TUE July 10, 2018 TUE July 10, 2018
10:30 am 10:30 am
Cartier II Cartier II

Valerie O'Brien

Associate professor, School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice, University College Dublin

Maggie Grant

Research Fellow, Centre for Child Wellbeing and Protection, University of Stirling

Helen Whincup

Professor of social work, University of Stirling

Paper session: Legal and political issues

The Changing Place of Adoption in the Irish Care System

Long term foster care (LTFC) is the predominant permanent option for children who are likely to remain in care in Ireland. The limited use of adoption from the care system has been a feature of the Irish system and linked to the ‘lack of voice for children’ and ‘the protection of the family based on marriage’. These two perspectives were central to the constitutional amendment campaign in 2012 which sought to give greater recognition to children’s rights. A central part of the successful amendment made provision for adoption to be more available for children and for it to be positioned more centrally as an option in the care system.

Today, adoption and child welfare practice in Ireland is undergoing major change arising from this legislative change. Against a backdrop of overall adoption trends in Ireland, this paper explores the 2017 Adoption Amendment Act, views of Irish social workers towards the change and examines how the proposals sit within the international context. The paper is based on a series of focus group interviews undertaken with Irish social workers and conference evaluation data obtained between 2017 and 2018. The study aimed to capture views surrounding the changing place of adoption within the care system and to identify key issues underpinning the change.

The paper concludes by offering an analyses of Irish developments against European, USA, Australian and New Zealand trends in respect of how these countries use adoption as an part of public care. As part of this analysis, permanency, post adoption support, concurrent planning and contact is examined. It is postulated that a critical examination of these concepts is required as part of future change in Ireland.

Policy aspirations versus personal experiences for Scotland’s adoptive, foster and kinship families

Although legislation and policy underpinning permanence across different jurisdictions in the United Kingdom share similarities, Scotland has always had a separate care and justice system. One core difference is the role of the Children’s Hearings system, where decisions are made by lay people about the safety and well-being of children and young people. Decision-making about permanence for children who cannot live with their birth parents in Scotland involves three systems: courts, social work and Children’s Hearings.

New legislation introduced in 2007, the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act, was designed to improve decision-making and support for this group of children. This included a new legal order to enable greater flexibility in tailoring permanence planning to the individual child’s needs, whereby the court can share the allocation of specific parental responsibilities and rights, for example, between the local authority, foster carers and birth parents.

Ten years on from the new legislation, this paper asks: how do adoptive, kinship and foster families’ experiences compare with the government’s aspirations?

The research draws on interviews and focus groups with 160 decision-makers (mainly from social work and Children’s Hearings), questionnaires about 400 children completed by adopters/carers and social workers, and interviews with 20 adoptive, foster and kinship carers across Scotland. Data was collected in 2016/2017 as part of the Permanently Progressing? study, which is examining the pathways and outcomes for a national cohort of children removed from their birth parents’ care by age five, and aims to follow up on their progress over time.

The mixed methods analysis recognises positive progress in many areas and for many children in their permanent families, but also the challenges that families and professionals have experienced or anticipate in the future. Our findings identify a) how social work and Children’s Hearings systems intersect and, at times, find themselves at odds despite their shared aim of placing the child at the centre of decision-making and b) how changes introduced by the new legislation have influenced the experiences of individual children and their families. By illustrating what happens when the aims of policy and practice meet the complicated reality of family life, the study raises questions that resonate beyond the borders of its national context.