The shadow of step parent adoption is looming over our house once more. Three months after obtaining the birth father’s consent, we were expecting to commence our home visits with a social worker this month. When we rang to check the progress of our application, we were told that our three month wait was now going to be at least nine months. There was no apology or explanation. It left me outraged and anxious, as any communication with the HSE regarding this adoption usually does. This time, however, my husband and I decided to act. We have written a complaint to our local adoption team, and if we are not satisfied with their response then we will keep going until someone listens to us.
I’ve decided to publish it here with the hope that it may encourage others who are feeling frustrated with their adoption process to act. Change will happen if enough people are unhappy with the current system and its ineffectiveness. I have removed the names of any individuals involved in our case.
To Whom It May Concern,
We would like to make a complaint regarding our experience so far while in the process of step-parent adoption with the Regional Adoption Team. We are frustrated at how long the process has taken so far and how little is being communicated to us throughout.
In December 2012 we rang the adoption team requesting an information pack on step parent adoption. We were informed that we had to attend an open information event before we could make the application, where several other prospective couples would be in attendance. We were incredibly uncomfortable with this arrangement, because we had to forfeit any right to confidentiality just to get some information on the process. We were also told that there were not enough couples to host the event before Christmas, so it had to be in the New Year. After a month of no communication I rang the team again to enquire when the event would be held, as I was due my second child soon. I was then informed that there was a backlog of couples requesting information so we had to wait until the next seminar to secure a place. This was the opposite of what we were told in December. We eventually attended an information evening in February, three months after requesting information.
We submitted our application and received written notice of having all documents in order in May. Previous to this submission, there were more administrative issues. After weeks of trying to obtain Garda clearance from countries that we had lived in as children and not getting anywhere, I asked whether the adoption board could assist us in our search at all. They responded with the fact that we did not need these documents as we were juveniles at the time of residence; this is not stated anywhere on the application pack.
We had to wait for our Garda clearance in order to proceed to the next stage. In August I rang to check on the status of our clearance. It had been received, but the adoption board deemed our son’s birth certificate inappropriate because it contained my husband’s name and insisted that we get it removed before they continued with our application. This took another three months as it is a tedious process to change a birth certificate. Had we been given this information when we originally submitted our application, we could have arranged the change while the remainder of our application was being reviewed.
When the birth certificate was finally submitted in December 2013, we were then informed that we would be placed on a waiting list for the next stage, which is informing the birth father of our intent to adopt. The estimate time for us to be allocated a social worker for this was seven months. We considered this unacceptable but we were told that there was nothing that could be done. We then contacted the supervisor to pursue our complaint. We were told that if we could get the birth father to sign a consent form ourselves we would not have to wait to be allocated a social worker. I don’t understand why we were not given this information when we first raised our objection to the prolonged waiting time, and why we had to pursue information that was vital to our application.
We contacted the birth father ourselves and the submitted the signed consent form. We received notice of this in January 2014. This was quite a difficult and challenging experience for us, but we were intent on progressing with our application. We were told over the phone that our estimate waiting time for the final stage of the application, the home visits, would be three months.
After three months, I rang to check how we were progressing on the waiting list. We were preparing ourselves mentally and emotionally to having a social worker spend time in our home and with our children while assessing our personal circumstances. We were told that we would receive a call back within the next week to gauge when our visits would commence. We received a call on May 7th 2014, informing us that it will be at least Christmas 2014 before we are seen. There was no apology or explanation as to why the initial waiting time had been incorrect.
We have secured a place for our children in our primary school of choice in Dublin, and we need to be in their catchment area in September 2014. It was explained to us that our case will have to be transferred then when we will be slotted into the waiting list so that our waiting time is not affected. I still feel that this is unacceptable for us and unfair to those who will be beneath us on this new waiting list.
We are simply trying to formalize our son’s situation legally so that if I were to die, his placed with his dad would be secure and unambiguous. Personally, we consider the process is invasive, expensive and a waste of HSE resources, but we respect that it is acting within current family law. The lack of communication and the consistent time delays are not acceptable, however, and have caused stress for our family. At no stage have we felt supported in our efforts to ensure our son’s legal safety.
My son will begin school in September 2015, and I have huge doubts now as to whether the process will be complete by then. This means that when we submit his birth certificate, his surname will officially be mine, and not as we wish with a double barrel joining my husband’s name. His dad will also not appear on the certificate; for a man who has been present since the birth of my son, this is incredibly hurtful and untrue as to the reality of our son’s family.
Step Parent Adoption is supposed to act in the best interest of the child involved. Waiting two years(or more) to complete the process leaves our son in legal limbo, and he is left exposed because of this delay. In our opinion, this is not acting within his best interests. At the end of this process, if there was a issue with our application and we were deemed unsuitable to adopt, our son has been in our care since birth and would remain with myself as the sole guardian and my husband regardless of the outcome. Therefore, it is a bizarre and nonsensical situation we find ourselves in, and we cannot see how anyone benefits from this process.
We would request a meeting with the head of the Regional Adoption team to address the concerns outlined in this letter, particularly our prolonged waiting time. We look forward to receiving your response.
Watch this space!