The adoption process can be long and complex, so it’s worth knowing what you are getting yourself into, so you can be prepared.
Many families in South Africa consider adopting a child, either because they feel that they can provide a loving home for a child who needs it, or because they are unable to have their own biological children. Potential adoptive parents should be prepared for a time-consuming and occasionally frustrating process. Patience (and a lot of admin!) is required, but as adoptive parents attest, it’s all worthwhile when you welcome your new baby into your home and family.
All prospective adoptive parents must be assessed by an accredited government or private social worker, who will carry out home visits and interviews with both parents (or one if a single parent is adopting). The process is extremely thorough, looking into the parents’ backgrounds, the stability of their relationship, their lifestyles, their income and their general readiness to provide a home for a child. Their names will also be checked against the Sexual Offences Register. While all of these things will be considered, there may be no discrimination against age, marital status, race, culture or sexual orientation of the adoptive parents.
The parents will be briefed on what adoption involves. Issues under discussion would probably include cross-cultural or cross-racial adoption, talking to your child about his birth story and other practicalities of adoption at the outset and as the child grows older.
At the end of this process, the adoption team will review the application, findings and documentation to determine whether the prospective parents are suitable in terms of the Child Protection Act.
How long it takes: This approval process takes between two and six months.
The prospective parents state their preferences in terms of the child they would like to adopt – including whether they are willing to adopt an older child, a child of a different race or a child with special needs.
In a government-facilitated adoption, the social workers place children with their new parents as they become available and a match is made. In private adoptions, the birth parent is given more control, and will select the adoptive parents based on the information that they provide.
The birth parents can only sign consent for adoption when the baby is born, which they have to do in court before a presiding officer. They then have 60 days in which they can change their minds – so in most cases the child is kept in a place of safety until that period is up. Although this means that the adoptive parents lose out on bonding with their new baby in these early months, it protects both the baby and the adoptive parents from confusion and heartbreak if the birth parents withdraw their consent.
Of course, there are other reasons that a child may be given up for adoption including if a child has been abused or abandoned, and in these instances, the same waiting period doesn’t necessarily apply.
How long it takes: The process of matching a child with its adoptive parents can take up to a year, depending on the adoption criteria that the adoptive parents have laid out, for example age or race.
When consent is signed and the 60-day waiting period is over, the adoptive parents sign the Initial Adoption Order at court with their social worker and receive an interim adoption order.
The interim order then goes through the necessary processes at the courts, and once it’s approved, it is sent for capture at the Department of Social Development. Adoptive parents report that it can take up to a year or even longer for the Final Adoption Order, which lists the adoptive parents as the child’s parents, and changes the child’s surname, to be issued.
Once the Final Adoption Order has been issued, the parents go to Home Affairs to have their child’s name officially changed, and a new birth certificate and ID number issued. This process can, again, take a frustratingly long time with some parents reporting a delay of two years or more before the new birth certificate is issued.
The costs of adoption vary significantly depending on the different organisations that facilitate the adoption, and whether the adoption is facilitated by government social workers or a private organisation. Generally speaking, government facilitated adoptions don’t cost more than R15 000 (and are charged on a sliding scale based on what you earn), while private adoptions can cost up to R50 000 and more.
“We opted to go the private adoption route because, although it is more expensive, it’s more streamlined than government-run adoptions, which are severely understaffed. With both of our adoptions, we went through all the screening phases, including psychometric testing and financial screening. Once approved, we had to wait for The Call – to let us know that we had been selected by a birth parent.
“Ava was with us from birth, but the law changed before Hannah was born, and we had to wait for the 60 days before she could be placed with us. We had a failed adoption as well before Hannah, of a little boy who was only with us for one day before his birth mother retracted consent. This was devastating and caused a huge amount of heartache and confusion for our family, especially with little Ava who didn’t understand why she only got to have a brother for one day.
“My biggest frustration has been dealing with the Department of Home Affairs. They do not have the capacity to deal with the complexities of processing adoptions. It took a year to finalise Hannah’s adoption order and name change, with many mistakes along the way. From speaking to other mothers in the adoption community, this is generally the biggest frustration for all adoptive parents.
My children are my greatest blessing
“Having said that, if I had to go back, I would still do it all over again. My children are my greatest blessing. I am grateful for this experience – it has taught me so much about unconditional love and blew away every stereotype I’d ever heard about birth parents. It tripled my levels of compassion and awareness. For a woman so barren, I am blessed with two beautiful daughters that challenge me every day.”
While there is no doubt that the adoption process comes with its own unique challenges, as Sharon has explained, the rewards are enormous. Being aware of and willing to deal with the bureaucracy around the adoption process is crucial, but when your new baby looks into your eyes and smiles for the first time, it will all be worth it.