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.
Permanent Care Orders: Why adoption has never featured in Victoria’s child protection and out-of-home care system
Predominant ideological perspectives relating to children, families, community and the state significantly influence the configuration of a child and family welfare system. A litmus test for a jurisdiction’s predominant child and family welfare ideology is the positioning of adoption in its hierarchy of permanency options. Parliamentary debates provide a window on the discourses relating to child and family welfare policy and legislative change.
The purpose of this study was to investigate the key issues and ideas that informed the legislation associated with Permanent Care Orders – a form of guardianship introduced in 1989 in preference to adoption for children drifting in out-of-home care in the Australian State of Victoria. A document analysis was conducted using Applied Thematic Analysis (ATA) with a data set comprising 412 pages of Hansard – the official record of Victorian parliamentary debates. Four primary themes were identified: the rhetoric of rights; the ‘hierarchy of family’ debate; child protection is everybody’s business; and the politics of influence.
Analysis of the findings through the lens of Fox Harding’s typology of ideological perspectives in Western child welfare presents a complex picture, which resonates with findings from a UK study undertaken in relation to the same period. Both studies show that a political party’s policies rarely equate neatly to a single ideological perspective. The Victorian research highlights the tensions inherent in political alignment with particular child welfare orientations, and reinforces how such orientations reflect beliefs about the roles of the family and the state in matters concerning children and their care. The political debates illustrate views about the ideal family form which tend to emerge at times of social transition, with arguments regarding nuclear versus de facto couple families echoed in more recent discourses regarding heterosexual versus same-sex couple families. There was apparent agreement that children’s rights should be paramount. However, closer examination revealed these arguments were generally more rhetorical than real. While more child-centred than the previous approach to adoption, child protection and out-of-home care in Victoria, in reality it was more closely aligned with a birth family and parents’ rights orientation. Currently, the Australian Government is pushing all state and territory governments to increase use of adoption for children in out-of-home care. Accordingly, the Victorian Government appears poised to reverse its longstanding adoption and permanency policies established in the late 1980s, which support children’s connections to their biological families. This suggests an underlying shift in Victoria’s predominant child welfare ideology, simultaneously towards a more paternalist protectionist approach in the public child protection sphere, and towards a more laissez faire approach in the private family sphere.
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.