Adoption Involves Letting Go

Brilliant short piece on the “letting go” by all involved in the adoption process.

 

Adoption involves letting go.

Some let go of their dream of having children biologically. (Infertility)

Others let go of their dream of having children who look similar to them. (Transracial adoption.)

The foster moms and dads who take care of these little and not-so-little beings let go of babies they were with night and day.

We had to let go of the dream of nurturing a little one from his/her earliest hours. I wanted to watch every single moment of development myself, even with the risk of birth mother changing her mind in the allotted 60 days.

Hearing the social worker’s report that she smiles, brought a pang of pain. Why was she smiling in foster care instead of with me?

The birth mothers (and fathers sometimes) regretfully also let go.

Will you be the one who lets go of your preconceptions and receives what someone else had to let go?

I was there when our daughter’s mother, seeing her after three and a half months, told her as she let go, “Here’s your Mommy.” She let go, trusting that the gift I received would be held onto for dear life.

One day our girl will see the full picture. Not just me receiving, but the mother whose hand can be seen in this photo-letting go.

We need more people to open up their hands to receive.

* This was posted on a personal blog on Facebook, go and check out her page at Imperfect Mom of Three

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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.

When Infertility and Adoption Collide

Another article that really hit a nerve for me, as I realise that I too will carry the burden of infertility for the rest of my life. As she writes: “After all, while adoption does grow a family, it isn’t a cure for infertility. It doesn’t erase the pain or the sleepless nights spent weeping for the loss of a dream.”

There were so many things my husband and I didn’t know before we decided to grow our family. We didn’t know how incredibly hilarious preschoolers are. We didn’t know that although a child may be potty “trained,” they might choose not to exercise that skill. We didn’t know how innocently a child can love and how quick they are to forgive. We also didn’t know how intensely angry and out-of-control that same child could be! We didn’t know about the Wild Kratts or Angelina Ballerina. We had no idea about car seat laws. We also didn’t know that we were walking into years of infertility.

About three years ago, my husband and I, quite naïvely, decided to grow our family of two. We began trying to conceive and pursuing our foster care license at the same time. I remember my husband saying, “Let’s just walk through whatever doors God opens,” and, while I was nodding my head in agreement, I was really only thinking of foster care, assuming we’d be pregnant in no time. Well, we walked through the open doors and none of them led to a pregnancy or even a baby.

Those doors led to two gorgeous kids, ages 5 and nearly 3 when they joined our family over a year and a half ago. They have completely changed our world, and, about a month after saying yes to those four precious eyes and twenty continuously dirty little fingers, Joe and I sat in a doctor’s office and were diagnosed with infertility. At that point, I was still in disbelief. I was thinking, “Okay God, You must be letting these littles settle in, and then You will give us a baby.” Nope. That’s not what He was doing. He was just plain ole’ closing doors.

Once I began accepting those closed doors, I realized something profoundly deeper than I ever had before–infertility is about more than not being able to grow a family, and, for that reason, exists independently from adoption. I got honest with myself and openly admitted that I really want a biological child too, especially after seeing and knowing the deep hurts of the two children in my arms. God has written a story of redemption for my two children, as He works in their lives and displays His love for them. I’ve been so thankful to be a part of that story, but I’m still hoping to be a part of another storyline for a child–a story where I protect them from the very beginning, always keeping them safe and loved, where the plot is without trauma, abuse, or tragic loss. I want to walk the journey that God intended for every child from the beginning, not just the journey that has resulted from a broken and fallen world.

Having experienced infertility and adoption both first-hand, I also began to call out all of my prior judgments of people who “just adopted” because they couldn’t get pregnant. First of all, there is no such thing as “just adopting.” Adoption is huge. It isn’t about “just” loving a child. It isn’t “just” a way to grow a family. It isn’t something you “just” do as Plan B. It is hard. It is life changing. It is born out of so much hurt and pain.

And it isn’t for everyone.

Adoption can be expensive. It can take years of waiting. It is emotionally draining, both before and after the adoption is complete. It can mean a completely different lifestyle from what was expected. Anyone who has walked through infertility can also identify with these, as it is also expensive, long, emotionally draining, and definitely outside of one’s expectations of life. While the journey of infertility may be preparing some hearts to be stretched and refined all over again with adoption, it may also be shaping others to move a different direction entirely. After all, while adoption does grow a family, it isn’t a cure for infertility. It doesn’t erase the pain or the sleepless nights spent weeping for the loss of a dream.

Adoption doesn’t end the journey of infertility.

It certainly hasn’t ended ours. We are walking these paths independently from each other. In one moment we may mourn the loss of a dream as we wait on a little pink line that never comes, and, in the next, we are celebrating the amazing act of redemption happening in our children and us through the blessing of adoption. And in each of these moments, we have learned that we can keep praising Christ, because He is our fortress. He holds us up. He supports us. He strengthens us. In the throws of infertility and adoption, He is there standing, proving His faithfulness. 

I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:12-13

* This article was first published on www.lifesongfororphans.org.

Wednesday Wisdom 29/10/2014

‘The natural posture of parenting bends itself towards protecting our kids at all costs. And rightly so in many ways. However, if opening our home to a foster child has taught me anything about being a parent it’s that there is a fine line between protecting my kids from the dangers of being exposed to hard things and protecting them from the dangers of NOT being exposed to hard things. My natural tendency would be to create a world of comfort and convenience for them while unintentionally never allowing them to see and respond to a world of brokenness and hopelessness that exists around them. Perhaps my greatest fear as a parent should not be the dangers and difficulties which exist all around my kids as much as it should be the self-centeredness and entitlement which exist deep within them. If our society has anything today it’s self-centered, self-entitled kids. That’s the terrifying norm. ‘

Jason Johnson

* Excerpt from blog post.

