Adoption agency funded despite Vietnam suspension

CAROL COULTER, Legal Affairs Editor

Mon, Oct 10, 2011

THE HEALTH Service Executive paid more than €200,000 in 2010 to an adoption agency in Cork which deals with adoptions from Vietnam, despite the fact adoptions from that country were suspended in May 2009.

The money was paid through the HSE in Cork to the Cork-based Helping Hands adoption agency, set up in 2005 to assist couples adopting from Vietnam.

After controversy concerning Vietnamese adoptions the bilateral agreement between the two states lapsed in May 2009. Adoptions from that country have been suspended since but are likely to resume next year when Vietnam ratifies the Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoption.

According to an internal HSE memo dated April 12th, 2010, from finance manager PJ Ronayne to principal social worker Pat O’Dwyer – obtained under the Freedom of Information Act – 50 per cent of the first two tranches of €198,800 were to be paid by May 2010, with the remainder of these tranches to be paid when a review was complete.

Yesterday Helping Hands chief executive Sharon O’Driscoll told The Irish Times she thought the agency got more money in January relating to 2010. She said it had received money for 2011, but did not know how much. Speaking from her home, she said: “I don’t have the figures in front of me.”

Asked what the money was spent on, given adoptions from Vietnam were suspended in 2009, she said: “We’re still operational. We are sending post-placement reports to Vietnam.” Applicants were legally bound by Vietnam to do so, she said.

After the suspension, Helping Hands still had clients going over to collect children in cases where adoptions were already processed.

In a report prepared for the HSE on March 31st, 2010, to support the funding request met in April, Ms O’Driscoll listed the agency’s work between May and December 2009 as including pre-travel courses for 79 applicants, arranging travel to Vietnam, working on their behalf to finalise adoptions and registering children with applicants back in Ireland.

In his memo, Mr Ronayne pointed out that, because of the difficulties with Vietnam, the Helping Hands licence to operate had been suspended, and he expressed concern at its work.

“I believe that the change in status of Vietnamese licence materially impacts the provision of services for which they are being funded by the HSE. It appears they are using resources to investigate and research access adoptions in other countries (Philippines, South Korea, Thailand) . . . However, the timescale is likely to be well over 12 months you need to satisfy yourself regarding the appropriate [sic] of using HSE funding in this way,” he said.

After the passing of the Adoption Act in 2010, incorporating the Hague Convention into Irish law, the Adoption Authority replaced the Adoption Board and took over a number of new functions. These include the accreditation of agencies dealing with adoption.

Since it was set up in November 2010 the authority has accredited 11 agencies dealing with adoption, but not Helping Hands. “We hope to hear about our accreditation in the next fortnight,” Ms O’Driscoll told The Irish Times.

The HSE memos also record concerns over the lack of a service level agreement between it and Helping Hands.