Proposals to make it easier to adopt are misguided, according to a retired social worker and former childcare manager with the HSE.
Writing in The Irish Times today, Mr Eric Plunkett was responding to Children's Ombudsman Emily Logan who has said Government's proposed children’s rights referendum should make it possible to adopt the children of married parents without their consent in certain circumstances.
Mr Plunkett, said extending the availability of adoption would not resolve “[t]he problem of stability for children in care”.
Instead, he said, “the solution lies in accurate identification of children’s needs and supporting them and their carers in meeting the challenges which that poses”.
Earlier this week, former Supreme Court judge Hugh O'Flaherty said that the proposed referendum was unnecessary, and last month, former District Court judge Michael Patwell warned that the referendum could work against parents.
Mr Plunkett said: “The HSE has extensive powers of intervention. If there is a problem affecting the stability of children in care, it is that those powers are applied inconsistently and sometimes to an inadequate standard.
“Resolving that problem within the framework of existing legislation should be the priority. Thus, when children are removed from their parents, the object should be to identify in a timely manner the best option likely to promote stability in their lives.”
He said there was often a lack of a comprehensive assessment which identified the needs children including arrangements “to promote and maintain contact with their natural family”.
Instead of identifying these needs, and outlining a plan to meet them, too often, assessments of children simply listed “behaviours that may have followed abuse, family breakdown, rejection or multiple care placements,” Mr Plunkett said.
A proper assessment should “provide a foundation for establishing the most suitable placement”.
He said: “Most parents whose children are in care retain a positive emotional attachment to them, which is reciprocated. Those parents whose inadequacies result in the State intervening may go to great lengths to maintain contact with children.
“Nevertheless, they might well be susceptible to suggestions that their children would be better off adopted. Instead of this approach, parents and their children’s dual rights should be supported. These are a parent’s right and responsibility to care for their children together with their children’s right to their identity.
“It is already the case in respect of adoptions that many children seek out their identity as they get older. Difficulties in so doing can cause severe emotional trauma.”
He pointed out that the present legal position under the Adoption Act 1988 allows the adoption of children without the consent of married parents when a court determines they have been abandoned.
He added: “The test for abandonment is high and rightly so. If it cannot be established, then parental contact exists and the focus should be on promoting rather than extinguishing it. This balances both parents’ and their children’s rights to know and have a relationship with each other.
“There is no evidence that adoption provides greater stability for children who have suffered adversity. Widening the threshold for adoption may simply reduce the cost of providing for children in care while doing nothing to meet their needs.”
Meanwhile the head of children's charity Barnardos, Fergus Finlay, has said that the wording of the children's referendum is likely to be published next Tuesday.
Writing in his weekly column in the Irish Examiner, Finlay, one of the most prominent voices calling for a referendum, said that this would mean that the referendum itself would likely be held between the 1st and the 7th of November.