Why don't you adopt?
14:32 (GMT+2), Mon, 19 December 2011
Following numerous unsuccessful fertility treatments, many couples eventually accept the reality of never being able to have their own biological child, and make the decision to adopt. Some couples may already have their own children but choose to adopt for other reasons. Whatever the circumstances, the adoption process is essentially the same for everyone in South Africa.
Who can adopt?
According to the Children’s Act (Act 38
of 2005), a child may be adopted:
a. jointly by:
• a husband and wife
• partners in a permanent domestic life-partnership
• other persons sharing a common household and forming a permanent family unit
b. by a widower, widow, or a divorced or unmarried person
c. by a married person whose spouse is the parent of the child, or by a person whose permanent domestic life-partner is the parent of the child
d. by the biological father of a child born out of wedlock
e. by the foster parent of the child
The adoption process
Johannesburg-based private social worker Zoe Cohen says there are two approaches
to adoption: you can either contact an adoption agency or a private social worker accredited in the field of adoption. The following will be required:
• You’ll need to prove your suitability as prospective adoptive parents, and will undergo a screening process which includes an orientation meeting, psychological evaluation, interviews,
a full medical examination, a marriage assessment, police clearance, references and a home visit.
• Once you can prove that you’re able to provide a loving, secure and stable home for a child, you’ll be placed on a waiting list. “The credibility of the parents is what matters, not how much money they have,” Zoe points out.
Your name will be entered in the Register of Adoptable Children and Adoptive Parents (RACAP). This is a national database where all adoptable children and prospective adoptive parents’ names are listed. Adoption agencies and accredited adoption social workers countrywide have access to it.
• You’ll also be required to create a portfolio of your family and home. This will include photos and text (excluding identifying details) depicting your lifestyle. The birth mother can then choose pre-selected suitable adoptive parents.
• Once a match has been confirmed, the legal proceedings begin in the Children’s Court to officially place the child in your home. When the adoptive child becomes legally yours, he has the same rights as a biological child.
How long does it take?
“The prospective adoptive parents are the ones who will dictate the pace of the screening process. The onus is on them to make the next apointment. Therefore, the quicker they submit the required information, the faster the application is likely to be processed,” Zoe explains.
Once you’re registered on RACAP, the matching process can begin. This can take anywhere between four months and three years, depending on the circumstance. But there are exceptions: Adoptive mother Sharon van Wyk and
her husband Walter found a match within two weeks. “Because our social worker is based in Cape Town and we’re in Johannesburg, the bulk of our screening (marriage assessment, psychometric testing, etc.) was done during one very long, very intensive and emotionally draining full-day assessment. Our police and health clearances and the home studies were conducted over a few weeks. But just two days after our assessment, our social worker contacted us to say that we’d been matched with a birth mother.
Our social worker wanted us to put together a profile and send it to her two days later. We stayed up all night, and by some miracle, managed to complete it. Then, exactly two weeks after our assessment day, our social worker contacted us to say that the birth mother had selected us. We flew to Cape Town to meet her the following weekend as the baby was due the following week!” They met with the birth mother before the birth and were present when little Ava-Grace was born.
Can I choose which baby I want?
As a prospective parent, you can specify the race, gender, age, and even whether or not you want a special needs child or an HIV-AIDS baby. However, the more specific you are about your choice, the longer you’ll have to wait for a match.
How much does it cost?
Seven years ago, it cost Zainab* and Ahmed* R28 000 through a private adoption agency. The couple, who had a son after one successful IVF procedure, chose to adopt a second child rather than go through another fertility treatment. “We were specific about what we wanted,” says Zainab. “We wanted the baby to fit into our family and to match in terms of looks. We didn’t want a child who would feel awkward in public and that strangers could see had been adopted. Our agency respected this and got the closest match possible.” Within three months, a match was found and Zahra* was welcomed into the family on the day she was born.
Zainab and Ahmed were on tenterhooks during the mandatory 60 days – the period in which the birth mother can change her mind. Zainab says the total cost included the birth mother’s counselling before and after Zahra was born, the legal fees, the birth mother’s delivery in hospital, the home that Zahra went to before she was placed with them, and all Zahra’s health tests.
Today, the cost of a private adoption ranges from R30 000–R45 000, but can cost up to R120 000, depending on the birth mother’s circumstances and the prenatal care required.
