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Old family photos (file image) Shutterstock/Vladimir Volodin
birth information and tracing

Over 2,800 applications to Tusla's tracing service still awaiting social worker allocation

People have expressed concern that some applicants may die before family members are reunited.

MORE THAN 2,800 applications to Tusla’s tracing service are still waiting to be allocated to a social worker.

Thousands of people have signed up to the service in a bid to trace their relatives. Many of these people were adopted or spent time in a mother and baby home or similar institution.

In other cases relatives are seeking to find a person who was adopted, boarded out or sent to an industrial school.

Since the Birth Information and Tracing Act came into effect in October 2022, Tusla has received 5,852 applications for tracing.

Some 4,486 cases are still open. Of these, 1,664 have been allocated to a social worker and 17 are dormant (at an applicant’s request or because Tusla is awaiting further engagement).

However, 2,805 are still awaiting allocation.

People have expressed concern that, due to the backlog of cases, some applicants may die before family members are reunited.

Waiting months for records

Some people are also waiting several months to get access to their personal records, something which could speed up the process of finding relatives.

Under the Act, a person should receive their documents within 30 days or 90 days in “complex” cases. However, many people have to wait months to get access to their personal records.

Tusla said the longest period a person has had to wait for their records is 273 days (around nine months). The average wait time for people to receive their records is currently 169 days (over five and a half months).

As of 7 February 2024, Tusla had received 7,322 applications for birth information. Of these, 6,638 applications have been processed.

There is currently a backlog of 684 applications which remain to be processed – 515 received between May and August 2023, and 169 applications received since September 2023.

Of these applications, 590 were submitted by the relevant person themselves, 75 by sons or daughters of deceased people, 15 by relatives, two by parents, and two by the next of kin of a child who passed away in an institution.

“We acknowledge the disappointment and distress caused to people by the delays in releasing their birth and tracing information, and we have been in contact with each individual applicant to assure them that we are working diligently to process their applications as expeditiously as possible,” a spokesperson for Tusla said.

‘We didn’t predict the demand’

Kate Duggan, CEO of Tusla, said the organisation “sincerely apologised” for the long delays experienced by some people.

“When the legislation was introduced, we didn’t plan appropriately. We didn’t predict the volume and the scale in such a short timeframe for demand,” she told The Journal.

Tusla has also struggled to recruit social workers amid a large increase in demand for its services in recent years, Duggan said.

Another reason for the delay is down to the condition of the records themselves. The documents often vary in format and condition, some are not yet digitised, and manual searching of different databases at locations across the country may have to take place.

Of the over 6,600 applications processed by Tusla to date, birth records have been released in 4,886 cases.

Of those who have received their records, the vast majority (4,678) are adopted people or people who were boarded out and sought their own personal records, 182 are sons or daughters of deceased people, 17 are relatives, two are parents, and seven are next of kin of a child who passed away in an institution.

The remaining 1,752 processed applications were either duplicate applications (1,055), yielded no information (558), or were ineligible for the service (92). A smaller number of processed applications resulted in information not being released in accordance with the Act (28) or were withdrawn by the applicant (19).

All applications submitted in May and June 2023 will be processed by the start of March, Tusla said.

All applications received in July 2023 are expected to be processed by the end of April, and August 2023 applications will be processed by the end of May, thus eliminating the backlog.

All new applications since 1 September 2023 “have received and will continue to receive their information within the statutory timeframe of 90 days”, a Tusla spokesperson said.

No backlog with AAI

Under the legislation people can apply for their records from Tusla or the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI), depending on which organisation holds the files in question.

Despite also experiencing initial delays, the AAI has since cleared its backlog.

The AAI received 4,122 valid applications for release of records between 3 October 2022 and 8 February 2024.

The vast majority of these cases have been completed. Of those who have received records to date, 3,900 people were seeking personal documents and 166 were relatives.

The current average wait time is 15 to 20 working days. However, at least one person had to wait 10 months to get their records.

There are currently 31 applications that have not yet been completed by the AAI. These cases were submitted between 14 January and 4 February 2024.

The AAI has been in compliance with the statutory mandated timeframe for the completion of applications since 18 September 2023.