Mon | Oct 23, 2017

Why is adoption so difficult?

Published:Monday | September 28, 2015 | 12:00 AMSherry-Ann McGregor

Last weekend, I had a conversation with a friend who is in the process of adopting a little two-year-old boy who has already become a part of her family. During the course of this week, I then received a message from another friend, who wanted to complete the process of adopting her 'son' whom she has raised for the past 14 years, to say that I should take no further steps in the process.

The common thread between my two friends is that they have only been able to recount tales of woe and distress from their encounters with the Jamaican authorities with responsibility for handling adoptions. It is my reflection on those two experiences that has inspired me to broach this topic, Why is the adoption of children so difficult in Jamaica?!

Apart from my two friends, there are may other persons who have shared accounts of the difficulties they have encountered in adopting children in Jamaica; so I will share some with you in the hope that the examples may help to inform some of the changes to the Adoption (Children Of) Act.

• All of the cases involve (so-called) private adoptions. In other words, in none of the cases was the child in a children's home prior to the start of the adoption process. This, therefore, begs the question as to whether more information needs to be documented to guide prospective adopters ('adopters') as to what the law requires for an adoption to be successful if the child was never a ward of the State.

• Often, the biological mother unreservedly consents to the adoption of the child, but the biological father cannot be located in order to secure his consent. In those cases, many prospective adopters do not know that they may be able to make an application to the court (if the circumstances warrant it) to obtain an order to dispense with the need for the father's consent.

• In one very challenging case, the adopters intended to take the child to the United States of America, had spent substantial amounts of money and satisfied every requirement laid down by the Child Development Agency before being told that the fact that the child was not an 'orphan' (within the meaning of the US Immigration and Nationality Act) the adoption could not be approved, because Jamaica is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Unfortunately, that information was provided for the first time more than two years after the adoption process was initiated. Why was that critical bit of information not provided to the adopters at the outset? What are the reasons for Jamaica not being a signatory to The Hague Convention?

• The biological parent with whom the child resides usually tries to find a suitable home for that child on her own, because she is fearful that the child may be sent to a children's home. In one case, the biological mother placed the child in the adopters' care pending the completion of the adoption. The Child Development Agency (CDA) advised the adopters to take the child to their office for 'processing'. Little did they know that processing meant that the child would be taken to the Children's Court and immediately sent to a children's home. Within two days after being sent to that children's home, the child suffered trauma to his forehead and multiple bites and scratches. Were the best interests of that child served by sending him to the children's home, rather than returning him to the adopters?

• The State must determine the suitability of adopters, but how long is too long for adopters to wait for the outcome of investigations to conform their suitability?

While I am mindful of the need to ensure that children are placed with suitable adopters who will secure their welfare, there must be solutions to the lengthy delays and frustration adopters endure to adopt children. In April 2014, the Government promised a policy paper outlining recommendations for amendments to the act and the CDA website directs you to a page where it ought to be found. I have not found it, so if you do, please forward it to me.

In the meantime, for the sake of all children who need to find a home, I hope that adopters will not be daunted by the current state of affairs.

• Sherry Ann McGregor is a partner and mediator in the firm of Nunes, Scholefield, DeLeon & Co. Please send questions and comments to lawsofeve@gmail.com or lifestyle@gleanerjm.com.