Eloise Loots from Procare in Cape Town says, “Non-profit and welfare organisations receive government subsidies, and thus they either don’t charge for adoptions or their fees are considerably lower than private agencies. At Procare, we charge fees and work in accordance with the guidelines of the South African Association of Social Workers in Private Practice (SAASWIPP). However, our applicants can apply for a reduced fee based on their income.” Non-profit organisations have their own criteria for fees and some partially government-funded adoptions charge on a sliding scale according to your earnings, thus making it affordable for many.
Skipping the long waiting list
Having been diagnosed with a rare congenital disorder that wouldn’t allow Samantha* to carry a baby to full term, she and her husband Brian* decided to adopt a child. Through their local church, they had heard of a young pregnant girl who wanted to give up her baby for adoption. They contacted a private social worker and then met the birth mother, who consented to allowing them to adopt her baby. On the day that baby Daniel was born, he went home with Samantha and Brian, who had to sign an affidavit along with the birth mother, confirming mutual consent until the legal proceedings in court. But then the unthinkable happened. The birth mother changed her mind and wanted Daniel back. Brian and Samantha’s hopes were shattered.
Cape Town-based Terri Lailvaux, also known as Adopt Mom, is an adoptive mother who counsels prospective adoptive parents and works with issues relating to adoption. Terri explains, “When two families deal directly with each other, they make all sorts of emotional promises which are often not kept.” Samantha and Brian were introduced to another pregnant mother, and they’re now the adoptive parents of Claire*.
Previously in South Africa, you could choose to have an open or closed adoption. An open adoption meant that details of both the biological and adoptive parents were exchanged, and both parties would meet. A closed adoption meant that no details were disclosed to either party. Eloise says, “The amended Child Care Act no longer distinguishes between the two, and thus post-adoption agreements are permissible.
A post-adoption agreement outlines the type and regularity of contact between adoptive and biological parents, and is agreed upon early in the process.” Usually, the social workers provide post-adoption support and counselling for both the biological and adoptive parents. The adoptive parents can also expect post-adoption follow-ups and home visits, and they’re encouraged to join local adoption support groups.
The process is finalised in writing 60 days after consenting. The social worker submits all documentation to the court for the adoption order to be issued. Once granted, the clerk of the court sends the original documents to the Registrar of Adoptions. The registration process usually takes three to nine months. The Registrar then sends the adoption order, with a registration number and the original birth certificate, to the adoptive parents. These are used to change the child’s name and surname at the Department of Home Affairs, which must be done by the adoptive parents. It takes about 12 months for a new birth certificate.
The National Adoption Coalition
There are over 1.8 million adoptable children in SA, but only 2 500 are adopted each year (mostly by their own relatives). A founding member of the National Adoption Coalition, Dee Blackie, says, “The role of the coalition will be to unify and empower communities and society to create positive and permanent change in our children’s lives.” The coalition will work alongside the Department of Social Development, and aims to build an awareness and understanding of adoption.
For more info, go to www.adoptioncoalitionsa.org or call the National Adoption Helpline on 0800 864 658, or visit www.adoption.org.za or www.adoptionsa.co.za for info on private adoption social workers Zoe Cohen and Joan Nathanson.
The story of Adopt Mom
After struggling with her own failed fertility treatments and subsequent adoption, Terri Lailvaux took
matters into her own hands and began working with others who had battled. “After five years of unsuccessful fertility treatments, we adopted our son Alex. The process of fertility and adoption was very emotional, expensive and lonely. Once it was all done, I struggled to find a book to read to Alex to explain why he was adopted, so I wrote my own, and The Greatest Gift
It’s a story aimed at children aged two to eight years and explains how and why adoption takes place, using animal characters. It was originally meant for my son, but it was soon in high demand. I also found that I was informally ‘counselling’ people who would come to buy a book and then pour out their hearts,” says Terri. Fuelled by her passion to help people who found themselves in a similar situation as her own, Terri decided to make it a full-time venture by studying to be a counsellor. “Although my main focus is adoption, I have a keen interest in all things related to adoption, like stress, anger, loss, depression, infertility, crisis pregnancy and so on, and this is where I tend to do most of my counselling.” Go to Terri’s website/blog at www.adoptmom.co.za, follow her on Twitter @adoptmom or join her Facebook page “Adoptmom”.
*Names have been changed.adoption, adopt, baby, child, parenting