From a place called love
Thousands of Jamaicans children parented through adoption, foster care
Jamaica needs more people like ‘Aunty Lorna’ – upstanding adults who give selflessly to the nation’s most needy children.
In a state of heightened peer pressure, a COVID-stricken economy, disrupted education, and marauding criminals – most times indifferent to the devastation they bring to children’s lives – these guardian angels are imperative.
Yet, those like Aunty Lorna, Jenave Darby, and 976 foster parents islandwide often go unsung – at least to those outside the 1,200 children whose lives depend on them each day – not to mention those whom they have opted to adopt full time. For these children, these adults are real heroes, saving and transforming lives, sometimes with a single valiant act.
“I just get total satisfaction from helping others. It is what makes me happy, and whatever makes me happy, I will go to the ends of the earth to get it right. As long as people will benefit and their lives can be much better than what it actually is, I am willing,” smiled ‘Aunty’ Lorna Duncan of the Trench Town Seventh-day Adventist Church, who, for years, has been at the helm of a vibrant soup kitchen in that hard-pressed, yet historical, community.
That kitchen feeds approximately 150 persons weekly, and through church-community initiatives, it has rewarded and fêted hundreds more with back-to-school treats, concerts for the elderly, and COVID-19 care packages since last year. Still, she wishes she could do more.
Perhaps Lorna’s biggest act of valiance, however, the one that continues to fill her heart today, was made 18 years ago, when she adopted young Danielle Cox, now a student of the Immaculate Conception High School.
With that single act, Duncan not only saved Danielle’s life, but also tossed a lifeline to her mother, Tenuke Doyley, who at the time was a desperate pregnant 15-year-old attending the church. Now, despite all the challenges she endured in the early years, Cox is now Duncan’s beacon of pride.
“She (Tenuke) is a beautiful person, inside and out, and when she fell in this predicament, even though in your mind as an adult you are saying, ‘If you are doing adult things, then you must be prepared for the responsibility ... ‘, but it is not always that way, and in my heart, I just could not allow this child to go this direction,” she told The Sunday Gleaner in reflecting on how she assisted Doyley, whose story was published last week.
“’Ten’ was a smart girl, but her background was one she had very little control of,” said Duncan of Doyley, who, at the time, fended for herself while living at an aunt’s house.
Months later, after countless visits to the state home Doyley was staying, and after yielding to a request from the young mother, Duncan became Danielle’s legal guardian. It was a decision beneficial to all parties as Duncan, who is without children of her own, has raised Danielle with an undying love.
“The whole nurturing aspect of it wasn’t new to me; God is good and my [now-deceased biological] father also played a very important role in her life,” she said behind a reflective chuckle. “When she was growing, he would say to me, ‘Lorna, this is a sweet little girl. Don’t you ever slap her ‘cause people will hear her crying and assume you are beating her because it is not your child’.”
There have been only two instances where Duncan said she has had to discipline Danielle physically. Other than that, “She is an excellent child.”
“We need more of this love for our children; and my advice is that if you are in a position to help someone, especially a child in need, just do it. Don’t think twice about it because you never know the impact you will make on that child’s life,” said Duncan, now retired.
In Buck Common, a rough settlement in May Pen, Clarendon, Jenave Darby needs no certificate nor invitation to spread her motherly cloak outside her gang of children and grandchildren living inside their humble yard. Here, unemployment, illiteracy, and gang recruitment are bedfellows, and it is often fearless women like Darby whose keen wisdom undoubtedly breaks the frolic.
To many youngsters and their parents, she is known as ‘Mama’, taking care of all who have popped up over the years for a plate of her nightly dinners or her cornmeal porridge in the mornings before school. Her love and support for them remain undaunted, despite losing all her possessions in two recent fires, the latter days before Mother’s Day, and also suffering a stroke in-between.
“I feel cut up about it because the greatest challenge is that I can’t find anything for them to eat,” she slurred, pointing to some of the children around her and their differing predicaments. “We can’t cook any pot to give them again and that is what bothers me the most.”
“I know what it is to wash people dutty clothes to carry food come to give them at evening time. Many times, I have to save the money to send them to school, but it is better dem eat. If they don’t eat, me can’t happy,” said Darby, noting that rebuilding a roof over her grandchildren’s head would be her greatest joy.
Since the fires, they have been moving from one place to the next, she said.
Restoring sense of love for children
Jamaica’s adoption figures were not immediately clear, but according to the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), as of March 31, there are 4,569 children in state care and just over 970 caregivers participating in the foster programme, some of whom have taken up to four children under their wings at one time. Others have been fostering Jamaica’s most needy children for decades.
In the financial year 2018-2019, there was a dip in the number of foster care homes from 771 to 752. Since then, the number of homes has been rising steadily, said the agency. For 2020-2021, roughly 1,021 homes were on the books, the CPFSA told The Sunday Gleaner last week. Additionally, some foster parents participate in the decade-long Take a Child Home holiday-placement programmes, which have been very successful, according to the CPFSA.
There are also provisions for kinship care placement, explained Rosalee Gage-Grey, CEO of the government entity, as she noted some of the benefits of adoption and foster care to restoring a sense of love that children – who many times enter state care after traumatic incidents that affect them physically and mentally – often yearn.
In Danielle’s case: “I have two mothers, two sources of love, and if I want to be real petty with it, anything I don’t get from one, I can always try to get from the other,” laughed the aspiring journalist. “But seriously, I have two sources of love, two sources of motivation with me always, and I am very proud and blessed for that.”
FOSTER CARE CHALLENGES
Nonetheless, according to Gage-Grey, there are challenges that come with foster care, in particular.
“(One of them) is foster parents wanting to adopt children who are not free for adoption. Foster care is a family-based placement. However, children in foster care remain wards of the state with family reintegration being a possibility if circumstances change. Unless biological parents are willing to relinquish their parental rights, these children are not free for adoption,” said Gage-Grey.
“Foster parents receive a $16,000 stipend every two months. Some parents have requested an increase in stipend,” said Gage-Grey, noting that the foster care stipend was almost doubled and clothing allowance increased by 25 per cent three years ago. “Foster parents may, however, access additional support [such as[ special assistance grants to assist with school or any other expense regarding the child,” she explained.
“Much of the developments in foster care over the last four years have stemmed from the agency’s focus on family-based care and a push to foster care as an alternative to institutional placements. This vision is encapsulated in the CPFSA Foster Care Improvement Plan, which currently guides the agency’s approach,” she said.
Steps to becoming a foster parent
n Complete application form, which can be collected at any CPFSA parish office or downloaded from the website at childprotection.gov.jm/foster-care.
n Applicant should be an adult of good moral and legal standing, with loving and nurturing qualities. Must be between the ages of 25 and 65 years. However, consideration may be given to older persons.
n Applicants should submit two passport-size photographs; two references; recent police record.
n Applicants must also have suitable accommodation for the child and a steady income.