Sherry Ann McGregor, Contributor
I have spent the last week getting more closely acquainted with the adoption process in Jamaica; and I wish that I had emerged feeling encouraged that the children in need of care in this country have good prospects of finding permanent homes with loving families.
Unfortunately, instead, I feel that successful adopters are the ones who have the will and power to fight, and manage to endure the battle to help a child.
A story I read on yahoo.com about a 15-year-old African-American boy from Florida, who has been in foster care his entire life, inspired me to write this article. That article said that the young boy had ended up in foster care, because he was born while his mother was in prison. She has since died.
With the help of his case worker, the young boy visited a Baptist church in Florida to appeal for someone to adopt him and make him a part of their family. Although his story has received significant traction, there is no report that anyone has made an application to adopt him.
The article focused on the fact that the statistics do not support the boy's chances of being adopted. It stated that, of the 400,000 children in foster care last year, only 52,000 were adopted, and most of the number in foster care are either black or Hispanic.
Last year, there were reportedly 5,736 children in state care in Jamaica, and there were just over 900 foster families. I have not found any information to confirm the total number of children who were adopted in Jamaica last year, but the website adoption.state.gov shows that 43 children were adopted from Jamaica to the United States. A 2010 Gleaner article, stated that 1,537 children were legally adopted in Jamaica between 2000 and 2008. The average was about 171 per year. Is this enough?
I frequently receive enquiries from persons who are interested in adopting Jamaican children, but who are wary of embarking on a path that may lead to heartbreak. Far too often stories are told of cases in which frustrated prospective adopters abandon the process in despair. In other cases, the adoption process remains incomplete and the children merely continue to reside with the adopters, because the road to complete the legal adoption process seems never-ending.
Concern is expressed that the system is not designed to encourage adoptions. In fact, some prospective adopters lament the slow pace at which information is shared with them regarding their case, leading them to wonder if there is a genuine desire to have the children removed to homes and families which are better suited for their needs.
While many adoptions involve persons who are unconnected, there are many, many children whose extended families wish to adopt them to spare them from abandonment, neglect and abuse, and provide better lives for them. For those persons, there is a belief that the process should be much simpler, especially if both parents consent. However, their complaints are no fewer than those in the other category of adopters.
The question is whether more effort can be made to make the adoption process more fluid and less daunting for those persons who are willing to make a needy child a part of their families. Naturally, I am not suggesting that the rules be relaxed to such an extent that illegal adoptions can proliferate. However, unless the process becomes friendlier, and less stressful, prospective adopters will hesitate before taking the plunge.
Sherry Ann McGregor is a Partner and Mediator in the firm of Nunes, Scholefield, DeLeon & Co. Please send your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com on twitter @lawsofeve