New adoption legislation: ‘I just wanted to understand where I came from’
Elenore was born in 1970 to an unmarried woman and adopted four days later by UK family. She recently traced her mother to Kildare and has established a relationship with her.
“It’s not for everyone. But though I felt loved my entire life, I needed to know where I came from. I wanted to understand the circumstances of my adoption’.
Elenore is one of hundreds of Irish people who were sent abroad for adoption when they were babies as a result of hostility towards unmarried mothers. Now new legislation means many more are now entitled to unrestricted access to their official documents, including birth certificates, for the first time.
The Adoption Authority of Ireland is now managing the database established by the new Birth Information and Tracing act. The new law relates to all those born to parents within Ireland and adopted at home or abroad since the foundation of the state 100 years ago.
A total of 891 adopted persons and relatives have already applied to the new Contact Preference Register last month. The landmark legislation provides legal entitlement to full and unrestricted access to birth certificates, birth, early life, care, and medical information for any person who was adopted, boarded out, had their birth illegally registered, or who otherwise has questions in relation to their origins.
The new law also establishes a Contact Preference Register (CPR) to which applications can be made by those wishing to make contact, to request privacy, or to seek or share information with a relative.
Of the 891 people who applied to register their preferences in relation to contact, 786 applications were from adoptees, 90 were from birth parents, and 15 were other relatives. There were 820 people who expressed a preference for contact at some level. 32 people who expressed a desire for no contact (24 adoptees and 8 relatives) while 39 applicants (30 adoptees and nine relatives) did not want contact but were willing to share information.
Patricia Carey, CEO of the Adoption Authority, said they are very encouraged by the number of people who have registered on the Contact Preference Register. “These are mostly adoptees – but also birth parents and other relatives – for whom the Birth Information and Tracing Act is a really important piece of legislation.Come October, when the free services under the legislation open, adoptees will finally have the right to access all of their birth information held by the State. This wasn’t the case previously, so it is a big deal.”
“If they have applied to the Contact Preference Register, the Adoption Authority will also be able to facilitate contact between adoptees and birth parents and other relatives, at a level with which both parties are comfortable.
The majority of all applications, 786, came from people in Ireland, with 105 applications from those who live overseas. The greatest number of applications from outside Ireland came from the UK, with 50 people registering contact preferences. Next was the US with 17 applications, followed by Australia with four.
The county in Ireland with the most applications in July was Dublin, with 253 people registering preferences, followed by Cork with 118 applications, and Meath with 48. The county with the fewest applications was Leitrim with four.
The oldest applicant to the CPR was 81, while the youngest, aged five, had an application submitted by their adoptive parents.
According to figures released by the Adoption Authority of Ireland, of the 105 relatives who applied to the CPR, 86% of them (90 people) are seeking contact with their child, just under 5% (five people) said they wanted to contact siblings, and almost 10 % (10 people) are seeking contact with a grandparent, cousin, aunt, or uncle.
Ms Carey said most families in Ireland have been touched by adoption at some stage. “The Adoption Authority is determined to reach as many people as possible – to let them know they can find out about their origins and to encourage all those eligible under the legislation to register their preferences on the Contact Preference Register.”
For Elenore, finding out where she came from was important to her. And though she’s in contact with her birth mother, she says it’s early days yet. “It’s a lot to process. It’s like being handed a brand new idea of who you are. But for me, it was an important step towards understanding where I came from. My parents will always be my parents, but there was a missing piece of the puzzle that I needed to find.”
A website, www.birthinfo.ie, has been established for people seeking to make an application under the Act or seeking further information.