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Adoption conundrum

...76 parents on approved waiting list but no babies to take home
Sunday, December 10, 2017
Children’s Authority Adoption Manager, Melina Humphrey, left, and Legal Services Manager, Sharlene Jaggernauth.

There are currently 76 parents on an approved waiting list in T&T hoping to adopt a child. But they have been waiting for several years. According to the Children's Authority, the main problem is, of the 76 parents, most if not all want to adopt babies. The issue facing them is that there are not 76 babies in the system.

Adoption manager at the Children's Authority, Melina Humphrey, said in 2015 when the authority was given the legal framework to take over the responsibility of adoption, there were around 800 children in 'community residences', which since the proclamation of the children's act is the new term for what was called 'children's homes'. However, since 2015 to now, none of the children there have been adopted.

In fact, only 14 adoptions took place in the last two years, but they have been open adoptions or kinship adoptions which is where a person or a couple would adopt a relative's child.

So with 800 or so children in the system, why are they not being matched with parents on the waiting list? According to Humphrey, while there is a pool of potential parents, there isn't a pool of children at these institutions earmarked for adoption. For an adoption order to be granted by the courts, these children must be freed from their parents' legal rights over them.

But that is changing, according to the legal services manager at the children's authority, Sharlene Jaggernauth. In May 2015, an amendment to the adoption act gives the authority what is called a 'freeing order'.

“What that now does is that a mother can walk in and indicate that she's willing to place her child for adoption and once certain legislative and statutory conditions are met we can free the child and that's how a pool can be created, but this system is a new thing,” Jaggernauth explains. “The legislation does provide for us to do an assessment for every single child (in the community residences) to determine the most suitable, so that's a mammoth exercise that could not have been done in two years.”'A painstakingly long process'

But therein lies another hurdle. According to the Children's Authority, it is a painstakingly long process to get that child on the adoption list. Not only do community residences lack the necessary paperwork for most children, most times the mother of the child does not want to relinquish her parental right.

“I guess it's because of our culture in Trinidad and Tobago where people would leave their child somewhere and let someone take care of the child but in terms of saying, let's do an adoption, they don't want to sign, they still want that child to remain their child and when you do adoption you give up your parental rights and most parents don't want to give up their parental rights, they want to let aunty mind the child and still say it is my child.”

But that does not mean that the State cannot overrule the parental right.

“The authority can now also make a recommendation in a particular case that based on the circumstances, the consent of the parent should be dispensed with by the court,” Jaggernauth explains.

And finding that parent is another challenge, the Children's Authority said most times a private investigator has to be hired to track down the parent and sometimes a relative crops up and offers to adopt the child.

People want babies five and under

But it still does not change the fact that most of the parents on the approved list have indicated that they want to adopt a baby as they believe they can better mould a child who is in the pre formative years. They may also be reluctant to adopt a child who has suffered some form of trauma or abuse in the past. Recently, the authority met with the parents and convinced a few to consider an older child, but the oldest they are willing to go is five years, and those below five are in the minority at the community residences.

And while staffing is an issue at the authority, adoption manager Melina Humphrey said what will help speed up the process of getting these children a safe and stable home is a change of mindset. Humphrey said potential parents should reconsider their preference for babies. She said there are many children at the community residences who are in need of a family and if they spend time with the child they will realise that they can still make a considerable impact on that child's life. They are also encouraging pregnant mothers who know that they do not want the baby to come into the authority and get a jump start on the paperwork so when the child is born, after the six-week grace period, that child can be assigned to an adopter without having to go to the community residence.

With the new legislation at work, and if potential adopters change their preference for the children they would like to take into their care, the authority is hoping come this time next year, it will be able to scratch some names off that list of 76 parents it inherited from the now defunct Adoption Board of Trinidad and Tobago, and take children from community residences into the comfort of homes with families.

Continuing next week in your Sunday Guardian



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