Laws of Eve | Can we keep families together?
As I considered the topic for this week's article, I reflected on my last visit to the St Catherine Parish Court in Spanish Town, when the judge said that court was off to a late start because she had been hearing adoption applications in her chambers. That announcement immediately lifted my mood. I was very happy for the children who will now have permanent homes with families that are ready to receive them.
Today, I consider adoption from a different perspective. For every child that is adopted, where are the parents with whom they will no longer connect? Is it right that they will miss the opportunity to shape the lives of their children?
I read two articles on the guardian.com that brought sharply into focus some of the heartbreaking stories that precede the happy adoption stories - How to stop record numbers of children going into care? Help their mothers and How poverty, care and adoption are related. Although the setting in those articles is the United Kingdom, little in the script would be rewritten for the stories to be told in Jamaica.
A 23-year-old woman had been sexually abused by her stepfather and stepbrothers. She eventually entered state care as a teenager before being placed in 11 different foster homes over an 18-month period. She mothered two children, both of whom were removed from her care and put up for adoption.
The criticisms about the handling of the case were captured in the judgment - (A Local Authority v The Mother and G (a child, by her guardian) BS17C00707 - that began with these words: "This is a desperately sad case where, for the second time in six months, this mother faces the loss to adoption of a child that she loves deeply. Her grief is very apparent. This is yet another truly wretched public law case. It is also yet another case of a young mother with a background in which she has experienced extreme abuse and deprivation, whom, I am told by everyone involved in this case, has not been offered therapeutic support."
The writer argued that poverty is the underlying issue that leads to mothers being deemed unfit, and their children being placed in state care. It continued with reference to the dossier, Suffer the Little Children and their Mothers to say, "the mothers whose children were adopted were all on low incomes, half had been teenage mothers; half were women of colour; half were survivors of rape or domestic violence. One mother with a learning disability, had her first child adopted at birth, never given a chance to care; a young couple who asked for advice about a mark on one of their children's face, ended up in the high court without a lawyer unable to stop their adoption; a woman raped by the children's father (who was convicted) was accused of failing to protect them, and the children were adopted by strangers in preference to their grandparents."
The search for a comprehensive report on the Jamaican Child Development Agency's website as to the number of children in state care, the number of children who were adopted or placed in foster care showed that the last such report was posted in 2008. Since then, several articles have been published with reference to the need for the adoption laws to be reviewed and revised. When will the waiting cease?
Most important for me, however, is the issue of whether the state provides enough assistance, counselling and treatment for parents to help them to keep their families together and avoid increasing the number of children in state care.