From: kippa on

From The Sunday Times
October 11, 2009
Vietnamese adoptions put on hold
Mark Tighe

The Irish agency in charge of organising adoptions from Vietnam has
been ordered not to facilitate any more until it explains why the
prospective parents are charged so much.

Helping Hands, which has offices in Cork and Hanoi, charges would-be
adopters $11,100 (€7,525) to mediate in Vietnamese adoptions. It has
been criticised by a draft UNICEF/International Social Services (ISS)
report for its “disturbing” and “misleading” breakdown of costs.

Last week the state-run Adoption Board wrote to the agency asking it
to justify a $1,000 rise in its fees last year. The bulk of the money,
$9,000, goes on “humanitarian aid” but the total of $11,100 is more
than is charged by agencies working for any country in the EU.

The board has received information on the costs of transport,
translation and health screening services in Vietnam from the Irish
embassy in Hanoi. It has asked Helping Hands to explain why its
administrative fees are in excess of normal Vietnamese rates for these
services. In an interview in the Irish Times last week Sharon
O’Driscoll, chief executive at Helping Hands, said the agency was
accountable for the administrative charge of $1,903. “We can account
for that down to the last cent,” said O’Driscoll.

This weekend Helping Hands, which has had €1.6m in funding from the
Health Service Executive (HSE), did not respond to queries asking for
a breakdown of the $1,903 charge or an explanation of how it arrived
at its prices. A health source said the discrepancy between the Cork
agency’s fees and the price of Vietnamese services was “worrying”.

John Collins, the Adoption Board’s chief executive, confirmed it had
written to Helping Hands but said the board was only being “prudent”.

“This is following on from media interest,” said Collins. “We have to
check there is nothing we have missed. We need a report to confirm
what we’ve known in the past.”

O’Driscoll resigned as a member of the Adoption Board after taking up
her role in Helping Hands in 2006. Health sources say there are
tensions among members of the Adoption Board between those who support
O’Driscoll and those who are concerned that Helping Hands has not been
subject to enough scrutiny.

Vietnam accounted for 182 of the 397 international adoptions in
Ireland last year. There are 350 couples whose plans to adopt from the
country have been on hold since a bilateral agreement between the
countries lapsed last May.

Collins, Geoffrey Shannon, the chairman of the board, Kiernan Gildea,
its registrar, and its principal social worker travelled to Vietnam
yesterday to establish a system to deal with 20 adoptions the
Vietnamese have agreed to allow.

Barry Andrews, the minister for children, secured Vietnamese
permission for the 20 adoptions, which were at an advanced stage,
during a visit to the country earlier this year. The files for the
cases are in Helping Hands’s Hanoi office.

A statement from the Adoption Board said Helping Hands “remains a
registered adoption society” but its mediation service no longer
applied since the agreement with Vietnam lapsed earlier this year.

Collins said the main purpose of the trip to Vietnam was to assess
whether a legal framework was in place to process the 20 adoptions so
they could be entered on the register of adoptions in Ireland.

Shane Clarke, a spokesman for the Vietnamese Irish Network of Adoptive
Families, said he was not aware of any complaints about the fees
charged by Helping Hands. “I’d heard that the transport costs were
being questioned but that comes from left of field,” said Clarke. “The
costs are a matter to be examined but I’ve always thought Helping
Hands dealt with it well. People complain about waiting times but the
costs haven’t been an issue.”