Wednesday Wisdom 29/04/2015

“Being adopted is something that has been a part of me since the beginning. It is something that I am so incredibly proud of, and I would shout it from the rooftops if I could. I feel so special, like my parents chose ME. They wanted ME. Sure I’ve had my doubts and confusions along the way, but at the end of the day, family means everything.”

Rachel Jenkins, Adoptee

* Taken from her blog Walk By Faith.

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What an Adoptee Wants You to Know About Adoption

Very good read on thoughts around adoption out of an adoptees’s perspective.

What an Adoptee Wants You to Know About Adoption

Disclaimer: I am but one person with my own experience. Adoptees are human beings, so of course our feelings and experiences vary from black to white to every shade of gray. I cannot and do not speak for everyone, but will always stand up for everyone to have a chance to speak.

When I was a baby, I lived in a car for a time. My birthmother left me behind one day and did not return. I was adopted when I was a little over a year old. Adoption is how I came to be with my family. I know people in supermarkets and school registration lines always seem to have a lot of questions when they see a family that was obviously built through adoption, and I certainly get a lot about mine, so in case you were wondering and because I have shared it with people since I was very young, this is what I want you to know in response to years of questions.

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1. Foster kids are not like the foster kids you see in the movies. Yes, I was in foster care for a while, but I do not have red curly hair, a really furry dog or a gang of plucky girlfriends who can sing. Foster kids are kids. They are not damaged goods. They are children who have endured hardships that many of us cannot imagine; children who deserve safety, security and love. There are thousands of these sweet faces who “age out” of the system at age 18, still without a family to call their own. We ALL need a family. At 42, though she is with God now, I STILL need my mom. I still want somewhere to go for Thanksgiving. I want someone who cares if I have taken my vitamins or who always has a place for me. Don’t we all? The difference is that you and I HAVE that. It’s likely we take it for granted. These children still want and need a family.

2. Adoptees have different feelings about their own adoptions. I have never questioned why my birthmother left me behind that day. I am thankful, and in a time when many say adoptees should not be and don’t have to be thankful, that is the best word I have for it. Adoption is where my family came from. Where my love and my life truly began. Some adoptees will always feel the loss of their biological family or the life they might have known and choose not to be “thankful,” and that is their prerogative.

3. Adoption is not something that should be a secret or something that anyone should be ashamed of. I think that is why it has never been a big deal for me. I have ALWAYS known I was adopted. It’s never been anything more than the way I came to be with my family. If you always know, then it just IS — there is never a feeling that someone kept something from you. For me, it is as normal as having a belly button; it has always just been there. If you are a parent through adoption, tell your child FROM THE START. Be honest and always keep the lines of communication open. And remember, an adoptee’s story is theirs. If you are a parent through adoption, you have a great responsibility to let it be that way, and strangers and even friends must understand that they may not know every detail.

4. Adoption is NOT a second-best choice for family building; it is just another avenue. Not everyone who adopts suffers from infertility. I assure you, though I was adopted and my sister was not, I was never second best. My mother was no less a mother, nor I less of her child, because I was adopted. I was no less of a pain in the butt through my teens or no less sweet and loving as a toddler. She was no less present and would have taken a bullet for either of us. The time, the attention, the love — all the SAME. I am not #2!

5. Some adoptees say, “I was adopted,” and others say they “are”; either way, we are many other things, as well. I do not wear a badge that says, “HELLO MY NAME IS MADELEINE AND I AM AN ADOPTEE.” I want you to know that I WAS adopted. I am a million other things besides an adoptee, and I am not defined by it. It is just ONE part of my story, just as it should be for all children of adoption. Please never refer to a child who was adopted as “the adopted child.” He or she is a child. In their mind, today, they might be a cowboy or a ballerina. When they grow up, they might be a doctor, a parent, a friend, a dog lover and a basket weaver. Let them be the million other things as well.

6. While it is not right to judge or to quantify what type of adoption is best, it will happen; others seem to always have an opinion. Whether it is foster care, domestic infant adoption or international adoption, if it was done to provide a loving home for a child, it is a good thing, and that is all that matters. No doubt parents through adoption will continue to be asked if they adopted from the same agency as Madonna or how much their baby cost, but people are curious, sometimes ignorant and other times just without manners. There will ALWAYS be people who judge you, whether it is regarding your sexual preference, choice of hairstyle, your neighborhood or how you choose to decorate your lawn for Christmas. People will judge, and adoption is no different. Remember: No matter how you built your family, YOUR family comes first — ignore other people’s judgments.

7. Some adoptees really need to find their birthparents to find closure, or maybe a new beginning — but not all. I have never met my birthparents and never have truly considered looking for them. This is what everyone seems to want to know about when they hear I am adopted. I am not a living Lifetime movie. I have been curious, but have never had the aching need to search. I hope my own birthmother has peace and even a portion of the happiness I have known in my life. Other adoptees seek out their birthparents out of a sincere need to create a relationship. Adoptees are entitled to whatever feelings about their adoption they have. We cannot be put in a box; adoptees are individuals and all have our own thoughts and feelings.

