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Claire McGettrick @cmcgettrick
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This is a (pretty long) thread about adoption information rights and attitudes towards adopted people. First, a quick synopsis of the facts. a) Adopted people have no automatic right to access their birth certificates and adoption files;
b) Adopted people's birth certificates are a public record and we can already access them. It just takes us a lot longer when we're blindfolded with one hand tied behind our backs;
c) The Adoption (Information & Tracing) Bill 2016, which is currently making its way through the Oireachtas, proposes measures which will force adopted people to sign an undertaking that they will not contact their natural parents before they can obtain their birth certificates.
d) The Bill also proposes that adopted people would be provided with statements compiled by Tusla in lieu of their original adoption files.
An example of a 'non-adoption' equivalent of this is a scenario where doctors were allowed to provide subjective statements of medical records to their patients, in lieu of copies of their original files.
One of the reasons I decided to do this thread is because of something that happened yesterday, when I tweeted about an Irish Times piece which used infantilising language when referring to adopted people.
I also used the opportunity to reiterate the @adoptionrights position on the proposed adoption info legislation. I was headed to a family get together so the point I made was brief.
A few moments after I put out the tweet, a former DCYA adviser appeared in my mentions. What ensued was a series of deeply patronising tweets. There was even a deeply offensive poll.
This individual was a civil servant in the DCYA at the time when some of the most heinous aspects of the legislation which preceded the 2016 bill were devised. These discriminatory measures are alive and well in the 2016 Bill.
The tone of her tweets were mocking & suggested that we in @adoptionrights have not thought things through, that she the former civil servant who worked behind the scenes, knew better, that we, the thoughtless inconsiderate adopted people, have never spared a thought for mothers
Because I had a family thing I didn’t have time to engage. Also though, I made a decision to not engage. I'm happy to discuss & educate on adoption - it's a huge part of what I do...
...but I will not respond to a former civil servant who chooses to bully, patronise and mock instead of engaging in respectful, meaningful discussion.
I have been an adopted person for 45 years. I have been politically &professionally active in the area of adoption over the past two decades. In that time my colleagues @susanlohan @culchiewoman & I have met countless adopted people, natural mothers and natural family members...
...including those who express a preference for no contact (the reasons for which are complex and often temporary).
@adoptionrights operates a peer support network of 2,000 adopted people, natural mothers & family members. Over the years we have carefully honed & refined our positions, which are always based on the feedback we receive from the adopted people & natural parents we engage with.
So I will not be bullied, patronised and mocked by a former civil servant who worked under the very administration which devised such cruel and thoughtless policies which are based on deep prejudices against adopted people.
I am choosing not to engage with this individual, whose own words betray the discrimination, prejudice and lack of respect levelled at adopted people on a daily basis.
In one breath she claimed that @adoptionrights is ‘choosing to interpret’ that the proposed legislation views adopted people as untrustworthy, while in the next she contradicted herself and trotted out the tired old line about mothers having 'the right to be left alone'.
This argument is based on a common myth about adoption - that information and contact go hand in hand. Information about oneself and contact with natural family members are separate issues.
Some adopted people do not want contact with their natural mothers at all, while others will wait for a period of time after obtaining their birth certificates before attempting to contact their natural mothers and/or family members.
Over ten times the number of adopted people than natural mothers have registered a ‘No Contact’ preference on the National Adoption Contact Preference Register (NACPR) to date.
Adopted ppl are seeking info rights; they're not seeking the right to have a relationship, nobody has the right to demand that. The vast majority of adopted people respect other people’s wishes. Unless anyone wants to suggest that we are somehow different because we are adopted?
The argument is also based on another myth - that adopted people will knock on their natural mothers' doors once they have access to birth certificates.
We in @adoptionrights provide resources to adopted people on how to legally obtain their birth certificates by researching civil registration records. For those who are seeking contact, we recommend a discreet letter and we provide samples in our Tracing Handbooks.
And besides, adopted people who wish to have contact with their natural mothers are highly unlikely to jeopardise the success of any relationship by arriving unannounced on their mothers’ doorstep.
In his empirical analysis of the impact of the Children Act 1975 (which gave adopted people in England and Wales access to birth certificates), Triseliotis found that:
‘The calamities anticipated by sections of the media, politicians, & some organizations have not materialized....
...The various studies carried out so far suggest that the vast majority of adoptees act thoughtfully & with great consideration for the feelings of both their birth and adoptive parents’.
Moreover, with guidance from @adoptionrights and our predecessor organisation, adopted people have been obtaining their birth certificates for years. Some have contact with their natural families, some don’t. The sun has not fallen out of the sky.
Those of us who are in reunion work hard at it; we are careful, considerate and thoughtful, because it can be difficult to navigate a relationship which has been torn asunder for decades by church and State.
