seeking no contact, the eight relatives are most likely parents.

“You can assume they’re probably parents there, so eight out of 900, so far [will have the information session].”

O’Gorman said people have a right to criticise the phone call but, in order to balance adopted people’s rights to information with parents’ rights to privacy, he believed the information session was necessary.

“We’re dealing with the individual constitutional rights of those eight individuals, and they’re entitled to express that.

“But I always said throughout that process, my belief would be it would be a very small number of people who would use the no-contact preference. So the number of these phone calls that will take place will probably be very small,” the minister said. 

Ireland and overseas

The majority of all applications (786) came from people in Ireland, with 105 applications from those who live overseas.

The greatest number of applications from outside Ireland came from the UK, with 50 people registering contact preferences. Next was the US with 17 applications, followed by Australia with four.

The county in Ireland with the most applications in July was Dublin, with 253 people registering preferences, followed by Cork with 118 applications, and Meath with 48. The county with the fewest applications was Leitrim with four.

The oldest applicant to the CPR was 81, while the youngest, aged five, had an application submitted by their adoptive parents. The mean age of both adoptees and relatives was 50.

Of the 786 adoptees who applied to the CPR, 74% of them (580 people) are seeking contact with their mother. Almost 17% (130) of applicants stated they wanted to trace their father, with 9% (69) seeking contact with a sibling, and 1.3% (10) seeking contact with a grandparent, cousin, aunt, or uncle.

Of the 105 relatives who applied to the CPR, 86% of them (90 people) are seeking contact with their child, just under 5% (five people) said they wanted to contact siblings, and almost 10% (10 people) are seeking contact with a grandparent, cousin, aunt, or uncle.

More than 48,000 children were adopted from 1953 to 2021. A further 2,000-plus children were sent from Ireland to other countries – mainly the United States – and adopted in these countries.

In addition, an estimated 20,000-plus children were ‘boarded out’ – sent to live with foster families at a time before 1953 when there was no legal adoption in Ireland.

‘Most families touched by adoption’

Patricia Carey, CEO of the Adoption Authority, said the organisation is “very encouraged” by the number of people who have registered to date.

“Most families in Ireland have been touched by adoption at some stage. The Adoption Authority is determined to reach as many people as possible – to let them know they can find out about their origins and to encourage all those eligible under the legislation to register their preferences on the Contact Preference Register,” she said.

As part of a public information campaign around the Birth Information and Tracing Act, a booklet on the important services to be provided under the new legislation is being delivered to every household in Ireland.

In October, both information and tracing services under the legislation will open. Extra staff members at the AAI and Tusla are being hired to deal with the demand in services.

O’Gorman told The Journal: “We’ve put significant additional resources into both Tusla and the Adoption Authority of Ireland in terms of staffing the response to the Information and Tracing Act, in terms of additional staff to deal with records and record-keeping, in terms of IT systems to allow the transfer of information.”

The minister said staff are also being hired for the new tracing system.

“It’s not just the contact preference register, we’ve also given legal status to a tracing regime, which will actually proactively assist people who are looking to make contact with a family member.”

When asked about criticism by adopted people of how Tusla and the AAI have handled requests for information in the past, O’Gorman said: “There’s also an important issue in terms of change of culture as well. And I was very strong about that, in terms of the debates on this.

We have to change the culture in Tusla and AAI, and I think at the leadership level in both those agencies, they recognise that too.

“And Bernard Gloster (the CEO of Tusla) has been very strong in terms of a change in culture. Similarly, the Board and Chief Executive of the AAI have too, and that’s been led by my department through that implementation group.”

As part of a public information campaign around the Birth Information and Tracing Act, a booklet on the important services to be provided under the new legislation is being delivered to every household in Ireland.

An ad campaign is also running on TV, radio and online. Irish embassies in the UK, US and other countries are working with community groups to make members aware of the new legislation and how they can apply for these services.

“For example, in the UK I think 145 Irish community groups have been engaged with across the country – just to let them know about the information so they can bring attention to their members.

“This recognises a very significant number of people who were in institutions as either mothers or children and subsequently left the country,” O’Gorman said.

Applications for the information and tracing services can be made to the AAI and Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. More information can be read here

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