Judge says use of word abandonment in adoption laws causing unnecessary hurt

The remarks were made by Mr Justice Max Barrett in a judgment where he approved an application made regarding a teenage boy who wants to be adopted by the family who have cared for him since he was a very young child
Judge says use of word abandonment in adoption laws causing unnecessary hurt

High court reporters

The use of the words such as "abandonment" in laws and legislation concerning adoptions is causing "unnecessary hurt and difficulties in many adoption proceedings," a High Court judge has said.

The remarks were made by Mr Justice Max Barrett in a judgment where he approved an application made regarding a teenage boy who wants to be adopted by the family who have cared for him since he was a very young child.

The parties cannot be named for legal reasons. 

The judge said that more sensitive wording should be used in such laws to describe parents whose child is adopted, given that "it is hard enough to see one's child being adopted without also being told 'you have failed'." 

The judge suggested that the laws be amended, and that alternative wording be used instead that is less upsetting.

More nuanced wording

"More nuanced wording that is less censorious and that has less potential to hurt, I would respectfully contend, should be deployed in statute and would then inevitably permeate into case law," the judge said.

When ruling on the adoption applications the judge said he had taken the child's views into account when arriving at his decision. 

The judge said that following a meeting with the boy, it was very clear that for some time the boy has wanted to be adopted by the family he has spent most of his life with.

He had been placed with the foster family when he was an infant.  

In his judgment the judge said the foster parents were the only people the boy has had a typical parent-child relationship with. 

They want to adopt the boy and that application was being supported by the Adoption Authority of Ireland the judge said. 

The judge noted that the boy had been born to a then teenage minor mother and a father who was at the time of the birth was aged in his mid-twenties.

Drugs

Social Services were concerned about that relationship due to the mother's age, the judge said. Both parents were involved in taking illicit drugs and are on methadone.

The boy's natural father was also accused of being a sexual abuser, claims which he denies, the judge noted.

The boy, except for a few months shortly after he was born, has been placed by the Child and Family Agency with a foster family.

The court also noted that while access arrangements for the natural parents had been in place over the years, those visits had been haphazard and difficult for the boy.

The boy expressed a desire to be adopted by his foster family and was unhappy with his birth parents for not consenting to this. 

The boy has not met with his birth parents for a few years, the judge noted. 

Mr Justice Barrett said it was in the child's best interests that the adoption proceeds. 

The judge noted that the foster, and now adoptive, parents were agreeable to facilitating access to the birth parents, if that is what the boy wishes. 

Mr Justice Barrett in his decision also highlighted the use of words such as 'abandonment', 'failed' and 'failure' in laws and legislation concerning adoption and family law. 

These are powerful and harsh words to use he said, and he was surprised that they continue to be used in family law statutes. 

It irked the court greatly to have to use such wording which inflicts hurt when more sensitive wording could so easily be deployed in statute.

"I was struck by just how vigorously everyone in the courtroom agreed with this, some even speaking up their agreement which suggests that practitioners also find that the word is causing needless upset in practice," the judge said. 

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