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Adoption Authority of Ireland

Officials warned that lack of social workers would delay giving adopted people their records

New documents reveal that officials in the AAI and Tusla had raised concerns about difficulties recruiting staff in the months leading up to the Birth Information and Tracing Act coming into effect.

OFFICIALS IN THE Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) and Tusla were concerned that difficulties in recruiting social workers could lead to significant delays in granting people access to their records under the Birth Information and Tracing Act.

New documents, released to The Journal via a Freedom of Information request, reveal that officials in the AAI and Tusla had raised concerns about difficulties recruiting and retaining staff in the months leading up to the legislation being enacted.

Members of the Birth Information and Tracing Legislation Implementation Group – which comprises staff from the AAI, Tusla and the Department of Children – raised concerns for several months before the Act came into effect in October.

Around 6,000 people have applied to receive their records – or their relative’s records – under the Birth Information and Tracing Act 2022 to date.

As reported by The Journal in December, adopted people seeking personal records related to their birth, early life and medical history were informed that they may not receive the documents until autumn 2023.

In an email sent to applicants on 9 December, AAI CEO Patricia Carey wrote that, based on current resources, the authority expected to have its backlog “cleared by early autumn of 2023, if not before”.

Adopted people were dismayed at the extended delay – having originally been told they would get their records in 30 days, then 90 days.

Lisa Corr, one of the people who received the email from the AAI last month, said at the time she was “absolutely disgusted” with the delay, calling it “a disaster of monumental proportions”.

Risk register

Officials tasked with overseeing the implementation of the Act regularly updated an internal “risk register” with their concerns throughout 2022, as well as plans to mitigate these risks.

The FOI documents reveal that officials in the AAI and Tusla raised concerns about difficulties in recruiting social workers as far back as last April.

The register noted the following: “Resources required to fulfil obligations under the legislation may not be secured due to: budget; time for recruitment; labour market; training required.”

It warned that access to information and tracing services “will be subject to long delays, leading to negative interactions with relevant persons” unless extra employees were hired.

The plan to address this issue included attempting to recruit more social workers “to ensure adequate resources are in place prior to enactment”.

It was also noted in the register that the Department of Children would continue to “review and support AAI and Tusla resourcing plans to fulfil obligations under legislation in line with agreed budgets”.

In June, the risk register was updated to include difficulty in retaining, as well as recruiting, staff. In July, a “noted difficulty in recruitment of social workers” was also discussed by officials.

In September, the risk register again flagged concerns that access to information and tracing services could “be subject to long delays”.

In late October, internal emails show that staff in the AAI were making plans to advise people that they might not receive their records for 90 days.

As reported by The Journal on 28 October, people were told that the waiting time to get access to their records would triple from 30 to 90 days.

A few weeks later, this time period was extended by several months to autumn 2023.

When this further delay was confirmed on 9 December, a spokesperson for the Minister for Children said that Roderic O’Gorman is “acutely aware of the disappointment these delays may cause”.

He added that he wanted 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”.

‘The unprecedented level of this surge’

In the email sent to people on 9 December, Patricia Carey said that the AAI has “a dedicated team working full-time on processing, checking and managing” the applications sent to them.

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.”

Carey added that the AAI has “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,” she wrote.

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