Call to change adoption law on access to birth parents

Irish law should be changed to allow adopted children direct and unrestricted access to their birth parents, according to Philomena Lee, the Irish woman whose life-long battle to find her son has galvanised a worldwide movement for adoption rights.

Call to change adoption law on access to birth parents

“The law has to be changed here,” said Ms Lee, speaking yesterday after addressing a conference on adoption at University College Cork.

“There should be open adoption. It’s about finding your identity, knowing where you came from, knowing who you are.”

Still somewhat bemused by the universal attention she is getting, Philomena remains committed to changing hearts and minds on adoption — especially in Ireland.

“I never thought that my story would start a big movement like this,” she said after delivering the keynote address to the conference. “But I am glad it has.”

Accompanied by her daughter, Jane Libberton, Philomena gave a moving account of her 50-year search for her son to delegates at the conference which was organised jointly by UCC’s Faculty of Law and the School of Applied Social Studies.

The opening address was given by Labour TD Anne Ferris, a fitting choice as she and her sister were both adopted as children and only met for the first time two months ago.

The two were separated as infants and adopted from different mother-and-baby homes into separate families. “We were both adopted as babies into loving families,” she said, “but not everyone born in a mother-and-baby home was so lucky.”

Ms Ferris said women like Philomena Lee suffered at the hands of the State and were owed an apology and she praised her courage and fortitude.

Addressing her directly, she said: “Philomena, this State owes you an apology and a thank you. Your brave decision to speak out has empowered other natural mothers and many more adopted children to speak out too. And I applaud you for that.”

Entitled ‘Redefining adoption in a new era: Opportunities and challenges for law and practice’, the two-day conference was also addressed by conference convenors Dr Simone McCaughren and Dr Aisling Parkes.

Law lecturer Dr Parkes said that Ireland’s 2010 Adoption Act is already out of date and is behind international best practice which is changing rapidly.

“Although relatively recent, the Adoption Act 2010 (a consolidated version of its predecessor with some minor reforms) is outdated by international comparison. Moreover, it is inconsistent with Irish adoption practice.

“It is imperative that the necessary reform of adoption law is informed by best practice worldwide and the experiences of stakeholders and professionals working in the field.”, said Dr Parkes.

She added that the current law still represents a closed model of adoption and, in many instances, operates within a legal vacuum.

“In Ireland, there is no legal right for information. There is no tracing system in place and, while there has been some discussion on the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill, there is no concrete information on what it will include.

Dr Parkes said it was important that the law catches up with reality. “Children have access to the internet and whatever legislation is brought in has to be fit for the digital age.”

Dr Simone McCaughren said: “There are no proper resources for adopted people or for mothers. Adopted people seeking to trace their mothers are now facing a delay of up to two years. That is not good enough.”

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