On Tuesday the 11th May the Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman announced the publication of the General Scheme of Birth Information and Tracing Bill which will encompass a right of access to birth, early life, care and medical information.
This is a very important and positive piece of legislation.
The legislation will allow for full release of birth certificates, birth information, early life information, care information and medical information for the following people over the age of 16:
- an adopted person;
- a person who has been the subject of an incorrect birth registration.
- a person who has been nursed out or boarded out or the subject of a pre-adoptive foster care;
- a person who has reasonable grounds for suspecting they may have been the subject of an incorrect birth registration;
- a person who has reasonable grounds for suspecting they may have been nursed out or boarded out or the subject of pre-adoptive foster care;
- a person who does not fall into any of the above categories but who resided as a child in a Mother and Baby Home Institution or County Home listed in Schedule 1 of the General Scheme of Birth Information and Tracing Bill which is attached;
- Birth certificates will be accessible under this legislation and people will be able to access them through the General Register Office or where the certificate is held on the files of Tusla or an Adoption Authority or on the files of any other relevant body designated by the Minister under this legislation.
The other information that can be accessed under this proposed legislation is early life information such as the following:
- where the person lived and for what dates;
- the date and place of their baptism;
- their birth weight;
- their health, physical and emotional development;
- any medical treatments, procedures or vaccinations;
- how long their birth mother remained with them in the same place of residence;
- whether the person or their birth mother left their first place of residence separately or together;
- information on visits or communications by birth relatives;
- whether the person has a birth relative living or dead.
Care information can be accessed which would include:
- information relating to the person who cared for the relevant person;
- the location where that care was provided;
- the duration for which the person was cared for at a given location or by a given person;
- the person or entity that caused the care arrangement to be established;
- the name of the person who made the arrangement for the persons adoption/foster care arrangement/place the person with perspective adopters;
- the name of any person who made arrangements for the relevant person to be nursed or boarded out.
Medical information can also be accessed under this legislation which will relate not just the person’s medical history but that of their birth parents/relatives if it is relevant to the person. In the case of medical information relating to a birth parent/relatives that’s relevant to the person – this information will be released to the person’s nominated medical practitioner. The information will not identify the birth parent or relative but only the fact of the medical condition or health issue being something which arises in the applicant’s birth/relative family.
There is one restriction in relation to contact with the birth parent. The legislation will allow a birth parent three months after the commencement of the legislation to register a preference for contact or no contact. Once this three month window closes people will be able to apply for their information.
Where there is nothing on the register or there is a preference for contact, the relevant body will communicate this when providing the birth certificate or information to the applicant.
If there is a preference for no contact the person will be informed of this via an information session with a social worker and the birth certificate and information will then be provided.
In the legislation it is envisaged that the Adoption Authority of Ireland and Tusla will help people to identify where their records might be held and guide them through the process. They will further be given support in relation to reading and understanding the records. If the information is distressing or where a birth parent has registered no contact they will be informed of their right to counselling to be provided by Tusla.
The legislation requires the holder of relevant record to safeguard such records and it creates an offence for the concealment, mutilation, destruction or falsifying of records.
Therefore the proposed legislation recognises the overriding importance of knowing who you are and where you came from while at the same time juxtaposing the right of the adoptive person to have information with the birth parents right to decide as to whether they wish to have contact or not.
The legislation will also address the issue of illegal birth registrations. This is where persons have been named as parents on birth certificates where they were not in fact the child’s birth parents. The number of cases that have been identified amount to 151. The legislation will ensure that these individuals will be able to access their birth information in all cases and unlock their original birth identity.
The Minister has given a commitment to bring this general scheme forward for enactment without delay.