Adoption is the process whereby a child becomes a member of a new family. It creates a permanent, legal relationship between the adoptive parents and the child. In recent years, adoption and fostering in Ireland have become increasingly rare and many prospective parents now look abroad to adopt a child. This process is called Inter-country adoption. If you want to adopt a child, whether in Ireland or abroad, the first step is to contact a Registered Adoption Society or your nearest Health Service Executive (HSE) Local Health Office . If you are eligible, have completed a detailed assessment of your suitability to adopt, are accepted by an adoption agency and have a child successfully placed with you, an application for an Adoption Order will be made to the Adoption Board, an independent statutory body, and the Adoption Board will process the adoption application and make an adoption order in due course. If you are adopting from abroad, the process is a lengthier one.
As adoption is a complex legal process, it is helpful to be aware of the basics of adoption law. Only Registered Adoption Societies and Health Service Executive (HSE) Areas are entitled to place children for adoption. An Adoption Order secures in law the position of the child in the adoptive family. The child is regarded in law as the child of the adoptive parents as if he/she were born to them. Legal adoption is permanent. All applications for Adoption Orders are made to the Adoption Board. The law allows the adoption of orphans and children born outside marriage (including, in certain circumstances, children whose natural parents subsequently marry each other). In exceptional cases, the High Court can authorise the adoption of children whose parents have failed in their duty of care towards them (this can include children born within marriage).
Who Can Adopt?
In Ireland, in order to adopt a child, you must be at least 21 years of age and resident in the State. Where the child is being adopted by a married couple and one of them is the mother or father or a relative of the child, only one of them must have attained the age of 21 years.
- A married couple living together
- A married person alone. The other spouse’s consent to adopt must be obtained unless the couple is living apart and separated under a court decree or a deed of separation, or the other spouse has deserted the prospective adoptive parent or the other spouse’s conduct has resulted in the prospective adoptive parent, with just cause, leaving the other spouse
- The mother, father or relative of the child (relative meaning a grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt of the child and/or the spouse of any such person, the relationship to the child being traced through the mother or the father)
- A widow or widower
- A sole applicant who is not in one of the categories listed above may only adopt where the Adoption Board is satisfied that, in the particular circumstances of the case, it is desirable. It is not possible for two unmarried persons to adopt jointly
There are no legal upper age limits for adopting parents, but most adoption agencies apply their own.
The consent of the parent/guardian of the child to the adoption is a legal requirement. If the child is born outside marriage, and the father has no guardianship rights, only the mother’s consent is needed. Under the Adoption Act 1998, however, birth fathers are now being consulted (if possible) about the adoption of their children. In situations where the parents are not married and the father does not have guardianship rights, his consent is not necessary for adoption. However, the consent of the father is required if he marries the mother after the birth of the child or he is appointed guardian or is granted custody of the child by court order.
The mother, father (where he is guardian) or other legal guardian must give an initial consent or agreement to the placing of a child for adoption by a Registered Adoption Society. He/she must then give his/her consent to the making of an Adoption Order. This consent may be withdrawn any time before the making of the Adoption Order. If the mother either refuses consent or withdraws consent already given, the adopting parents may apply to the High Court for an order. If the court is satisfied that it is in the best interests of the child, it will make an order giving custody of the child to the adopting parents for a specified period and authorising the Adoption Board to dispense with the mother’s consent to the making of the Adoption Order.
If a mother changes her mind about adoption before the making of the Adoption Order, but the adopting parents refuse to give up the child, she may then institute legal proceedings to have custody of her child returned to her. When an Adoption Order is made, a new birth certificate can be obtained for the child. Although it is not an actual birth certificate, it has the status of one for legal purposes. It gives the date of the Adoption Order and the names and addresses of the adoptive parents and is similar in all aspects to a birth certificate. The procedure involved in adopting a child is thorough and takes time, at least a year. When you have contacted your local Health Service Executive Area or Registered Adoption Agency, you will be invited to attend an information session along with other interested couples, to learn what is involved in the adoption process. If you want to proceed, you ask for the relevant forms to be sent out.
People who want to adopt should apply to one of the Registered Adoption Societies (see contact information below) or their Health Service Executive (HSE) Area. While there is a statutory entitlement to an assessment for inter-country adoption, there is no such entitlement to be assessed for domestic adoption. Applicants being considered by an adoption agency will undergo a detailed assessment. This assessment takes place over a period of time, ranging from 9 to 15 months, sometimes longer. The purpose of this assessment is to establish applicants’ suitability as prospective adoptive parents. The assessment is carried out by one of the agency’s social workers. It includes a number of interviews and home visits. Where the application is in respect of a married couple, there will be both individual and joint interviews. The social worker will discuss such areas as previous and/or current relationships, motives for adopting, expectations of the child and the ability to help a child to develop his/her knowledge and understanding of his/her natural background. All applicants are required to undergo a medical examination. If you are planning to adopt abroad, the assessment will also take in issues of the child’s cultural background and possible special needs.
The social worker then prepares a report, which goes before the agency committee or (HSE) Area committee and a decision is made.
- If you are adopting in Ireland, you will not be entitled to see the report
- If you are adopting abroad, your social worker will share the report’s contents with you and you are free to raise any issues you wish. If the social worker agrees, the report can be amended.
- If the social worker does not agree, after mediation, you can attach a written comment on the disputed matter, which will be submitted to the committee.