Ideally, @adoptionrights would have the time to provide more with leadership & guidance in this area, but we're exhausted as it is with the business of achieving basic rights for adopted people – we don’t get to have these conversations because we are constantly fighting fires.
I will finish on a couple of brief side notes, firstly on the notion that the State wants to protect mothers who wish to keep the past in the past. One of the biggest adoption myths is that only adopted people are interested in tracing and natural mothers want to forget the past.
In our experience, a large number of natural mothers want to trace their daughters and sons, however many of them believe that it is not possible or even legal for them to do so. This perpetuates the myth that natural mothers want to ‘forget about the past’.
Moreover, in our experience, when natural mothers approach the adoption agency asking about their adult children, the agency will, in all cases we have encountered, contact the adoptive parents of the (adult) adopted person instead of the adopted person themselves.
I have written more on the subject of 'closeted mothers' here:… and if you're still not convinced that the State isn't trying to protect natural mothers, ask @ococonuts about what happened to Tressa Reeves.
Another myth is that natural mothers were given a guarantee of confidentiality. No evidence has ever been produced to substantiate this claim.
Birth registrations have been a matter of public record in Ireland since 1864, so regardless of any alleged (or implied) guarantees of confidentiality, it would have been impossible in practical terms, to give any such guarantee.
The notion of there being an assurance of confidentiality presumes that such an assurance was sought by natural mothers in the first place.
Testimony from natural mothers is clear that, on the contrary, these women and girls were forced to swear that they would never contact their children again. See the @clann_project report for more.
Natural mothers would certainly have sought confidentiality and privacy from Irish society, which judged unmarried mothers so harshly. The need for privacy has been wrongly confused with a supposed need for secrecy.
The second side note is the subject of adopted people and the GDPR. As I’ve said, @adoptionrights operates a peer support network of 2,000 adopted people, natural mothers and other family members.
Members report on a daily basis that they are denied basic information, eg their own original first name or their natural mother’s first name. Imagine not being allowed to know your own name?
Most adoption files are held by Tusla, and members of our peer support network report that since the implementation of GDPR, the situation has worsened.
In recent years, adopted people have exercised their rights as data subjects and have made data access requests to their adoption agencies, the Adoption Authority and Tusla.
In all cases that we are aware of, the records provided have been heavily redacted, and even information which has been provided by the applicant (e.g., proof of their original identity) has been removed.
The rationale for these redactions is generally that the records contain ‘third party information’, i.e., information about the adopted person’s natural mother and family members, as well as the adoptive parents, social workers and others involved in the adoption process.
However, this rationale fails to acknowledge the adopted person as a data subject who has the same entitlement to information about themselves as any other citizen.
The GDPR defines personal data in terms of a person’s ‘physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity’.
In this regard, adoption records contain personal data about the adopted person themselves, e.g., their place of birth; their physical condition & circumstances during their early months and years; their early-life care records; their medical records, including x-rays, tests...
...vaccine trials; their natural family’s medical history. their original name (already a public record); their natural mother’s name (already a public record); their natural father’s and natural family members’ names (all of which are public records).
Adoption records also contain personal data in terms of an adopted person’s economic, cultural and social identity both around the time of their birth and after their adoption, and which relate to how they came to have their adoptive identity.
If Irish citizens (including adopted people) are entitled to freely access personal data about themselves in other contexts, e.g. medical files, which also contain the names of doctors, nurses, social workers and even family members...
...there is no conceivable reason why the same information should be denied to adopted people about their adoption.
I will conclude with the following: the Adoption (Information & Tracing) Bill is likely to be progressed in the New Year. I believe that @KZapponeTD wants to do the right thing, but there is a limit to how far the Attorney General’s office is willing to go.
We in @adoptionrights believe the AG is mistaken. I think that @KZapponeTD believes it is acceptable to use an incremental approach, similar to the trajectory of civil partnership to marriage equality.
The big difference between the two situations is that with civil partnership (while it was less than what a lot of people wanted) there were no discriminatory provisions (e.g. that you could have your civil partnership but you'd have to ask your family's permission).
On the other hand, the adoption bill would not only reinforce prejudicial attitudes towards adopted people, it would give them a statutory footing.
Moreover, the proposal to provide statements in lieu of records would also set a dangerous precedent that could have wide-ranging implications for access to historic abuse records.
So as always, we are very happy to engage in respectful dialogue, but unless it is radically changed, @adoptionrights will oppose this bill in the strongest possible terms.
And we’d love if those of you who were involved in #MarRef and #repealedThe8th would stand shoulder to shoulder with us – for us, old Ireland is still alive and well. (End of thread)
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