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Adopted people 'disgusted' and 'distraught' they might not get their records until autumn 2023

The AAI wrote to people today, confirming further delays.

LAST UPDATE | Dec 9th 2022, 7:20 PM

ADOPTED PEOPLE SEEKING personal records related to their birth, early life and medical history have been informed that they may not receive the documents for almost a year.

The Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) today informed applicants that, based on the current situation, some people will not receive their information until autumn 2023.

In a mass email sent to applicants today, and seen by The Journal, AAI CEO Patricia Carey wrote: “Based on our current resourcing we expect to be able to complete 200 outstanding applications per month with our backlog cleared by early autumn of 2023, if not before.

“This work is a priority for the Authority and we are re-assigning additional staff members to work exclusively on responding to applications.”

Almost 6,000 people have applied to receive their records under the Birth Information and Tracing Act 2022, which came into effect in October.

Under the legislation, adopted people can access their birth certificates, medical records and early life information. The Act also enables people to access this information if their parent has died, and for access by the next of kin of a child who died in an institution.

As reported by The Journal in October, the waiting time for adopted people to get their records and early life information tripled from 30 days to 90 days with weeks of the new service accepting applications.

However, people have now been told they could be waiting almost a year to get access to their records.

‘I’m absolutely disgusted’

Lisa Corr, one of the people who received the email from the AAI today, said she is “absolutely disgusted” with the delay.

She said the initial delay – from 30 to 90 days – seemed somewhat inevitable given the large number of people applying. However, she said the fact that some people will now be waiting several months, and possibly even longer, is “a disaster of monumental proportions”.

“I’m absolutely disgusted but sadly not surprised. This is just the modus operandi when it comes to adopted people in this country. I’m viewed as a reference number, nothing more,” Lisa said.

She has been aware for some time that her biological mother has passed away, so there is no issue in terms of her mother’s privacy delaying her access to documents.

As frustrating as the situation is for her, Lisa said many other adopted people are in a worse position as they have none of their records at all.

She has already received some of her records from Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.

Lisa said the impact of this delay on many people cannot be underestimated. Some of those affected are expressing their upset and anger in online support groups.  

“People are distraught. The stuffing has been knocked out of them. It’s absolutely awful.

These are people who have waited 30, 40, 50, 60 years for information. Some people have been waiting all their lives to get this information.

“The new legislation was supposed to give them full and unfettered access. But it’s the thing again – excuses, excuses, excuses.”

Lisa said the delays are “utterly unacceptable” and could have been avoided.  

She added: “Why were there not more staff employed? Why were they not better prepared? I would like the Minister to come out and explain why this has happened and what he’s going to do to rectify it?”

A spokesperson for the Minister for Children said that Roderic O’Gorman is “acutely aware of the disappointment these delays may cause and wishes to assure people that both agencies [the AAI and Tusla] are doing their utmost to respond to all the applications received within the shortest possible time frame and will continue to keep every person who is waiting for information informed about their application”.

As of 5 December, a total of 5,847 applications for information have been received by Tusla and the AAI, with over two thirds of that total being received within two weeks of commencement.

The spokesperson said that in terms of the almost 6,000 applications received, “it is noteworthy that, since the Department took possession of the archive of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation, circa 800 subject access requests applications have been received”.

“This points to the significance of the Birth Information and Tracing Act and the unprecedented demand for the new level of access created by the Act,” he added.

The Journal has contacted the AAI for comment. Tusla, which is helping to run the Birth Information and Tracing system with the AAI, is also experiencing significant delays but a spokesperson would not confirm the length of waiting times when contacted today.

‘The new legislation gave people false hope’

Mary Harney, who also applied for her records under the new system, said getting documents out to people in 30 days would always have been a “miracle exercise”. Mary was not adopted but grew up in an industrial school in Cork.

She is a longtime activist for people who passed through mother and baby homes, industrial schools and other institutions.

She said that she and other campaigners flagged a long time ago that the AAI didn’t have enough employees who specialise in this area to ensure the smooth rollout of the new system.

“We said it’d be impossible to process those kinds of numbers. They’ve known for the last how many years how many of us there are. Processing all those applications in 30 days? No one in their right mind thought that would happen.

“But now telling people they could be waiting a year? It’s ludicrous. It’s really not on. Once again it shows the disregard for us in terms of ignoring what we asked for previously.

“We have nothing against the individual people working in these agencies, but clearly the people in charge have not listened to us or made adequate preparations.”

Mary also noted that if current applicants are being told they might not get their records until autumn 2023, applicants who apply in the coming weeks might be waiting until 2024.

“If people have not applied yet but are thinking of applying in January, how far out will they push it then?”

Mary said that hearing about such a long delay would be difficult at any time of year, but that being informed of the news shortly before Christmas will have an added impact on many people.

“It’s especially difficult at this time of year. People will be wondering if they will ever be able to trace their mothers or their child.

The new legislation gave people false hope. People are getting older and some of them thought, ‘maybe there’s a chance for me to meet my mother or my child this year, that would be the best Christmas present ever’. Their hopes are dashed once again.

Mary is one of survivors who shared her story in Redacted Lives, The Journal’s podcast series about mother and baby homes.

‘The unprecedented level of this surge’

In the letter sent to applicants today, Patricia Carey said that the AAI has “a dedicated team working full-time on processing, checking and managing our 2400+ applications along with responding to phone, post and email queries”.

She stated: “I wish to express my regret, on behalf of the Adoption Authority, that we have not been able to meet our statutory obligation in processing your application…

“While we anticipated a significant surge of initial applications, the unprecedented level of this surge has meant that we will not be able to respond to all applications within the statutory timeframe. I would like to reassure you that the Adoption Authority is fully committed to releasing information to applicants and meeting the statutory timelines, and we are doing everything as an organisation to achieve this.

“We have also received a very large number of queries and appeals from applicants arising from the release of their information.

“We are endeavouring to reply to all of these as, adoptees, those nursed-out, those boarded-out and those subject to illegal birth registration have understandable questions about their information and records. This is important work but is also impacting on the team responsible for release of information.

“As you are aware, applications for information release are complex due to information being spread across hard copy files, letters/memos, databases, and historical bound volumes.”

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