Giving a home.
Between 2000 and 2004, Maltese couples have adopted 245 children from 18 countries, including Malta. Juan Ameen talks to Laura Agius from the Adoption Unit in the Family and Social Solidarity Ministry to find out what the adoption process entails and the problems that couples may encounter
What do Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman, Charles Bronson, Ted Danson and Alexander the Great have in common? Apart from being famous, they are just a few of the many celebrities and historical figures who have adopted children.
Although celebrities tend to hit the headlines whenever they adopt a child, there are many, many couples around the world who adopt children with little fuss but with lots of love.
According to official figures, 245 children from 18 countries, were adopted in Malta between 2000 and 2004.
While many couples resort to adoption because they cannot have children of their own, in the majority of cases adoption is not about fulfilling the parents’ needs or dreams but about giving a child a second chance to have a loving family.
The process to adopt a child involves much more than just filling in an application form – although that is the first step in the process. Just like the fact that couples usually attend pre-natal classes, prospective adoptive parents are also encouraged to meet and share their concerns about adoption.
“After filing an application, couples are invited to take part in preparation group sessions,” explained Laura Agius from the Adoption Unit in the Family and Social Solidarity Ministry.
Two professionally trained workers facilitate the group sessions. Each group is made up of 20 participants and runs over a period of six weekly two-hour sessions.
Before discussions even begin about the child to be adopted, a homestudy report is prepared to assess the applicant’s suitability.
“The social worker looks into the applicants’ background, lifestyle, support network, strengths and vulnerabilities and the applicants will increase their knowledge of parenting.
“The aim is to obtain a shared understanding of what the applicant family has to offer, the issues that need to be addressed with regard to a child and their need for support,” said Mrs Agius. The social worker also interviews the applicants on an individual basis, she added.
The parents have to provide medical reports from the family’s doctor and show that they have not tested positive for HIV or hepatitis.
Mrs Agius pointed out that this is not a form of discrimination against parents who test positive.
“It is in the child’s interest. Adoption is not about fulfilling the parents’ needs but the children’s needs... and they have the right to have healthy parents.”
Adoption is a long process and can easily take up to a year.
It is also not cheap. The government does not provide any form of funding and all the expenses have to be paid by the family.
For example, adoptions from Romania used to cost couples between Lm8,000 and Lm10,000. Malta and Romania no longer have inter-country adoptions because the previous agreement fell through, she said.
“Nowadays, they only approve inter-country adoptions if the child is adopted by a relative.”
There is also a difference in the price from village to village. In small regions of Russia, an adoption might cost up to e5,000. This fee includes transport from Moscow to the village, an interpreter and the cost of translating the documents.
However an adoption in Moscow can easily cost up to e7,000, as lawyers’ fees are included in the transaction.
Since Malta signed the Hague Convention in 2004, the procedure to adopt children has been simplified, said Mrs Agius.
When the prospective parents meet the child for the first time in his or her country, they take a welcome book with them.
The welcome book includes photos and descriptive phrases about the adoptive parents’ home environment, their extended family members and friends and other material describing the family’s lifestyle, hobbies and holiday periods.
This helps a great deal to lessen the trauma of moving to an unknown land. It also gives the child an idea of what his new family is like and the environment in which he or she will be living. From an integration point of view, this is very important.
Once the children are officially adopted, the parents receive all the benefits offered by the government to parents who have their own offspring, including parental leave and children’s allowance, if eligible.
All adoptions are followed up by the Post Adoption Services.
Mrs Agius said that many couples who want to adopt children go abroad. The most popular countries are Russia, Bulgaria and Ethiopia.
Last year, 75 new cases where filed with the Adoption Unit and there are still 140 open cases.
Many prospective adoptive parents are keen to adopt newborn babies but this is not always easy. Some countries, like Bulgaria, put up for adoption children over the age of two.
Children in the adoption agencies are placed there after the adoptive parents have the consent for adoption. If the child was abandoned, the courts issue an abandonment decree.
When a couple shows an interest in a particular child, they are given detailed medical reports prepared by a paediatrician in that country. The report also includes the child’s blood test results for HIV and hepatitis.
On their return to Malta, the head of the paediatric unit at St Luke’s Hospital explains the significance of the results to the parents.
Mrs Agius said the entire process takes time and prospective parents have to be patient. She also said that children should know they have been adopted when they are still very young.
“We recommend that parents tell the child from the very beginning that he or she was adopted. There are different techniques to use and parents should make use of them.”
Mrs Agius said the parents are also encouraged to
compile a life-story book for the child. This will contain information about the child’s country of origin, his or her family and culture.
“It is important for the child to know about his or her background and where they came from.”
Many adopted children go back to their home country when they are older, some to look for their natural family or to visit the country in which they were born, she added.
One question that many ask is: why don’t Maltese couples adopt Maltese children?
The answer is simple. Not many children are put up for adoption. Although a sizeable number are left in care, the natural parents do not agree to give them up for adoption. In fact, said Mrs Agius, many children are fostered.
Even though 24 children were adopted from Malta in 2004 (from a total of 70 that were adopted), none of them passed through the Adoption Unit.
These adoptions take place privately, Mrs Agius said.
“An example of a private adoption is when a child is adopted by the mother’s new partner. The unit is not involved in these adoptions.”
Adoptions can also take place in other ways. “If a family knows a mother who wants to give up her child for adoption, they can sort it out between them and work out the details with a lawyer.”
After the child is born, it remains with the mother for six weeks. Once this period is over, the child usually stays with the adoptive parents for three months.
“Once the adoption papers are completed, the mother cannot change her mind and ask to take back the child,” said Mrs Agius.
Adoptive parents have to understand that children have emotional baggage of their own, she said.
“They have their own past and it is going to affect how they act. Parents have to keep this in mind, and that they are the adoptive and not natural parents.”
Documents needed for the homestudy report:
• Birth certificate
• Marriage certificate
• Certificate of police conduct
• Health check-ups
• Medical reports from the family’s medical doctor
• Statement of family income
Post Adoption Services
The adoption unit offers post adoption support to both adoptive parents and the child by:
• Guiding them through the local legal process that they need to adhere to once they have finalised the adoption process in the country of origin,
• Referring them to the paediatric unit of the state hospital for any medical concerns or issues the child might have,
• Advising them to apply for any social benefits to which they might be entitled,
• Carrying out home visits during the initial phase of the placement to ensure that the child is integrating well within the adoptive family,
• Compiling post adoption reports to be sent to the competent authorities of the child’s country of origin,
• Referring children and/or adoptive parents to psychologists, family therapists or other professionals if the need arises.
This article was written by by Juan Ameen for the Independent
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