- You have the right to appeal any recommendation/decision made
Adopting In Ireland
If your application is approved, you will most likely wait a long time before a baby is offered. When a baby is offered, an application must be made to the Adoption Board, along with your medical records, personal details and three references. The Adoption Board has statutory responsibility for authorising placements and regulating agencies. A social worker from the Board will visit you twice before an Adoption Order is made. It normally takes between six to twelve months to process a domestic adoption application to a stage where the Adoption Board is satisfied to make an Adoption Order. When the Adoption Order is finally made, you will come before the Adoption Board and give sworn evidence as to your identity and eligibility. You will also be given information on how to go about getting a new birth certificate for the child. The new birth certificate will normally be available through the Registrar General’s Office within four weeks.
Proposed changes in the law
In January 2005 a legislation was proposed in order to ratify The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children. The Adoption Authority was created as the Central Authority was required to oversee the implementation of inter-country adoptions, deal with miscellaneous issues regarding domestic adoption and the creation of a new special form of Guardianship. The legislation, called the Adoption (Hague Convention, Adoption Authority and Miscellaneous) Bill, had not been published by the end of 2006.
How to apply
If you have an enquiry about adoption in Ireland, contact your Health Service Executive (HSE) Local Health Office or a registered Adoption Society.
The Adoption Board
Fostering means taking care of someone else’s child in your own home. Often, a child cannot live with his or her family: this could be because of illness in the family, the death of a parent, neglect, abuse or violence in the home or for economic reasons, like unemployment. In an ideal situation, the child placed in foster care will return to his or her own family as soon as this is possible. Foster care in Ireland is governed by the Child Care Act 1991 and the Child Care (Placement of Children in Foster care) 1995. In addition, the National Standards for Foster Care, 2003 (pdf) ensures that the foster care placements are adequately supported and that children in foster care are receiving the best possible care. There are currently about 4,500 children in foster care in Ireland.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) in Ireland judges, recruits and trains foster families according to the needs of the area. The HSE also places children with foster families who have been recruited and trained by non-statutory agencies. The HSE is responsible for each child in care but support to the foster family may be provided by the non-statutory agency. Each foster child has his or her own social worker who monitors the growth and development of the child and ensures that the best interests of the child are always kept in mind. Each foster family also has its own social worker, who may have helped assess the family as suitable to foster children and who will support the family throughout the foster term. An important part of the social worker’s role is to develop the relationship between the foster child and the foster family and between the foster child and his or her own family.
It is important to note that fostering a child differs from adoption because a foster child always remains a permanent part of his or her own family. Under Section 4 of the Child care (Amendment) Act, 2007 the foster parents or relatives who have been caring for a child for a continuous period of at least five years may apply to the court for an order. The consent of the HSE is required and the consent of the parents or guardians may be required. The order may give the foster parents or relatives the same rights as parents have to make decisions about their children. In particular, they will be able to give consent for medical and psychiatric examinations, treatment and assessments and sign the forms for the issue of a passport.
- Voluntarily, when a parent or family asks the HSE Area for help and/or
- Court order, when a judge decides that it is in the best interests of the child to be placed in the care of the HSE
When a child is placed in foster care, the HSE assigns responsibility for the child to a social worker. Based on the child’s needs and circumstances, the HSE makes a decision on the type of fostering that is most suitable for the child.
There are three different types of fostering
Day foster care
This involves specially trained foster parents/carers providing foster care for a child on a daily basis. Day foster care takes place in the home of the foster parent and the child returns to his or her own home each night. This type of care gives the child’s own family an opportunity to deal with difficulties each day as they arise. The goal of day foster care is that the child can return home on a full-time basis.
Short-term foster care
This involves a child being cared for by a foster family for a short period (ranging from 1 week to some months). The aim is for the child to return to his or her family full-time at the end of the short-term period. Sometimes, however, the child may remain in foster care on a longer-term basis.
Long-term foster care
This involves a child being cared for by a foster family for a number of years and may continue until the child reaches adulthood.
Relative foster care
Relative foster care happens when another family member becomes foster parent of the child. For example, a grandparent, aunt, uncle, adult sister/brother, etc. In this situation, the relative of the child is assessed by the HSE in exactly the same way as all other foster parents. In making their decision about the relative being foster parent to the child, the HSE will decide what is in the best interest for the child. Assessment will also take into account the needs of the child and the abilities, suitability etc. of the relative to be a foster parent.
The child’s family
When a child is placed in foster care on a daily, short-term or longer-term basis, maintaining links with his or her own family is very important. The child’s own parents are involved as much as possible and are always kept fully informed of how the child is getting on. The child will see his or her own family as much as possible and even though he or she may live (even for a longer-term period) with another family, the child’s identity and name is his or her own.
Who can become a foster carer?
Any person or family can apply to the HSE to be assessed as a foster parent or foster family. You do not have to be married in Ireland to be a foster parent. In fact, you could be a single person,an unmarried couple or a same sex couple. You must be able to provide adequate and appropriate accommodation for the foster child. The HSE assigns a social worker to carry out an assessment of suitability that includes meeting all members of the family (particularly the foster parent(s)) over a number of months. References, Garda clearance and medical examinations will also be required as part of this process.
Young people up to the age of 18 can be fostered. There are no maximum age limits for foster carers. The decision to place a child with a particular foster carer is on the basis of the individual child and their needs and each cases is judged on its own merits.
The HSE pays a basic maintenance allowance to foster parents and families and offers strong support structures to assist the child, carer and family during the fostering term. The HSE also provides training for the carer or family, on-going liaison with social workers, insurance and a medical card for the child in care. After fostering a child for 6 months you can apply to obtain a Child Benefit.
How to apply
If you are interested in fostering and would like to offer a child a home, you should contact your Local Health Office in the HSE. The Irish Foster Care Association is a voluntary organisation working with the HSE to promote fostering as the best option for children who cannot live with their own family. The Association offers advice, information and support for foster carers and has produced an information pack for those interested in fostering.