8. Parents’ words and reactions are important. Some children become available because of a loving, thoughtful choice by their birthparent(s) at birth, others because their parents have failed them in some way. Whatever the reason, if your children came to you through adoption, do not ever badmouth their birth family. Your child may feel it is a judgment on who he or she is if you do. If my mom was ever asked offensive questions, I never knew. Be the grace. And for heaven’s sake, if you are a family member or friend or just chatting with someone, please stop and think before you say something inappropriate in front of a child.

9. Real is not defined by biology. My Mom IS my REAL mom. She dealt with tears over math homework and finding prom dresses, and came running when I fell off my bike and picked the gravel out of my knees. She listened as I poured out my heart over the stupidity of teen boys and loved me beyond my biology. Mommies through adoption ARE real moms. Daddies through adoption ARE real daddies. Real in every way. REAL is not defined by DNA, it is defined by L-O-V-E.

10. Adoption is often predicated on some kind of pain or loss. The pain of a birthparent and whatever led them to placing their child. The trauma of a child who has known things in their life that no child should. The poverty and loss of life in other countries. These wounds are not caused by adoption; adoption is often the best solution to very difficult issues.

11. Parents: there is no voice on or about adoption that is more important than YOUR ADOPTEE’S. I think people make a much bigger deal about adoption than they need to. When I was growing up, it just WAS. I had my adoption day celebration each year and that was that. I knew my mom was there if I had questions and that she would be honest with me. We did not have to make a huge “to do” about it, though I know my parents would have done whatever I needed if I had needed more. It was not pre-determined that I would automatically suffer from any number of issues relating to my adoption. I was just a normal kid and sometimes I think even some parents through adoption have a hard time accepting that. If you are a parent through adoption, listen to YOUR CHILD, because ultimately, with all the voices you will hear about adoption, theirs is the most important. Let your child be your guide.

So, when you hear that someone was adopted, or notice because they look different from the rest of their family, know that so many of the stereotypes about adoption are not true. That we did not just step out of a made-for-TV movie. We are individuals and don’t all feel the same way. We are REAL people with REAL families, and there is so much more to us than having been adopted. And parents, love your child and meet his or her needs, adoption-related or not, because that is what parents do.

* This post first appeared on Huffington Post.

Wednesday Wisdom 22/4/2015

“Adoption is a commitment that you enter into blindly, but it is no different than adding a child by birth. It is essential that adoptive parents are committed to making it work, committed to parenting this child for the rest of their lives, and committed to parenting through the tough stuff.”

Brooke Randolph

Babies not for Sale. Or are they?

This post is another sobering look at the adoption situation in South Africa and how frustrating it is to deal with the bureaucracy  and also the perceptions associated with adoption in this country. Going through our second adoption currently we can testify to how difficult it is to get the adoption and paperwork finalised. Siya has been in our family for 18 months already but we still do not have the documents finalised so that we can apply for his new birth certificate and passport.

Babies not for Sale. Or are they?

IT WAS a shock, turning on the radio recently and hearing a government official publicly questioning my motives for adopting my beautiful daughter. In an interview on Talk Radio 702 about the declining number of adoptions, the spokeswoman for the Department of Social Development declared defensively that “our babies aren’t for sale”.

The statement came days after our family finally concluded our long and arduous adoption process. Although dismaying, it didn’t come as a surprise — for us, the last three-and-a-half years have been characterised by a battle against the government’s hostility towards adoption.

While officials cite fear about trafficking as a reason for their adoption obstacles, millions of South African orphans are significantly more vulnerable to trafficking, poverty, abuse and neglect than my little girl. We are fiddling while Rome burns.

Across the globe, adoption is seen as necessary and socially beneficial, a permanent way of taking care of the world’s 153-million most defenceless children. SA seems to be a notable exception. Here, adoption is viewed with suspicion and, in some senses, it is considered to be un-African.

A nuclear family that does not respect the child’s origins is seen as no substitute for authentic community. The communal raising of vulnerable children is a valuable thing. But the flip side is that anyone wanting to care for a child in a way that removes him from his kin and culture, and legally and permanently changes his identity, is seen in a negative light.

This affects the likelihood of many children being adopted, even when that identity, kin and culture is unknown. It explains why, even though adoption is legal and apparently accepted in this country, the government seems to ascribe evil intent to anyone who tries to adopt — hence the “babies for sale” comment and the highly combative process.

Since we began our adoption proceedings in 2011, my husband and I have been vetted by social workers, psychologists, doctors, the police, the courts and, of course, government officials.

