Judge urges action at 'senior level' to address adoption delays

The judge made the comments while ruling on an application which sought approval of the adoption of two half-siblings by their long-term foster parents
Judge urges action at 'senior level' to address adoption delays

High Court reporters

A High Court judge has urged action at a “senior level” in the Child and Family Agency (CFA) to address routine delays to adoption applications.

Mr Justice John Jordan said it is not fair to “anyone involved” that the court is handling adoption applications for children who will turn 18 in a month’s time, at which point they can no longer be adopted.

Otherwise, warranted orders could end up being refused in the future simply because the delay is so gross the court cannot countenance making the orders, or there may not be court availability to hear the case before the child’s 18th birthday, he said.

Something must be done at “senior level and all the way down” in the CFA, in particular, and in the Adoption Authority of Ireland, he added.

The judge made the comments while ruling on an application from the CFA which sought approval of the adoption of two half-siblings by their long-term foster parents. He made various orders under the Adoption Act 2010 to authorise the process, including an order dispensing with the consent of people whose consent is normally required.

Mr Justice Jordan said the siblings should have had a decision made about their adoption a long time ago, although he acknowledged the complex circumstances in this case.

Vulnerable mother

They share the same mother, who the court described as a vulnerable woman, not originally from Ireland, who has been diagnosed with significant psychiatric illness and who is also suspected to have an underlying intellectual disability.

The mother said at one point that one of the children’s fathers resided in this State, while the other lived overseas. The judge was satisfied all appropriate measures were taken by the agencies to try to identify the children’s fathers, but identification was not possible.

The children were placed with their foster parents more than a decade ago after their mother was detained for the second time under the Mental Health Act on account of her illness.

The eldest of the children has a greater recollection of and attachment to his mother than his younger sibling, the judge noted. This may partly explain his struggle during lockdown with the concept of adoption and his oscillating desire to be adopted, he said.

After speaking with both siblings, the judge had “no doubt” that both understood the concept and consequences of adoption and both wanted to be adopted by their foster parents, who have provided them with a loving home in which they have thrived.

Their biological mother returned to her native country several years ago and has had no contact with her children since then. The judge said it was “very clear” on the evidence that the woman continues to suffer from the psychiatric illness she was suffering from in Ireland.

A guardian ad litem, appointed by the court to represent the mother’s interests in the legal process, said the woman was too ill to engage in adoption discussions. The mother’s sister expressed concerns that proceeding with the adoption application is unfair when the woman is unwell, the court heard. The guardian said the mother was not in a position to consent to the adoption application.

It is sad and unfortunate, but a fact, that there is no reasonable prospect the woman will ever be able to care for either of her children, said Mr Justice Jordan. The abandonment by her of all parental rights was not deliberate, but because she is burdened with mental illness and intellectual challenges, he added.

The children clearly articulated their desire to be adopted by their foster parents, and this “cannot be ignored” by the court.

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