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03rd Aug 2017

This mum’s campaign changed Ireland’s step-parent adoption laws

Birth mothers were being forced to 'adopt' their own children.

Grace Vaughan

Milana Kearns has spent the last number of years campaigning for a change in Ireland’s step-parent adoption laws.

In 2014, HerFamily shared Milana Kearns’ campaign to change Ireland’s step-parent adoption laws forcing birth mothers to adopt their own children.

Introduced in Ireland in 1952, legal adoption laws meant that if a woman – whose partner was not the father of her child – wanted him to adopt the child she first had to give up her legal rights to the child and then adopt the child alongside her partner.

As a result of her own blended family situation, and with support from the Adoption Authority and Paul Redmond of the Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors, Milana began campaigning for the law to be changed.

“I carried my daughter, Vanessa, for nine whole months, reared her for the last ten years and being named as mother on her birth cert goes right to my heart. Law or no law I would never agree to sign her away. Never.

Had I not agreed to the terms of this law the application for Step-Parent Adoption would not proceed. And should anything happen to me – if I died – and were not legally recognised as a unified family, Vanessa and her brother Harry [Patrick’s biological son] would face separation from one another should Vanessa’s biological father seek full custody.”

A meeting with then Minister for Children and Family, Dr James Reilly, saw Milana outline her distress and the impact this law was having on her family.

Moved by the mum-of-two’s story, Minister Reilly assured Milana that the Step-Parent Adoption Law would be reviewed, amended, and that the process would begin immediately. In time, Milana and other mums in her situation would no longer be forced to waive their legal right as birth mothers and ‘adopt’ their own child if their partner sought legal guardianship.

Two weeks ago that law was finally quashed and Milana says she will never forget the moment she and her husband Patrick heard the good news:

“Patrick came into the bedroom and woke me up to show me the news. It’s never easy to speak up, and many times I thought twice about doing it, but then I realised why I was doing this. I was defending not just my rights as a mother but my children’s rights too.

I love my kids dearly and it felt terribly wrong that to satisfy some outdated law I should be Garda vetted like I was nothing more than their teacher or childminder. I had to do something.

One day when Vanessa is older and understands more she’ll know what I did I did out of love. Mothers need to stand up for themselves and their children, because if we don’t, who will?”