400 copies of the #RepealtheSeal Adoptee Voices report outlining the effects of closed adoption on adoptees and the intergenerational impacts of adoption in Ireland were downloaded worldwide within the first hour of it being launched by adoptee rights group, Aitheantas at 10am on Wednesday 22nd July.
The report, which is a part of the Aitheantas #RepealTheSeal campaign, focuses on facing up to our hidden legacy, it is based on three surveys conducted by Aitheantas, with a total of 507 respondents. The report examines the intergenerational impact of closed adoption; interaction with the relevant agencies; societal views of adoptions; as well as attitudes to legislation and memorialisation.
The report foreword, written by former Senator Colette Kelleher, describes the report as ‘important’ saying that the stigma endured by adoptees is “well-articulated in this report” and that the ‘time for action is now’.
The report details findings on records and DNA testing in the process of family tracing; and adoptees’ opinions and views on the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes. Responses to surveys carried out by Aitheantas as part of the report, show that the lack of access to identity information, including health records, causes distress and embarrassment to many adoptees.
Commenting following the launch of the report, Maree Ryan O’Brien, founder of Aitheantas and co-author of the report, said: “The ‘#RepealtheSeal Adoptee Voices Report’ highlights that while adoption maybe currently understood only in the context of Mother and Baby Homes, Adoption was not exclusive to Mother and Baby Homes nor are the impacts or challenges now faced by adoptees and their families. Many direct victims of the policies of forced and coercive adoption were outside the remit of the Commission, we need pathways for participation for all stakeholders.”
“Ireland has the most restrictive system in the European Union when it comes to accessing information on adoptees’ personal health, history and heritage. Due to the inaction of successive governments, this loss of identity is now intergenerational, affecting not just adoptees but their children and grandchildren.”
The report outlines the first comprehensive survey of adoptees as regards preferred terms, with the strong preference among Adoptees for Birth Mother/Father, followed by Biological Mother/Father.
Interaction with adoption agencies
The experience of Adoptees seeking information about their adoption from the relevant agencies was largely negative. Common experiences included frustration with what was felt to be a cold and invasive model with participants referring to the experience as “awful”, “frustrating” and “very upsetting”.
Ms. Ryan O’Brien said: “Most respondents spoke of negative experiences with state agencies currently tasked with supporting adoptees in their attempts to retrieve personal information which is why we are again calling for a new agency to handle all matters concerning historical, domestic adoption.”
The report found that the preference was for an Adoptee/Survivor led interpretive based model for a memorial /commemorative centre that gave the overall social context of forced and coercive adoption with priority access for adoptees, survivors and their familes.
Need for Participation.
The report also details the frustration of Adoptees who were outside the remit of the Commission of Inquiry, describing how they felt ‘rubbish’ at being shut out of a process that directly affected them.
A report recommendation written by Dr. Ian Marder from Maynooth University outlines the necessity to use international best practice as part of a restorative process to include all stakeholders in a process in which they are directly affected.
The report outlines several recommendations on the steps that need to be taken to improve the situation for adoptees, and ensure they have access to the required services. Some of the recommendations include the following:
- A new agency to replace the Adoption Authority of Ireland and TUSLA must be formed, to improve interactions with adult adoptees and allow for cross-referencing of files to identify illegal adoptions and sibling relationships.
2. A full investigation into all homes, agencies and institutions involved in historic, domestic adoption, to include practices within the Adoption Authority of Ireland and TUSLA should be launched.
3. Evolving and internationally innovative practices should be used to enable stakeholders who could not participate in the commission’s investigations a pathway to participation.
4. Adoptees need to be afforded more autonomy over their own identity, access to accurate Birth Certificates including fathers name and a specific mechanism to change their name on their Adoption Certificate, which is currently deemed to be immutable, if they desire to.
5. Terminology research needs to be Adoptee/Survivor led not an academic exercise, while the use of language around adoption needs to be more aware of the potential to cause harm or further marginalisation.
6. Comprehensive health screening programmes for adoptees should be considered, as well as earlier entry to existing screening programmes for adoptees and their children – given their lack of knowledge on their genetic medical history.
Ms. Ryan O’Brien added, “With a focus on adoptees being supported, and having access to the services they require, we are calling for the establishment of a new agency with a new social work model. Agencies that were part of the problem cannot be part of the solution. A new agency to replace the Adoption Authority of Ireland and Tusla must be formed, to improve interactions with adult adoptees and allow for cross-referencing of files.
“Our premise has always been to educate the wider population as to what it feels like to be adopted. The fact that over 53% of respondents felt that they are perceived differently if they disclose that they are adopted or are the child of an adoptee should give people pause. We have a lot to do in Ireland, to educate the population on how being adopted affects people throughout their entire lives. Education is key to banishing the shame and stigma and developing understanding within society.”
The report is available online now at: www.adopteevoices.ie .
· Aitheantas Press, Email: [email protected]
Notes to Editor:
· Maree Ryan-O’Brien is available for media interviews.
About the Surveys
The following surveys formed the basis of the research presented in the Adoptee Voices Report.
1. The Aitheantas Adoptee Voices Survey – ‘Identity Rights for Adoptees’: Hosted online by Uplift, on behalf of Aitheantas. There was a total of 468 respondents to the survey. The majority of respondents (81%) were adoptees. Other participants were children or family members of adoptees.
2. Aitheantas Genealogy Survey was issued to individual genealogists, genealogy and family history forums and groups by email and through social media platforms. The 20 survey respondents were a mixture of professional genealogists and family history researchers.
3. The Aitheantas Participation, Validation and Memorialisation Survey: This qualitative survey was conducted following the publication of the final report of the Commission of Inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes and related matters in January 2021. The survey was shared on the Aitheantas Facebook page, to adoptee-related support groups and on social media. There was a total of 20 participants.
Quotes from Adoptee Voices Survey respondents
1. “Not knowing who you are, your predetermined DNA make up, personality traits, growing up in an environment where you are a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, not knowing or able to understand why you don’t fit in. This can lead to anxiety, self-doubt, low self-worth, depression, alcohol dependency etc.”
2. “I have had huge health issues and had I [sic] of been aware of hereditary ones I could have been screened and treated.”
3. “I have a lot of unanswered questions and every little bit of information is vital. It hurts me deeply that total strangers who have nothing to do with me or my mother have access to information on us which we do not.”
4. “Not knowing who you are, where you came from, who you are related to, resemblances. Ireland is a very small country. Not knowing your natural family can be very complicated here.”
5. “It is hard enough to deal with the trauma of dealing with adoption without being ignored and disregarded by our country. I have had no support with [my] mental health, no social worker or anyone to keep an eye on my adoption, no one to confide in. I ’ve only met two adult adoptees in my life. I had nobody around me growing up who could relate [to me] and no one tried to relate to me as I struggled desperately, especially in my teens”.
Aitheantas charts the social harm and intergenerational impacts caused by the legacy of forced and coercive adoption in Ireland. Through a restorative focus and the core policy of ‘People before Paper’, Aitheantas advocates for adoptee welfare being at the forefront of legislation and provision of supports. Aitheantas #RepealtheSeal campaign went viral in October 2020 following moves by the Government to limit survivors’ access to their files and information.
Further information is available at: www.adopteerights.ie or by following Aitheantas on Twitter, @Aitheantas. Facebook @Aitheantas