Why it matters…

You may ask why an article dealing with proposed amendments to the adoption law has found its way into the Bolander today, and I don’t blame you.

That the opposition to these proposals is being coordinated by The Bayakhanya Foundation in Somerset West may interest you.

But knowing how deeply vested our local community is in following the stories of vulnerable children whose lives have been transformed through the permanency of family care, I know that either way, you will want to hear me out.

What I can assure you of is this: unless we vociferously object to national social development’s proposals, we will be living amidst another parentless and broken generation and there will be few (if any) such stories left to tell.

Simply put, the State wants to take over adoption.

Suggesting an outright ban on any non-state employee would have created a massive backlash: instead, by removing a couple of subsections right at the end of this stage of the legislative process – and revealing this only to certain stakeholders mere days before public comment closed on November 29 last year – the proposal removing the right of any individual or entity outside of State to charge fees for professional services rendered or costs incurred in respect of any adoption may have progressed unhindered.

But for responsible journalism and the resultant public outcry.

Many have already reacted with horror: the petition I launched on Change.org, objecting to these proposals on behalf of parentless children and asking for further time for input, has garnered over 14 300 supporters.

Western Cape Provincial Department of Social Development’s (DSD) leadership likewise opposes the proposed amendments.

It has been difficult to keep track of the various media furores locally, nationally and internationally, but so-called “rationale” cited by the government spokesperson for the national DSD in her media release includes the following:

“fees should not be charged for adoption because it is not a business but a child protection measure”;

“The State already takes financial responsibility of all designated child protection services”;

Designated Child Protection Organisations (CPO) rendering adoption services “may apply for funding based on availability of funds from the provincial offices”;

“Fees are also limiting other parents who are interested in caring and nurturing children but cannot afford adoption fees”;

“The department has trained 889 social workers… to skill them to render effective and efficient services that are accessible and free to all communities”.

I won’t comment in detail, save to say that the prescribed fees that specialist child protection (not for profit) organisations are allowed to charge, do not cover basic operational costs such as rental; what a small dent limited provincial subsidies have made in averting the downward spiral of many organisations; that children cannot contribute financially so it is only when an adult agrees that a small portion of the time spent and costs incurred can be recouped; how the successful permanent placement of a child anywhere depends on the expertise of many different specialists; that the State does not have the willpower, people-power or professional “know-how” to facilitate adoptions, or how the only financially-related word that makes any sense in the context of adoption is the “reward” that lies in playing a part in turning surviving to thriving – and knowing you have made a difference.

I don’t have to explain much because the greatest “tells” are revealed in the media statement:

“There is no reason why adoption services should receive special focus”;

“ fees for adoption created challenges where the best interests of children were compromised because not enough effort was made to consider other alternative care options which include to retain children within their families of origin before adoption of a child by a person outside the child’s family can be considered”;

Alternative care options suggested include “family reunification, parental and family care, foster care and adoption by family member, guardianship, parental responsibilities and rights”.

I’ve spent decades dealing with the obstacles that have been placed in the paths of adoptable children and those serving them.

Why, then, my shock when that DSD’s hand is finally forced by the media furore, to see only keys to the control of children being clutched – and no signs of costings or accessibility?

Because, this is all about brazen control.

By financially emasculating all independent experts, and despite its woefully inadequate track record in professionally providing for children, national DSD’s anti-adoption bias can infiltrate unchecked through its (overburdened and inexperienced) social workers.

If you are an “outsider”, the odds will be weighted against you.

“Family of origin” placement will be prioritised at all costs.

Forget being screened and approved to care – if your origins are similar, you don’t have to overcome those annoying hurdles.

That adoption provides lifelong permanency and protection for the child and lifelong responsibilities for adoptive parents will be irrelevant.

You can choose to care on any short or long term basis you want to.

As long as you are connected in some way as “family”, you cannot be disqualified irrespective of what you have done to – or not done for – the child or whether you have the capacity to meet that child’s particular needs.

What are our options? We could ignore our revered Consitution that places the best interests of children first – and everything else secondary or subsidiary.

We could forget about the importance of the first 1 000 days in a child’s life, the role that family nurture plays in development and prospective life opportunities.

Or we could close our eyes and allow professionals across the sector to be sidelined and denied the right to use their giftings and expertise to serve children.

Without multidisciplinary teams to screen and match adoptable children with suitable families, there will be fewer and fewer adoptions.

While other countries close orphanages, we could build more – and then deal with the next mentorless generation living amidst us once they age out of the sytem.

We have much to lose, because society will implode if we have another generation of children who grow up without the guidance of parents, and who have never learned to love.

But the biggest losses will be suffered by our most vulnerable children.

It’s time to take a stand.

Debbie Wybrow is a Somerset West resident, and is the initiator of Bayakhanya, partner at Wybrow-Oliver Attorneys, and the founder of Wandisa Specialist Adoption and Child Protection Organisation. She has written for Bolander before, regarding the issue of adoption, the Helderberg Baby Saver, and Baby Suzie and other infants.