Patria-Kaye Aarons | Parents, give wards of the State a fair chance
There are 5,000 children who are wards of the State in Jamaica, give or take. Many of the 5,000 feel as if nobody wants them: not their parents, not their family members, not strangers. In their minds, had they been wanted, a mass government-run facility would not be their address. They'd live in a cute single-family house with a mummy and daddy, and have their very own Nancy Drew books and a bicycle.
I, too, was of that belief at one point. When you visit the various homes year after year, you see the same faces; only a little older and a lot sadder each time. Many are adorable and ooze personality and promise. And you leave each visit with tears, it's heartbreaking to know that no family wants to adopt them.
So you understand my shock and rage when I find out last week that there are 250 families on the adoption waiting list. Some waiting since as far back as 2012. Families who have been approved as fit and proper, ready, willing and able to provide a home for at least 250 of these young ones. And yet, not one of the children currently in state care is available for adoption. Not one single one.
The Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) last week celebrated 60 years of doing adoptions in Jamaica. They did an excellent job making the media rounds and staging activities, reminding everyone how adoption "Builds Families and Changes lives". Yet Jamaica, with all the 5,000 children in state care, doesn't have a single child available to be adopted today.
I'm not passing blame on the CPFSA. Lord knows, they do the best they can with what they have. Mrs Gage-Grey and her team stand in the gap as mummy and daddy for the wards in their care every day. They rescue those children from abandonment or physical or sexual abuse, or are left to handle those with severe behavioural problems. Whatever the circumstance that brings the child to a government-run facility, it isn't the intention that this will be their forever home.
Not the same
Let's accept that living in a children's home is not the same as living in any other home. Don't let the name fool you: it isn't a perpetual summer camp with fun sleepovers and nightly fireside stories. And a 'house mother' with responsibility for a cluster of 30 children or more cannot give the same kind of attention and love as a mummy of three at home.
These 250 approved families are not content with just fostering children, and I understand why. It feels impermanent, both to the child and the foster parents, who don't have the opportunity to pour unreservedly into the child because in reality, they aren't their own. An adopted child is yours. Your last name can never be taken away by a birth mother who decides she's ready to play the role now. The permanency makes all the difference.
So what happens when you are ready to adopt and the formal system can't place a child with you as you desperately desire. You find a work-around. Fast growing is an underground adoption system in Jamaica, borne out of frustration. There are many who simply skip out the CPFSA entirely and have a direct link to the hospitals. I've heard stories of women being called the moment a woman abandons a child after labour and right there, bedside, the adoptive mummy pays a small fee and collects her new child with birth certificate and all.
This shouldn't have to be.
I take a cold position on this issue: one that 100 per cent looks out for the best interest of the child. If after five years, parents can't get their act together and provide the things their children need, then I say those children should be automatically available for adoption. At some point a line must be drawn. A children's home may be better than what these parents can provide, but better is not enough.
I am casting blame on the parents of the children in state care. Those who, even after a decade, refuse to relinquish parental rights and give their child a shot at normality. Those who have three or more children in a state facility and keep adding to that number because 'government will mine it'. Who never visit, or call, or send a birthday present. Denying your child access to a healthy, happy home where they are loved, protected and provided for is selfish. And when the child grows up their entire life in state care, you are to blame. Because there are at least 250 families out their waiting to dote on your child. And you are the one blocking that blessing..