The international adoption system in Ireland is going to be radically changed later this year when we pass a new adoption bill. This will finally ratify the Hague Convention on international adoptions which Ireland signed in 1993. (This convention is not to be confused, as I did, with an earlier Hague convention on child abduction as a reader and blogger pointed out). The Hague Convention requires all participating countries to carry out adoptions while ensuring the best interests of the child are the highest priority.
We currently adopt about 400 children from abroad each year which is a large number considering Ireland's population. The problem is that the vast majority of foreign adoptions to Ireland are from poor countries which haven't signed up to Hague. I wrote a few weeks ago about how the government is trying to negotiate a new bilateral agreement with Vietnam with a May 1 deadline fast approaching.
Sources say Irish officials based in Vietnam have raised concerns that the existing five year agreement wasn't strong enough. The decision of America and Sweden to suspend new adoptions from Vietnam because of a series of irregularities has raised further alarm.
Vietnam has jumped to the top of the charts for prospective Irish parents in recent years with 130 adoptions completed in 2007. In 2008 Vietnam accounted for 60% of all international adoptions approved in Ireland. This has been directly promoted by the Irish government who have approved Helping Hands to act as an intermediary in all adoptions from Vietnam to Ireland.
I've done a few stories on international adoption over the last few years and found adoptive parents to be wary of journalists as a result of the outcry over the Tristan Dowse story. Understandably some are of the view that all newspapers are trying to paint every international adoption as a sordid transaction.
Adoptive parents have a tough ordeal to go through before they're are allowed to adopt. Depending on what part of the country they live in it can take over four years before they are assessed by a HSE social worker - a vital part in the process of getting approval from the adoption board.
A view which is rarely articulated but which is strongly held by many in the HSE is that the whole concept of international adoption is wrong. There are 5,000 Irish children in need of foster care each year and many social workers and HSE managers believe Irish people should be volunteering for this rather than adopting children from abroad.
I know people who have adopted from abroad and understand why fostering does not appeal. These parents point to a recent Trinity College study of Irish international adoptions that paints a fairly positive picture of how adopted children have fared in Ireland.
A provocative, if admittedly one-sided, alternative view of international adoptions was published by the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism recently. The article is called "The Lie We Love".
International adoptions are a middle class phenomena and there is huge pressure from this vocal community on Micheal Martin, the Foreign Affairs minister, and Barry Andrews, the Minister for Children, to get a new deal done with Vietnam.
Martin is from Cork where many parents who have adopted or plan to adopt from Vietnam are also based. So Martin knows that if the May 1 deadline is missed a lot of his constituents will be left in limbo.
But while there are problems such as forged documents and mothers being paid or coerced in to giving up their children then its important that newspapers highlight these uncomfortable facts. It's up to Ireland to ensure all its adoptions from Vietnam and other countries are above reproach.