What you need to know about adoption

By Drum Digital
06 May 2015

Luckily, adoption can open many doors for families to expand. Read more for everything you need to know.

Many couples yearn for a baby of their own, but are challenged by circumstances and reproductive issues.

 

Who can adopt? Adoptive parents have to be South African citizens or permanent residents and aged 18 or older. There’s no age cap by law but some agencies, such as Johannesburg Child Welfare, cut off at 50.
Social workers check if the parent can at least meet the child’s basic needs.

“Applicants must also be realistic: if you’re adopting at a late age will you be able to manage a teenager when you’re 70?” says Eloise Loots, executive social worker at Procare – a national adoption agency – who adopted her son 17 years ago.

A person with a criminal record can adopt, depending on the nature of their crime. “For example, a person who has a drunk -driving charge three to five years before adopting can be considered if there’s no repeat offence and the social worker determines the person is rehabilitated,” says Ruth dos Santos of The Adoption Companion, a national adoption information service.

“There’s no minimum income but you should show you can provide adequately for a child,” says Pam Wilson, adoption supervisor at Johannesburg Child Welfare. Social workers check if the parent can at least meet the child’s basic needs. “They’ll use their professional discretion in these situations,” Wilson says.

Birth parents:

“Both biological parents must consent to the child being adopted,” says Kirstin Stewart, senior social worker at Impilo Adoption Agency & Child Protection Services. They legally have 60 days to confirm their decision and the child stays at a place of safety during this time. Social workers will tell adoptive parents about their children only after the 60-day mark. The kids are placed with the new parents from about three months.

First step:

First find out as much as possible about adoption, advises Ruth dos Santos of The Adoption Companion, a national adoption in - formation service.

“Meet others who’ve adopted, join Facebook adoption groups and ask questions,” she says. Talking to others will also help you to find an agency or private social worker. “All adoptions must be screened by an accredited adoption social worker – this is stipulated by the Children’s Act,” says Pam Wilson, adoption supervisor at Johannesburg Child Welfare.

A private social worker can be found through the SA Associa tion of Social Workers in Private Practice (www.saaswipp.co.za). Ask to see their accreditation.

“Once you’ve found one, don’t try to be screened by multiple agencies. It’s a waste of time and money. Good agencies network with other social workers around the country about children available for adoption,” Dos Santos says.

Screening:

“It’s a child-centred approach – we’re not searching for babies for parents, we’re searching for suitable adoptive parents for adoptable children,” Stewart says.

The screening takes about six to nine months but depends on the individual case. First there’s orientation where the process is explained. Applicants then have interviews with their social worker. They’re told about the documents required such as psychological and medical assessments and character references from family and friends.

Couples have to undergo a relationship assessment with the social worker to ensure both are committed to the process. All applicants have to have police clearance as well as clearance from the National Child Protection Register and National Register of Sexual Offenders. The social worker talks to the applicants about their expectations – such as the child’s age, race, religion, health – but the more specific, the longer it might take to be matched to a child.

“For example, there’s a high demand and not many white or Indian children available for adoption,” Loots says. Wilson explains they match each child to an appropriate person or couple. Agencies run workshops to talk about preparation and challenges and the social worker arranges a home visit to make sure it’s a suitable environment to raise a child.

The applicants prepare a profile book that tells their story, which is shown to birth parents who’ve asked to be involved or to older adoptable children to prepare them for meeting prospective adoptive parents.

Approved applicants go on the Register of Adoptable Children and Prospective Adoptive Parents – a list of those approved to adopt and children ready to be adopted – managed by the department of social development. They’re now “paper pregnant”.

Baby goes home:

After making the call some agencies allow parents to visit the child for a few days before he or she is legally placed in their care. Others who don’t have that system tell the new parents about the child and the routine before you can take him or her home.

The social worker files all the documents with the children’s court in your area and the adoptive parents go to court to sign the application form to have the adoption order granted. The order stipulates that the surname of the adoptive parents can be given to the child but this doesn’t officially happen until home affairs changes the child’s surname in the population register. The adoption order is sent to the registrar of adoptions in Pretoria to be registered and is posted to the parents.

When the adoption order is registered, the child is officially yours – in terms of the law it’s as if the child were born to you. You now apply to home affairs for the official name change and new birth certificate. This could take four to 18 months.

Cost:

The fees cover administrative and legal work and professional services. They range from R12 500 to R28 000 and can even go up to R40 000 if the adoptive parents are paying the medical expenses of the birth mother. NGOs such as Child Welfare and Impilo use a sliding scale based on income to work out fees. “The costs are negotiable as social workers take into account the parents’ financial situation,” Loots says.

USEFUL SITES:

Advice: adoptioncompanion.co.za, adoptlove.org.za, adoptioncoalitionsa.org, becomingamom.co.za

Agencies: www.saaswipp.co.za, jhbchildwelfare.org.za, www.impilo.org.za, procare.co.za/services/adoptions, badisa.org.za, abbaadoptions.co.za SA

Facebook groups: Passionate About Adoption, Adopt And Foster SA

By NATALIE CAVERNELIS.

To read two families' stories on adoption and hope, click here.

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