How to adopt a child in South Africa

Angelique Ruzicka investigates both the emotional and financial cost of adopting a child in South Africa, a country that badly needs to have more people open their hearts and homes to children that are not biologically their own.

There are no official statistics on how many children need to be adopted in South Africa but it is estimated that around 500,000 children could benefit from adoption in this country. Pam Wilson, adoption supervisor at Joburg Child Welfare says that her agency receives about 50 children a year that are in need of adoption.

Whatever the figure, its clear South Africa is sorely in need of more people that are willing to open their homes and hearts to children that are not biologically theirs, but this is easier said than done. There are financial and emotional issues to consider and the adoption screening process is by no means an easy one to go through.

The financial costs
There doesn’t appear to be a standard amount that prospective parents pay when it comes to an adoption, but according to website www.adoption.org.za, the fee structures for adoptions are legally prescribed and there may not be a financial profit derived from any adoption. It does add though that ‘agencies are at liberty to charge a professional fee at their discretion. These fees are reflected in the adoption report to the court, so are thus transparent and strictly monitored.’

Adoption fees certainly varied in the cases of three families that Moneybags approached for their adoption stories. For Sharon van Wyk, a blogger who started the website TheBlessedBarreness , it cost between R35,000 and R40,000. She adopted two girls, Ava and Hanna, and the money she paid covered all the legal fees, counselling and paperwork.

Sian Seward, adopted a boy Jayden (3) in September 2011, and she reveals that overall the costs came to a whopping R60, 000. She is adopting again and this time is a little wiser when it comes to costs. “We are using a bigger agency for our second adoption and the costs will be cheaper – R30, 000,” she says.

Meanwhile, Lisa Casson, creative director of Casson Media, was more fortunate and was charged R10, 000 for everything. “Everything includes court orders, home visits and the mounds of admin she did and helped us with. She is amazing and I find this reasonable. It is also cheaper than giving birth, medical aid just doesn’t cover it.”

Wilson says that all organisations charge fees for adoption and it varies in terms of where you go. There are some agencies that charge according to income and this is how Joburg Child Welfare awards its fees. “So we look at the person’s income and adjust it accordingly to what they can afford. But they will all still have to pay the same fees for the doctors and psychologists that assess the parents. We have a panel of doctors and they all charge a fee for their service. You can claim from medical aid however,” explains Wilson.

The screening process
If you want to adopt you have to undergo a screening process. This means that you will have to undergo medical tests and open your home and marriage up for scrutiny by the social worker or agency that you go through. You could be asked some tough questions about how you conduct your home and working life and how you operate as a couple if you are with a partner or married.

“It’s a very emotional process. You have to share every aspect of your life with your social worker during the process and you also have to put your plans of parenthood in their hands,” says Seward.

“The parents often view it as an investigative process but it’s not the same as raising a biological child and there are issues that they need to be made aware of and we train the parents about them. We obviously also do things like medical and psychological assessments, we do home visits, we get references and police clearance,” says Wilson.

While all couples fight, if there are any other serious underlying problems social workers or agencies may recommend that parents go through marriage counselling before the adoption process can be completed.

“Couples go through a marital assessment through Family Life (FAMSA). We get results through that assessment and we go through all aspects of the marriage. If we find any issues with the couple we don’t do therapy and we then refer them to marital counselling and if they come back with a positive report then we would continue the screening,” says Wilson.

If that’s not intrusive enough, parents will have to do a full medical examination too. But luckily if there is something picked up during these tests it doesn’t always automatically prevent a parent from going ahead with the adoption process.

“What normally happens if there is something that can be controlled by medication, our doctors will send them back to their own doctors for the problem to be managed and then they come back to our doctors for a reassessment. But this doesn’t exclude you, unless we find the condition cannot be controlled or have something serious that will affect lifespan,” says Wilson.

According to Wilson police clearance certificates can take about six to eight weeks to obtain. However, when it comes to clearance from the child protection register things can take a while longer. “Remember that many people that work with children, e.g. nurses, teachers, police have to be cleared by that register and there is a backlog currently. So it does delay things. They are trying really hard to get it under control but they need more people to run it.

