Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Adoption agony - Canadian couple twice denied in bid to adopt Jamaican child

Published:Sunday | October 18, 2015 | 10:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Belliveau
Belliveau (right) holds baby Areanna in her hands while spending time with two other Jamaican children on the Hellshire Beach in St Catherine.
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Efforts by a Canadian woman to adopt a Jamaican child have left her emotionally and financially drained after the Child Development Agency (CDA) denied her application twice.

Francine Belliveau said she first began the process to adopt a Jamaican child in 2011 after attending a mandatory weekend training session for Canadians wanting to adopt international children.

She said she wanted to adopt a child in the Caribbean because of the proximity and had initially thought of Haiti. However, after being told that the Canadian government had suspended adoptions from Haiti following the devastating 2010 earthquake, she turned her attention to Jamaica, where she had visited for vacations on previous occasions.

"Jamaica was one of the countries that allow single (person) adoption. We also wanted to adopt from a country that we could travel to regularly so that we could keep the child's history and the culture close," said Belliveau, whose decision was supported by her fiance.

Belliveau's adoption papers were sent to the CDA in October 2011, and in December of that year, she received an email from a CDA official informing her that the documents had been received.

The Canadian citizen, who gave her age as "40 something", said she called the agency to check up on the status of the adoption proceedings regularly, and was ecstatic when, in November 2012, she was informed that a child had been identified.

Four days later, she received copies of the consent forms from the parents of the little boy with whom she was being matched.

 

BAD EXPERIENCE

 

According to Belliveau, she was also informed that her file had been approved by the CDA and would be presented to the Adoption Board on April 20, 2013.

Her adoption officer suggested that it would be good if they could come to meet the child before their file went before the judge. Immediately, the couple started making plans to make this possible. The child was a ward of the State residing at a children's home in St James.

"My fiance and I booked our trip that day. We arrived in Montego Bay on April 19 and stayed for two weeks so we could meet and spend time with our little boy," explained Belliveau, who also obtained an official letter giving her permission to visit the child at the children's home.

Instead of the happy get-together they had envisioned with their 'son', their two-week stay in Jamaica turned out to be one of the worst periods of their lives as they were informed by email the day after their arrival that the adoption had not been approved.

Belliveau said they were told that there had been other persons waiting before her to adopt a child. The couple later learnt through court documents that their adoption officer had placed them with the child even though there were more than 200 approved Jamaican families waiting to be paired with children.

 

DEVASTATED

 

"For the two weeks we were in Jamaica, I was devastated," said Belliveau.

Fortunately, the staff at the hotel where the couple stayed was very hospitable. They also maintained a relationship with one of the workers who became aware of the cause of their grief. The hotel staff joined their expanding list of Jamaican friends and they maintained contact.

In a telephone conversation about a month later, the hotel worker told them about the predicament facing a long-time friend who was several months pregnant and afraid to tell her family.

"This was her seventh child. He told her about our story and, since she would not be able to provide for this child, she contacted me to see if I would be interested in adopting her unborn child," said Belliveau.

"I was not sure how this would work but did find out that this would be possible providing that it goes through the CDA. She was adamant that this child would not stay in the hospital after delivery. I told her that I would start searching for a nanny to care for the child. I also wanted her to be sure that this is really what she wanted as I was not prepared to go through heartbreak," the Canadian said.

The baby, who was later named Areanna by her birth mother, was born six weeks premature on July 25, 2013, and a nanny was secured to take care of her. Belliveau paid for the services of the nanny and made calls every night to find out how the baby was doing.

 

NO WRONGDOING

 

"That's no wrongdoing. Nobody works for nothing," asserted Belliveau of her decision to pay for the nanny.

Despite being caught off guard by Areanna's premature birth, her birth mother was able to sign off on consent forms for the adoption by August. An attorney was retained also to assist with the adoption proceedings.

By December 2013, the attorney informed Belliveau that the director of adoption had given the St Catherine branch of the CDA the go-ahead to proceed with the adoption, and in February 2014, her adoption officer notified her that her file was considered completed.

In order to protect themselves against the heartache of another let down, the couple made arrangements to meet with baby Areanna as well as their adoption officer in March. They also met with adoption coordinator at the CDA, Maxine Bagalue.

"When we met with Miss Bagalue and our children's officer in March 2014, the main reason for our visit was to say 'do you need anything else from us? Do you need any more forms or anything else?' And it was 'No no, the file was complete'," Belliveau told the Sunday Gleaner.

When contacted, Bagalue said she was aware of the case, but could not comment as the matter was before the court.

However, Belliveau said the couple was informed that their file was scheduled to go before the Adoption Board on November 15, 2014, but when this date passed, they were unable to get an update from the adoption officer.

 

APPLICATION REFUSED

 

Belliveau claimed that about two weeks after, the nanny received a call from the adoption coordinator to attend a meeting. It was then that 16-month-old Areanna was taken from her and placed in a children's home. A few days later, Belliveau received an email from a CDA official informing her that her application had been refused.

"Not once has the CDA contacted me to ask me any questions or comments," said Belliveau.

After reading about the treatment being meted out to some children in Jamaican children's homes, Belliveau said she is terrified for Areanna and insists that she will not stop fighting to adopt the two-year-old baby who has captured their hearts.

After learning that she had been denied the opportunity to adopt a second time, she secured the services of former attorney general of Jamaica and legal luminary, Ransford Braham, who has assisted her with filing an appeal.

In the statement of its reasons for the decision to deny Belliveau adoption, which was filed in the Supreme Court earlier this year, the Adoption Board noted that the social worker who had matched her with the first child had been dismissed from his position because his actions were considered 'unlawful and inappropriate'.

"The social worker's premature matching of a child with Ms Belliveau was particularly reprehensible considering that there are over 200 approved prospective adoptive Jamaican families waiting for the Child Development Agency to place children with them; some of their applications date back to 2006," said a section of the document, a copy of which was obtained by The Sunday Gleaner.

 

BOARD CONCERNED

 

Apart from this breach in procedure, the Adoption Board said it was concerned about Belliveau's reasons for wanting to adopt a Jamaican child.

The board noted that she said she was grieving the loss of her teenage son who had died in an accident and that she had initially wanted to adopt a child from Haiti. They also thought it was inappropriate for her to have made arrangement with someone she hardly knew to adopt Areanna.

"We were concerned at the time that Ms Belliveau had no ties to Jamaica and we were not able to understand from the information in the file, what motivated her to try to adopt from Jamaica," the document read.

Belliveau, whose 19-year-old son died in an accident in 2010, said she is taken aback by the attitude of the CDA officials, who also ruled that baby Areanna should be placed with the next family on the adoption list.

"We are emotionally and financially exhausted, but I will work 10 jobs if I have to pay for my lawyer because I am not going to stop fighting," insisted the Canadian, who has since brought the matter to the attention of policy makers in Canada as well as Jamaica's Public Defender, Arlene Harrison Henry.

The court ruled in May that the decision of the Adoption Board be set aside and asked that they reconsider Belliveau's application and make a determination in the best interest of the child. To date, baby Areanna is still at the children's home.

"Since then, we have heard nothing from them. The court asked them to do whatever they are doing expeditiously, but we have heard nothing," Braham told The Sunday Gleaner.