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September 15, 2017
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September 15, 2017

Loosening the adoption ‘red tape’

Even though it’s easier now, prospective adopters prefer adopting a baby. Senior writer Lara Pickford-Gordon found out why as she spoke with the Children’s Authority on its Adoption programme. Part one of her interview appeared in the September 10 issue.

Ninety five per cent of the persons applying to adopt a child want a baby. They end up waiting for years because few babies end up in the system for adoption.

“We have to sensitise the public and get people to accept the older children, to want the older children…because you can form a good bond and a great relationship with a child who is five, six, seven years, even in the teenage years,” said Christalle Gemon, Deputy Director – Care, Legal and Regulatory Services Children’s Authority (CA) in an interview. It is even more difficult to find placement for children with disabilities or mental health problems.

The CA is cognisant that the preference for babies stems from the adopters’ desire to nurture and socialise the child “into a specific way”. Still it is mindful that older children who went through difficult life circumstances deserve a chance too. Gemon said: “Many of them speak about wanting to be properly educated, having the full advantage of education, about their hopes for the future, family, jobs etc. They have the same hopes and dreams as other children.”

Years ago the CA conducted a “gap analysis” reviewing the readiness of children’s homes to be licenced. Part of this exercise involved looking at the circumstances of the residents. Gemon said, “We found that once a child is placed in a community residence the average time they would stay there is five to nine years. Many of them go in the system and don’t come out until they reach adulthood.”

A long stay in an institutional environment makes it difficult to adjust when there is a change. There was a child placed in foster care who voiced a preference for returning to the children’s home to be with friends and other children.

“While we know it’s better for children to grow up in a family environment in those cases where children grow up in community residences it is sometimes challenging for them to move to a family environment,” Gemon said. There are about 46 children’s homes in the country and over 600 residents who do not qualify as orphans—- (an orphan is a child who has lost both parents).

Melina Humphrey, Manager, Adoption Unit disclosed that in a large percentage of cases there are mothers and fathers and other relatives but they are absent in the lives of the children.

‘Freeing’ the child

The CA has been looking at children’s profiles to detect possible cases for adoption. A pilot was done which identified 25 cases. Gemon said when an attempt is made to have children adopted there is “push back” as “relatives come out of the woodwork”, and some parents, although not visiting their children, are unwilling to give up parental rights.

The CA has legal recourse through a clause that allows “freeing” the child for adoption. These cases are presented to the Adoption Committee. Gemon added, “It is possible to get a freeing order that allows us to put the child up for adoption despite the fact you have some relatives who are unreasonably withholding consent.”

The adoption law also makes provision for the Court to dispense with the consent required. She explained that this can happen where a young mother wants to give up her baby and the father is either absent, not listed on the birth certificate or has no interest in parenting.

In these circumstances, the Authority still has to try and find the birth father. The service of a private investigator is used and if no information is forthcoming then advertisements are placed in the newspaper. If this also fails, the Committee is given a “good rationale” to go to Court for dispensing of consent and to obtain an Adoption Order. “These are some of the things that would ease the red tape in the system; before, adoption was quite a bureaucratic process, difficult, took years,” Gemon said.

The CA is hoping, through the initiative at children’s homes, more children can become available for adoption. Humphrey said: “If we can free the children from the community residences we may be able to process more Adoption Orders – place children with more families as opposed to them remaining in institutional care which doesn’t go well in terms of their long-term development.”

The Authority “inherited” a waiting list of 74 persons from the former Adoption Board, which handled adoptions. The Adoption Unit has partnered with the Foster Care Unit to host sessions to sensitise them about the possibility of being foster parents as they wait for a child to become available.  Humphrey said prospective adopters are encouraged to consider changing the age of the child on the profile submitted to five years and older.

“One of the things we point out to them is we don’t have a pool of babies to be adopted because everybody wants a baby…Some of them are amenable, some still want to stay with a child 0-3 years,” she said.