It has been checked whether we have a police record, whether we are on the National Register for Sexual Offenders, whether we are psychologically and physically well, whether our marriage is in good shape, and whether we are financially able to afford adoption. We have opened our lives, health, finances, history, relationship and mental state to an astonishing amount of scrutiny, and all at great expense.

But we did not pay money to buy a baby. Instead, we paid for all of the professional services required to approve us for adoption; we paid to ensure that our child was adoptable; we paid for the legal process of having the relationship confirmed; and we paid to have our child’s legal status changed.

Not that I am complaining: like most adoptive parents my view is that no matter how hard, combative and costly the process, I would do it all again — and more — for the joy of having my child. I find myself asking: if you wanted to traffic children, why would you join what must be one of the most highly monitored groups of people in SA and accept the wait and costs involved?

The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) estimates that SA has more than 5-million orphans. The agency considers them to be particularly vulnerable to abuse and trafficking.

THE government’s policy suggests a longing for a utopia that no longer exists because communal care is becoming financially and practically less viable. The reality is that traditional extended families and communities have been decimated.

“Kinship” relationships, underpinned by the notion of ubuntu, are still presumed to be keeping our children safe, but HIV/AIDS, poverty, urbanisation and the dispersal of families it brings have changed things. As long as adoption is discouraged, the government is dooming many orphans to institutional care, child-headed households, mistreatment, neglect and trafficking.

Given that millions of children are eligible, SA’s adoption figures are astonishing. They declined by about 50% from 2,840 in 2004 to 1,448 in 2014.

Nonetheless, the government appears to be offering community caregivers the foster care grant in support of their approach to managing orphans. This grant was never intended to be used for large numbers of children or to combat poverty, but it has now become something of an incentive — one that actively discourages legal adoption.

The foster care grant differs from other welfare grants in important respects. First, it is not a poverty alleviation grant so it isn’t means tested. Provided the child is poor, caregivers can receive the grant whether they earn R200 or R200,000 a month.

Second, it is a particularly large grant — R860 a month, more than double the childcare grant of R330.

Finally, as an emergency grant designed for short-term interventions in crises, it is intended to be paired with close and careful monitoring of recipients. But, given that well more than half a million South Africans receive the grant, and the ratio of social workers to recipients is very low, it is likely that monitoring is often nonexistent.

The grant is expensive, resource intensive (social workers must renew the court order for each recipient every two years) and, bizarrely, carries the inherent assumption that orphans are two-and-a-half times more expensive to care for than other children.

While many caregivers have good intentions, the fact that it cannot be effectively monitored means that the policy puts the very children it is supposed to protect at high risk. Yet, it remains the default grant for people caring for orphans.

ADVOCACY groups began calling as far back as 2001 for the government to implement a means-tested “kinship grant” to relieve the pressure on the foster care system, and pay and oversee caregivers in a way that is more equitable and manageable. But, although plans for this new grant have been discussed, they have yet to materialise.

It is hard to miss the irony — people are benefiting monetarily from SA’s orphans, but not adoptive parents.

And who will raise abandoned children if adoption is not an accepted solution? No matter how committed and capable some communities are, the government’s approach does not cater for abandoned children whose families are in most cases unknown.

Current estimates are that about 3,500 children are abandoned annually. There has been little research, so the figure may be much higher. If officials remain opposed to adoption, not only privately but publicly, what hope is there for children who have been tragically labelled “weggooikinders”?

Society has changed and SA’s strategy for coping with orphans is simply not working. If it were, we would not have 5-million children deemed vulnerable to abuse and trafficking, we would have a plan for dealing with abandoned children and we would not need to financially incentivise community-based care for unparented children in a way that may collapse the foster care system.

Sadly, hindering adoption is not going to restore traditional African culture or reinstate universal, altruistic kinship care. The only likely result is that it will prejudice those who want to be part of the solution.

The government either needs to substantiate the claim and act accordingly, or it needs to back down, make the process less adversarial and start viewing adoptive parents for what they should be — partners in giving SA’s children hope and a future.

This post originally appeared on Business Day Live.

Wednesday Wisdom 15/04/2015

“An adoptee’s curiosity about one’s past is not a rejection of one’s present nor a sign of unhappiness or dysfunction. It is exploring what should be the adoptee’s already-knowledge of one’s personal history and family members.”

Tara Vanderwoude

Wednesday Wisdom 8/4/2015

“The Christ within who is our hope of glory is not a matter of theological debate or philosophical speculation. He is not a hobby, a part-time project, a good theme for a book, or a last resort when all human effort fails. He is our life, the most real fact about us. He is the power and wisdom of God dwelling within us.”

Brennan Manning

The Real Cost of Adoption – Speed Bumps vs Stumbling Blocks

Good insight into the current bureaucracy surrounding adoption in South Africa.