Fact Sheet on Child Abandonment in South Africa

This is quite a sobering look at the orphans crisis currently in South Africa. Several factors play a role in this, as discussed in this article. Apart from the cultural complexities involved the lack of qualified social workers is also a big problem.

NEW RESEARCH ON CHILD ABANDONMENT AND DECLINING ADOPTION RATES IN SOUTH AFRICA

The alarming increase of abandonment requires deeper research insights and understanding of cultural beliefs to stem crisis

[20 May 2014]: A new qualitative research study on child abandonment and adoption in the context of African ancestral beliefs in contemporary urban South Africa was released today by the National Adoption Coalition South Africa (NACSA) ahead of Child Protection Week.  Here is that document: Fact Sheet – Research on Child Abandonment in South Africa

The research undertaken by Dee Blackie, a consultant to the National Adoption Coalition of SA, is the result of an intensive, 1-year long research project that will provide NACSA with the understanding and insights needed to address the growing social crisis of child abandonment and declining adoption rates in South Africa.  Blackie’s fieldwork, conducted from March 2013 to February 2014, involved in-depth interviews and participant observation with young women experiencing unplanned pregnancy, women who had been apprehended for abandoning their children, community members, police officers, nurses and social workers, baby home managers and caregivers, adoption social workers, foster care and adoptive parents, psychologists and psychiatrists, legal experts, traditional healers and abandoned children (predominantly in Alexandra, Soweto and Tembisa).

“Child abandonment continues to rise in South Africa, but there is little to no understanding of this alarming social challenge.  This together with the increasing numbers of orphans due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic is placing extreme pressure on temporary care solutions such as children’s homes and foster care.  Adoptions have decreased by more than 50% over the past decade with research indicating that much of the decline is due to the implementation of the new Children’s Act in 2010 and what has been referred to as ‘cultural barriers’,” says Dee Blackie.

Contemporary South Africa has a number of the challenges associated with child abandonment including restrictive legislation, high levels of poverty, mass urbanisation and migrant labour, high levels of violence especially rape, gender inequality and diminishing family support.  All of these issues lead to the increasing vulnerability of young women in the urban environment and can result in child abandonment as a ‘survival strategy’ on the discovery of an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy.

Blackie’s research found that both child abandonment and the decline in adoption are influenced by indigenous African ancestral beliefs.  She found that some mothers and community members believe that, in the eyes of their ancestors, to abandon a child is better than formally relinquishing their rights as parents so that the child can be adopted.

The research found that ancestral beliefs play a significant role in child abandonment in South Africa. “Formally placing a child up for adoption is seen as a conscious act, and similar to the choice of abortion, amounts to the rejecting a gift that the ancestors have given you.  Many young women believe that the punishment for doing this could be extreme suffering and bad luck and in some cases, they believe they may even be rendered infertile as a result of their actions. Other circumstances such as depression, high levels of stress possibly due to how the child was conceived such as rape, or that she had been abandoned herself by the father of the child or her own family, which is often the case, are often contributing reasons for abandoning the baby.  In this instance, the mother can then sacrifice something to call her ancestors, and then when they appear, apologise to them at which point they could choose to forgive her,” explains Blackie.

“Adoption is also viewed with great concern as bringing a child with an unknown ancestry into a family is thought to cause problems for both the adoptive family and the child.  Most research respondents believe that a child who does not know their ancestors – the decedents of their father’s line – will live a difficult life and may also not be able to fulfil many of their traditional roles and rituals in their family.  These include paying damages for a child, paying lebola (to get married), celebrating big milestones such as matriculating, graduating or getting a new job.  Ancestors are also important for guidance and support, for understanding where illness may come from, and assisting a person in making important life decisions.

“Many black adoptive parents choose not to disclose that their children are adopted for fear of rejection from their extended family or community.  However, if this is discovered later on in life, it can cause high levels of trauma for the abandoned child” adds Blackie.

But the research also revealed that despite the negative perceptions of adoption, all of the sangomas (traditional healers) interviewed confirmed that they could assist a child who has been abandoned to find their ancestors.  They can also help a family who chooses to adopt a child, through a process called ‘ubigile’ or the announcing of the child to the ancestors.

“The sangomas believe that despite child abandonment being increasingly associated with postpartum depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome, the only way to solve this issue is to fix it at a family and community level, rather than through the medication and counselling of the individual mother or child,” adds Blackie.

The comprehensive research will inform a number of initiatives planned by the National Adoption Coalition in their attempt to curb this growing social crisis.

Pam Wilson, spokesperson for NACSA adds:  “Getting to the heart of cultural and ancestral beliefs is crucial if we are to address this challenge by understanding the reasons behind high levels of abandonment and declining adoptions. It will inform and shape our messaging and approach, particularly as we are about to embark on a campaign specifically aimed at unplanned pregnancy and helping families to support the young women in their homes.  The research information will also be used to expand on the Coalition’s Community Engagement Programme specifically around option counselling for unplanned pregnancy to help young pregnant mothers to make informed decisions.  Finally, in support of the call by sangomas and traditional leaders, this year’s adoption conference planned for October, will focus on trying to find more culturally relevant approaches to adoption and other child protection strategies,” says Wilson.

During Child Protection Week 2014, the National Adoption Coalition will focus on the insights revealed from the research and use this as a basis to inform its actions going forward around the plight of South Africa’s adoptable children and provide accurate process information to birth and prospective adoptive parents, particularly around the issues of ancestry and cultural beliefs in South Africa.

* The whole article can be read here.

ReMoved – a short film.

ReMoved is a short film meant to bring awareness, encourage, and be useful in foster parent training, and raising up foster parents. It is very gripping, and for the first time I realised that there is so many complicated emotions involved in children coming from an abusive home. I encourage you to watch it.