9 November marks World Adoption Day, a global day to raise awareness of adoption and to celebrate family.
“One of the key issues we hope to address this World Adoption Day is the right way to adopt so that the best interests of the child are met. While we sympathise with adoptive parents relating to the timely and emotional process of adoption, first and foremost is to ensure that there is a correct match between a child and parents, and the rights of the child are sacrosanct,” explains Katinka Pieterse of The National Adoption Coalition of South Africa (NACSA).
Here’s what you need to know about adopting a child in South Africa
Adoption in South Africa is essentially the same for everyone – whether you already have your own children but choose to adopt for other reasons, or whether you are not able to have your own biological child.
Types of adoption in South Africa
There are two main types of adoption with various subcategories.
- Disclosed/open adoption:
This is when the person who wishes to adopt knows the person giving the child up for adoption. The details and identity of the adoptive parents may be disclosed to the biological parent/s and visa versa. These are mostly family-related or step-parent adoptions.
- Non-disclosed or closed adoption:
There is no disclosureof identity and the personal details of the biological parent/s or guardian/s of the child are not known to the prospective parents. In other words, there is no contact or communication between the parties.
The adoption process in South Africa
If you want to adopt a child in South Africa, you will be required to work through an accredited adoption organisation. A social worker will offer guidance and assistance as there are best-practice guidelines that will need to be followed within the accredited adoption system.
“When the new parents are informed that they have been matched with a child, arrangements will be made for them to meet the child. Unfortunately, the process of adoption doesn’t happen overnight,” says Katinka.
The adoption process is not an easy one. There’s a lot of work that will need to be done and ethical minefields around every corner. Both service providers and adoptive parents need to ensure that the adoption is based on good practice and that all legal requirements are met. Most importantly, everyone needs to remain focussed on the best outcome for the child.
Katinka shares some basics on the adoption process:
Application: When working through an adoption organisation, the prospective adoptive parents start by submitting an application.
Orientation: Each organisation has its own orientation process, but it will involve the adoption process being explained to the prospective parent/s.
Screening: The screening process normally involves orientation meetings, interviews with a social worker, full medicals, marriage and psychological assessments, home visits, police clearance and references. This process allows social workers to get to know prospective adopters as a family, their motivation to adopt, and their ability to offer a loving and stable home.
Waiting list: Once screening is complete, applicants are placed on a waiting list for a child. The applicants will make decisions about the age and sex of the child they would like to adopt, and the organisation will try to meet their expectations as far as possible.
Identifying a child for adoption: There will be an introductory period when the prospective parent/s are introduced to the child. The length of supervised time they spend together will depend on the age of the child. In most cases of non-related adoption, the child’s adoptability process is a separate, legal, one. Only once the child is declared legally adoptable can a potential match with screened adoptive parents take place.
The legalisation: Legal finalisation of the adoption, registration and noting of adoption on the population register are the final steps to be taken. Unfortunately, these can take a year or longer to finalise. Consent from the biological parent/s and other parties involved can be withdrawn up to 60 days after giving legal consent. It is, therefore, strongly recommended that children are only placed after this period has lapsed. The Children’s Act also makes provision for the adoption to be cancelled, even after finalisation, but this can be prevented by ensuring that all legal requirements are met. Once the child has been with the new parents for a period of time, and the social worker has assessed the adoption to be in the best interests of the child, the adoption is finalised through the Children’s Court.
The cost involved
The Children’s Act provides a basic cost structure for accredited organisations. Some organisations are subsidised by the National Department of Social Development, and will charge a nominal fee; others are not subsidised and will charge a bit more. The department is responsible for monitoring accredited service providers to ensure that they charge reasonable fees.
South Africa is a party to the Hague Convention on intercountry adoptions, and facilitates intercountry adoptions in accordance with the convention’s guiding principles. Most often, people adopt from South Africa rather than the other way around. South Africa has working agreements in place with specific countries and accredited organisations. Katinka explains that adoptable children who can’t be successfully matched with adoptive parents in South Africa are considered for intercountry adoptions.
“Intercountry adoptions are a more difficult process, since they entail the legal requirements and processes of two
countries. Parents could also wait a long time before they are matched, due to the limited number of children placed for intercountry adoptions,” adds Katinka.