Dáil Éireann - Volume 520 - 30 May, 2000

Written Answers. - Foreign Adoptions.

241. Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Health and Children the waiting time for assessment for foreign adoption in the South Eastern Health Board area; the reason the waiting period is so long; the number of staff involved in the process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15375/00]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Ms Hanafin): As advised to the House previously the report, Towards a Standardised Framework for Intercountry Adoption Assessment Procedures, which was approved by the Government for publication in June 1999, contains recommendations which will have the effect of streamlining and standardising the assessment process for couples. At 31 March 2000 the South Eastern Health Board had 93 first time applicants awaiting assessment as well as seven second time applicants. The board has advised that the waiting time for assessment is approximately two and a half years for first assessments and six months for second assessments. The number of applications received by the board more than doubled between 1998 and 1999, 24 new applications were received in 1998 while 54 new applications were received in 1999.

Prior to the publication of the report towards a standardised framework for intercountry adoption assessment procedures the board's staffing structure was as follows: one senior social worker based in Waterford; one full-time social worker [260] based in Dungarvan and two half-time social workers based in Carlow and Wexford; part-time clerical support at grade III level.

As I outlined to the House on 8 February, in June 1999 following the completion of the report on intercountry adoption assessment procedures the Government approved the provision of additional funding for intercountry adoption services. Additional funding for the years 1999 and 2000 was allocated on the basis of waiting lists in December 1998 and September 1999 respectively. The South Eastern Health Board was allocated an additional £26,000 in 1999 and an additional £48,000 in 2000 in respect of developing intercountry adoption services in the board's region.

In 1999, the funding was earmarked for an additional social worker and grade IV administrative post for adoption services. It was not possible to have these staff in place before the end of 1999. Therefore funding was used for once-off purposes. Both the additional social worker and a grade IV post are now in situ. The 2000 allocation is to be used for an additional 1.5 social worker posts. The interviews have been held to fill the remaining posts and it is anticipated that appointments will be made in the coming weeks. The staffing structure will be as follows when all posts have been filled: one senior social worker based in Waterford; 1.5 social workers for the Carlow-Kilkenny area, an increase of one full-time social worker; one social worker based in Wexford, an increase of 0.5 social worker; one social worker based in Dungarvan – no longer [261] any responsibility for south Tipperary – that is, an increase of 0.5 social worker; one social worker based in south Tipperary, an increase of 0.5 social worker with the worker based in the region; one full-time grade IV based in Waterford; one part-time grade III based in Waterford.

In terms of social work staffing this means that the number has more than doubled since 1999 – an increase from two posts to 4.5 posts. The board has also informed me that a child care manager has been given special responsibility for the co-ordination of the implementation of the standardised framework on intercountry adoption assessment.

Adoption services in the South Eastern Health Board area are provided by SEEK regional adoption services which forms part of the board's community care programme. In addition to the priorities identified in the report on the standardised framework, the South Eastern Health Board have carried out a review of the regional adoption service. The recommendations contained in this review regarding the organisation and staffing of [262] the service are in the process of being implemented by the board.

Clearly, increasing the complement of social workers is essential to bringing about a reduction in the waiting time for couples throughout the board's region. I am satisfied that the board is doing its utmost to recruit these additional staff as well as streamlining the assessment process to increase throughput of applications. I am confident that both the additional staffing and the increase in the number of assessments per social worker arising from the new assessment model will have a significant impact on the waiting list in the South Eastern Health Board.