Banished children get help to find parents

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The Irish Government has promised more than 2,000 people sent as children to new homes in the US between 1948 and 1962 help in contacting their natural parents. Extensive files in the National Archive giving details of their past were discovered this week.

The children, many born outside marriage or to parents too poor to support them, were sent at ages ranging from 12 months to seven years old for adoption by US families. But many later found their birth certificates were false and they were unable to trace their natural parents.

Following initial revelations the Irish Foreign Minister Dick Spring ordered a search for any surviving records of the children's adoptions. Many were sent abroad by homes run by religious or public bodies. Some distraught mothers only discovered their babies had been sent abroad when they arrived to visit them in orphanages.

The archive records show an average of 110 children a year were "exported" over 14 years. They include names and dates of birth of the children, and details of both their natural and adoptive parents.

Each file contained a declaration by the mother, confirming the child was born out of wedlock, and undertaking "never to attempt to see, interfere with, or make any claim" to the child in future.

In a speech at a convent school in Waterford, Mr Spring said: "One can only imagine the pain that must have been involved in signing many of those declarations."

He said the files exposed the different values of the time. He added: "They [the adoptive parents] had to supply a letter from their own doctor confirming in his opinion that they were unable to have children of their own and that they were 'not deliberately shirking natural parenthood'."

The news has been welcomed by some of the adoptees. Maggie Butler, who has spent years searching for her mother, yesterday spoke of her elation at having "an important part of my life and that of 1500 other people acknowledged by the country where we were born".

The archives could now allow her mother the choice of whether to meet her. "My goal is to find her. My heart's desire is to meet her," she said.

The child care agency Barnados confirmed this week it had been contacted by more than 200 such US-reared adults seeking their original families.

Nora Gibbons, a spokeswoman for Barnados, stressed it was important to reassure birth mothers that the archive information would not be made "indiscriminately available". Counselling was necessary and third-party mediation was needed for contacts between mothers and adopted children.

Barnados called for a search of government departments for files on other children sent abroad via other schemes.

Mr Spring said he was seeking further information from the Irish Passports Office, which had earlier indicated that passport photos of the departing infants, in some cases the natural mother's only reminder of her child, had been destroyed.

Referring to the recent controversy over Chinese orphanages, Mr Spring said "it is perhaps too easy for us to have strong views about the way in which children are treated abroad, and to assume that we have no questions to answer ... here at home."