The Real Cost Of Adoption – Speed Bumps Vs Stumbling Blocks

speed-bump-appendicitisIt seems adoption and the challenges contained in the processes have been in the spot light lately. Several articles, opinion pieces and radio shows have highlighted the challenges currently faced. The latest such article entitled Babies “not for sale” who will love these innocents? inspired me to throw my proverbial weight into the mix.

The article, for me ,hits the nail squarely on the head. It brings home the message that we need to protect children, we need to establish processes and practices that have at their core a desire to place a child into a forever family as quickly as possible, while not forsaking the need to make sure that the child’s past, current and long-term needs are taken into account. Picking a family for a child cannot receive the same scrutiny as what colour paint should be used to brighten up the north facing lounge wall, but it also cannot receive scrutiny that is artificially prolonged or justified because of a governments inefficiencies and lack of focus. To throw a dart into a board covered with adoptees as a process of picking a new family can be just as dangerous as an official expressing some god complex in his uninformed-opinionated-thought process when deciding if an adoption should be finalised or not. The whole process has actually very little to do with us, our ego’s, flippant comments or second-hand-I-know-someone-who-told-me-something-theories. IT IS ABOUT A CHILD WHO NEEDS A MOMMY AND A DADDY!

The numbers speak for themselves, fewer children are receiving forever families! We can play the name game, we can justify our stance with a desire to curb child trafficking, rape etc, we can profess that there aren’t enough families willing to adopt, we can even get the spin doctors in the mix and have them weave a tale of deceit and corruption blaming the situation on inaccurate reporting and misconstrued facts.

Here’s a couple of facts for the powers that be to chew on while a child somewhere out there spends another afternoon in the care of yet another volunteer as she goes from child to child, trying her best to nurture and be attentive to the 30 or so children in a home realising she has 2 hands, one body and limited time and resources.

  1. Our first adoption order was granted in a month, by an amazing Magistrate. Professional, thorough and so supportive of the idea of giving a child a home. I know of several other situations where just the court date has taken months, some have yet to be graced with the opportunity to have their documents scrutinised.
  2. Our second adoption is currently under way, the police clearance has taken around 10 days and our form 30 took under a month. Why is it others are waiting 6 months to a year?
  3. I have a beautiful black son, and soon a daughter. Some Magistrates openly declare that they want the black child to go to a black family. These gifts to humanity eventually run out of stalling tactics and the child gets a home, but the damage has been done as the process had nothing to with the best interests of a child. Instead we see a public servant parading opinion as fact, all the while, relying on nothing other than simple-minded prejudice; and
  4. I applied for my son’s new birth certificate last year July, as of today, there has been progress in finalising the matter but I am still waiting for someone in Pretoria to push this mystical button that is obviously mind numbingly difficult to push, which will allow my local home affairs department to print out the certificate. Yes that’s right, everything is finalised, all we need is someone to check a box which enables another person to click print. But it’s ok, because I am comforted by the fact that it’s a difficult challenge to navigate for them, otherwise it might get frustrating.

While departments, magistrates and officials play the mine-is-bigger-than-yours game, a little child sits, at best, in the corner of a home, surrounded by other similar children and their caregivers. They sit and play looking around for mommy or daddy, looking for permanence, looking to belong. Don’t worry sweetheart, it will happen soon, or at least it would if you were seen as a priority!

South Africa, we are failing our children! With every hungry tummy, lonely heart and abandoned child, we are nailing the lid on the coffin of our future. Our systems are too slow, too inefficient and too cumbersome. There are some amazing social workers, magistrates and government officials who are going to war against the disease of orphanhood, tirelessly waging a daily war against the notion that some children won’t have a family. These silent warriors are having their light and energies snuffed out by a system that promises what is best for the child, all the while, employing and retaining people who not only fail to uphold this ideal but flagrantly drag knuckles heels and whatever else they can in an attempt to do as little as possible for as long as possible, under the auspices of process, best practice and following protocol. You know where you can stick your protocol don’t you!

We can never stop working towards and engaging with the need to do what is best for each of these children. We cannot succumb to an approach where would be families are not scrutinised, but evaluated. We should never think of giving children away to anyone who feels the need to raise their hand without first checking whether they will be able, as best they can, to uphold the need to do what’s best for the child. I say, check, equip, screen, support and even charge for the service. But once a family has equipped themselves as best they can, shown a desire to become a forever family and welcomed a new son/daughter into their hearts, surely it would be best to expedite every other process so finality can be found and this new family can begin to do life together.

So in conclusion, speed bumps are great, they slow things down, help us navigate the terrain safely and with a better awareness of what lies ahead, while still allowing definite forward progress. Stumbling blocks on the other hand, prevent, frustrate and eventually cause movement to stop, and with that, lives, hopes and dreams.

What are your thoughts?

* This was posted originally here.

Wednesday Wisdom 1/4/2015

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

Brennan Manning

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