We have seen the happy pictures of families and have heard the emotive stories, but how does it actually work? If we want to adopt, how do we go from where we are now to having a baby in our arms? To help us understand the reality of adoption and all it entails, we take a look at two families and their journey through the process of adoption.
How long did the entire process take, from beginning to end? Was the process easy?
(Izelle) We decided to work with Impilo Adoption Agency. We visited them one day when they were having a fund-raiser. We were very unsure of how to get the process started. Thankfully, they had probably heard all the awkward introductory questions before and they directed us to make an appointment.
The process from first appointment to having Liboko move in with us took about nine months. It took two-and-a-half years to finalise all the legal paperwork and to get her birth certificate.
(Cece) The process took a year until completion of the first phase, which is the assessment. Now I am just waiting for a baby to be matched to me. It was an extremely easy process. I went through Joburg Child Welfare. My social worker has been really great, and she made it quite a stress-free process for me. The costs were just under R7 000.
What has your greatest challenge been up to this point?
(Izelle) I felt completely out of my depth. The adoptive mother needs a lot of support from other mothers, family and friends. Even if the support structure has no experience in adoption, it is vital for the mother to be supported. The adoptive mother is a new mother in every sense of the word, but also a person who is experiencing emotional agony trying to make sense of countless aspects of her new life, which she possibly did not expect. One of these things for us has been a few health issues we have had to face with Liboko, due to her premature birth.
(CeCe) My greatest challenge has been accepting that I cannot be 100% ready. I went through a phase of thinking my house was not big enough, I’m too old, I’m not rich enough, I’m not patient enough, etc. But interacting with my nieces and nephew has taught me that you absolutely cannot be 100% ready. As long as the foundation is set, it is a day-by-day process. Now that I have accepted that, I am ready.
From your journey, what advice would you give to others looking to adopt?
(Izelle) You need to build up a strong support network! Become active in the adoption circles of society and try to link up with other adoptive parents, even while you are just contemplating adoption – their experience and advice is invaluable. You cannot be too prepared – do workshops and find out about other resources available to prospective adoptive parents. Don’t let fear stop you from adopting! It is a challenging and lifelong decision, but you will change a child’s life who, in turn, will change yours.
I would also throw a huge party – a baby shower/homecoming party – as soon as the baby arrives at their new home. I regret that we did not do this. The child had been living in temporary care and has now come home – celebrate the life, the change, the glory of the moment, just as you celebrate the birth of a child!
(CeCe) Deciding to adopt is a personal decision. If it is something in your heart, go ahead and do it. You can be a part of something wonderful!
Looking at the lives of these two families, we have been allowed a very real and personal glimpse of their journey through the adoption process. Adoption may be something you are thinking about and although every experience is unique, there are a few fundamentals that one should put into place. Pam Wilson, a Joburg-based social worker, says that all prospective adopters are required to go through a screening process, which involves the filling in various forms, attending an orientation meeting, interviews with a social worker, a full medical with a doctor on our medical panel, a psychological assessment and a marriage assessment (if married or in a committed relationship).
Furthermore, one can expect a home visit and will need clearance from Part B of the Child Protection Register, as well as character references. Pam expresses that this process is not as daunting as it may sound, as it can be undertaken over a period of time, and many prospective adopters actually enjoy the process of learning more about themselves. The process is also a way of the social worker getting to know the adopters and to understand their expectations regarding the child they wish to adopt. In addition, it is a process of preparing the prospective adoptive parents for the adoption.
Fees are charged for all adoptions and these can vary between adoption agencies, but most fees are charged on a sliding scale according to income and are designed not to exclude anyone from adopting. Lawyers are not necessary in an adoption process, as only accredited social workers are legally allowed to oversee an adoption.
According to Wilson, the stigma of the adoption of a non-related child in the black community still exists, and this frequently prevents many couples coming forward to adopt. This stigma exists due to a belief that the ancestors will be angered if a child who is not related by blood is brought into a family. Oftentimes, the informal adoption of a child from within the family is the preferred option. However, many young, upwardly mobile black couples are now rejecting many of these traditional practices in favour of adopting a non-related child, who will be their child forever. Recently, the National Adoption Coalition has been running campaigns to spread the awareness of adoption into all communities and to help break down some of these cultural beliefs, with the aim of encouraging more people to come forward to adopt.
South Africa has long been known as a ‘fatherless society’, and unfortunately our nation is also becoming a parentless society. Greater awareness and education are critical in destigmatising adoption and highlighting the desperate need for it. As individuals, we often think that we can’t do much to make a difference in the world. Adoption gives us the opportunity to change just one life –and, in so doing, we change the world.
The National Adoption Coalition of South Africa
Joburg Child Welfare
Impilo Child Protection and Adoption Services
The Bethany House Trust
Door of Hope