“However, these things can take place while the screening takes place so it can run concurrently. Screening, if everything can go smoothly, can take about five months usually,” says Wilson.

Choosing your child
When it comes to adopting a child in South Africa, parents do have a choice when it comes to age, sex and race of the baby. However, the catch is that the more specific they are the longer it will take the social worker or agency to match the child according to the parents’ requirements.

If adopting a child of the same race is important to you, you also land the chance of restricting yourself with the number of agencies willing to deal with you. “Race does come into it and in SA we have a unique situation where we have very few white, coloured and Indian children [that are put up for adoption]. At our agency we don’t accept any white couples that are looking to adopt white children. We only accept those who want to do transracial adoption,” explains Wilson.

What happens if it doesn’t ‘work out’?
This year a very sad case hit the headlines in South Africa, when a Krugersdorp couple approached the North Gauteng High Court to get the Ministry of Social Development to allow them to rescind an adoption of a child they adopted and raised for five years.

The child, who has not been named, is now 13, and has been put in a place of safety for almost four years after his adoptive parents could not cope with his behaviour, reported the Independent Online in ‘Take back this child‘. In court papers the couple reported that the child had attempted suicide, displayed aggression and violence, inappropriate sexual behaviour and had emotionally blackmailed them. He’d also killed animals.

Wilson admits this is a sad case but points out that rescinding of adoption can only be done in the first two years. There are three ways an adoption can be rescinded: the child can apply to have it rescinded, the parents of the child can apply or the adoptive parents can apply.

“It has to be done in the best interests of the child and for very specific reasons, usually because things weren’t done properly at the time of the adoption. So if everything has been done legally and all procedures have been followed it’s not that easy to rescind an adoption,” says Wilson.

Wilson says that parents cannot try to get out of adoption simply because the child is acting up or has become naughty. “We often have calls from parents calling in and saying that the child is now naughty and they don’t want the child anymore and unfortunately when you adopt a child it is now yours legally as if it was born to you. You are the parent of that child forever.

“What we normally say to people that have difficulty with children, behaviour problems, etc., is that adoptive or biological children all go through certain issues and we can’t all walk away from our children and say we are no longer parents of this child.

“And even if the child is removed and placed in an institution to deal with these issues you are still responsible, you should take responsibility if the child needs new pyjamas etc. You don’t just walk away or cancel it as easy as that. There would need to be extremely good reasons,” explains Wilson.

But this is not the only thing that could go wrong. Wilson points out that biological parents have 60 days in which to change their minds about giving up their children. “Some agencies do place earlier [than 60 days], while others don’t. It all depends on the risk that the adopters are willing to take. Placing a child within the 60 days can be a risk as there are legal requirements that you have to go through before placing.”

Van Wyk recalls the pain of having to give up a child: “We had an adoption loss, a baby boy who was with us for less than 24 hours, when his birth mother retracted consent and we had to give him back, which was devastating and a couple of other close calls where we were selected by birth parents, only to have them change their minds just prior to placement. It’s an emotionally difficult journey.”

Where to adopt?
However, most adoption stories are happy ones. While the adoption process wasn’t necessarily easy, van Wyk, Casson and Seward all relate to how happy they felt once they received their children (for more about their stories click on their respective links below).

Wilson advises parents considering adoption to look at this carefully to make sure if this is right for them and explore all the other options. “And if they still feel they are able to open their hearts and homes to a child that wasn’t born to them then I think most adoption agencies try and make it as user friendly as they can so that when they do get a child that the parents are prepared.

“It is a joyous things to happen and adoption is special. It’s a very exciting moment and there is support out there afterwards as well. The agency that placed the baby should be there to deal with any issues that arise in the years to follow.”

Look for accredited child protection organisations and social workers in private practice to help you. Not all child protection organisations are accredited. To find out who is and who isn’t accredited, click here. “They [Adoptions.org.za] have a list of social workers and agencies that are accredited. Some organisations are accredited to do local and inter-country adoptions,” adds Wilson.

Adoption stories:
Sharon van Wyk
Lisa Casson
Sian Seward