Why adoption tracing has to be a delicate balance

Real life does not always produce a ‘happy ending’, writes Mary Kenny

The Adoption Bill currently before the cabinet has had a long gestation, particularly in the thinking of the Tánaiste, Joan Burton who, being adopted herself, has deliberated over the issue carefully.

It will enable adopted people to trace their birth mothers (and fathers, though for obvious biological reasons, the mother is the primary birth source). Yet some adopted people feel it is too restrictive. Adoptees will be able to know about their birth mothers, but they are asked to sign a declaration not to contact them without the other party’s consent.

Some adopted people feel this goes against their human rights, but having heard Ms Burton speak about this issue over the summer, I do trust her judgement and her awareness about the need for sensitivity.

A woman may have placed her child for adoption many years ago – I dislike that phrase ‘given up’ a child, as it implies that the mother abandoned her child – believing that this procedure would be carried out in confidence, and that it was in the child’s best interest. She may come to change her mind and yearn to meet her son or daughter later on, but all the same, it’s not something that should be sprung on anyone. 

It’s natural that adopted people want to know about their biological origins, but it’s not always straightforward. The happy reunions of ‘long lost family’ portrayed on TV programmes are wonderfully moving: but the TV researchers will have rejected many untelevised candidates who lacked the ideal happy ending.

Those favouring a more open and liberal approach to adoption research, point to the British experience where access has been easier for some years now. But some social workers in Britain are concerned about just how easy that process has become, and several studies have been published reflecting this concern.

In one study, a girl of 12 was asked to pick out a picture of her image of her birth mother: she picked a Disney princess. She was shattered when, a few years later, she met her birth mother, who was a troubled person, married to a violent man who had done prison time for grievous bodily harm.

Frances Coller, from the After Adoption agency in Britain, says that an adopted person can “run headfirst into an unsupported and often risky relationship and meanwhile relationships in the adoptive family become strained”.

Some adoption specialists are now saying that children should be told more unvarnished truths about their birth parents, and not given any ‘Disney Princess’ illusions. Prof. Julie Selwyn of the University of Bristol says that an adopted child may be told that their mother was too sick to care for them, when the full truth was that she was a heroin addict who neglected her children.

 Adopted people may need to hear more about ‘the bad bits’ in their background.

Yet this could be cruel, too. Surely, these are complex and delicate family issues, and a careful and sensitive approach must be in everyone’s best interest.


Challenge of the Reek

Social media transmitted alarming pictures of Croagh Patrick at the weekend, showing the entire Reek covered in a Noah’s Ark-type downpour – and half of it completely invisible. Texts informed us that the annual climb had been cancelled because of atrocious weather conditions.

Fair enough, I thought, even if the point of the Reek is that it’s a challenge. So I was hugely chuffed to see brave stout-hearts ascending the mountain in defiance of the conditions, including my cousins Petra Conroy and Maria Conroy Byrne. Bravissima! However, the choice to ascend should be for adults to make, and not children.


Irish Water needs better branding

Branding is a great buzz word these days, and thus I heard a lawyer wise in the ways of branding comment that “if only Irish Water had called themselves Irish Sewage they would never have run into so much trouble”.

An original thought, indeed. No one would claim that “sewage is a human right” or “sewage falls from the skies – why should we pay for it?” Protesters would surely be less inclined to have ‘sewage’ on their banners outside Leinster House, and the Greek flag (currently an all-purpose banner of protest) would probably not particularly wish to be connected with drains.

Yet an awful lot of water services are connected with sewage management. In some poor countries, one of the worst hazards for health is raw sewage flowing through a street. Actually, I’ve seen sewage flow into parts of Dublin bay, and a child could mistakenly paddle in it, thinking it just part of the puddles seen in a seaside strand.

I don’t disagree that the Irish Water project has not been handled well, but the facts remain that the treatment of drains and sewage is a central part of a water service. In this case, the branding suggestion reflected the truth, not the spin.