For the last two years, the Children’s Authority has been responsible for adoptions in this country.
Adoption manager Melina Humphrey explained that the Adoption Board of TT handled adoptions from 1930 to 2015 but the authority took over the responsibility when the Children’s Authority Act was proclaimed in May 2015.
She said the authority inherited a list of 75 prospective adoptive parents (PAPs – candidates who are screened, short-listed to be parents, and were waiting to have a child matched to them) from the Adoption Board. She said although the authority had handled 14 adoptions over the past two years, the number of PAPs had since increased to 76, and there were over 100 new applications waiting to be processed.
Humphrey said about 46 applications were for open and 53 for closed adoptions. She explained that closed adoptions were where neither party knew each other and the authority matched them. On the other hand, open adoptions occurred when people already identified a child and there was an established relationship, such as a relative, step child or godchild.
To be qualified to adopt, applicants could be single or a legally married couple but they first had to be found suitable. They must produce documents including identification, birth and marriage certificates, a police certificate of character, references, as well as medical and financial information. A private investigator looks into the applicant’s circumstances, and the authority would conduct home visits, and talk to neighbours.
“We also conduct a psychological assessment, which is critical in understanding the person’s whole psychological well-being and ensuring that the child is not at risk – risk for abuse, risk for neglect, exposure to domestic violence, anything like that,” said Humphrey.
With this information, a home study report would be compiled and taken to the adoption committee to determine if the person was eligible to adopt a child.
According to Humphrey, the main problem was that the authority did not have a pool of children ready to be adopted.
She said people seemed to believe all the children at community residences could be adopted but it was not that simple. She said the children may have been abused, or the court may have put the child at the home for safe keeping but most of the children in community residences had parents, even if the parents were not involved in their lives.
“It does not mean that they are automatically adoptable. For us to determine that, we have to go to each home, we have to do an investigation into each child’s circumstances to be able to determine that.”
She said for the adoption of a child with parents to take place, the authority had to get consent from both parents to “free” the child. She said although the authority was allowed to go to court to dispense with consent, an attempt had to be made to find the parents first.
Humphrey told Sunday Newsday there was an initial assessment of children at the community residences in 2015 but there were approximately 46 homes and 800 children. The extent of the job was further intensified by the lack of resources to thoroughly investigate each child’s circumstances and to locate the parents. However, she hoped to continue the process in the new year.
Humphrey said another challenge was that most of the PAPs and new applicants wanted babies. She said the authority recently engaged those on the waiting list and asked them to raise the age preference and, while some responded positively, most insisted on babies.
“We don’t have a pool of children waiting to be adopted... We have to now depend on birth parents (who want to give their children up), babies that may be abandoned in the hospital, to be able to get children to be placed with these persons who are approved.”
According to Humphrey, other ways the authority got adoptable children were people walking into the authority’s office on Wrightson Road, Port of Spain, or calling, for information on giving up a child for adoption; if a pregnant woman visited a hospital or clinic and informs the doctor or social worker she wanted to give up the child for adoption, she would be referred to the authority; new-born babies abandoned at hospitals; and abused or neglected children who were taken to the hospital for treatment and left there.
Humphrey also appealed to those thinking of abortion or abandoning their children in unsafe environments, to contact the authority so they could review other options.
In August, the body of a newborn girl was found at the Beetham landfill, and in September, the bodies of two babies, a boy and a girl, were found at the Forres Park landfill in Claxton Bay.
“You may be going through whatever circumstances and you may not know what options you have available to you. We are saying to persons, ‘Come into the authority. Come and have a chat with us. Let us explore what are some of the challenges you may be facing and let us help you find solutions.’”
She stressed that this did not mean the authority would automatically take the children.
Humphrey explained that parents may initially want to put their child up for adoption or may not wan the child based on their feelings at that point in time. “As such, it is important to find out and understand the parent’s circumstances which will help the authority to determine whether the parent feels hopeless and requires support be it emotional, financial, social or otherwise, as well as to explore with the parent whether there are relatives who can provide care to the child.”
She said many people did not know where to go to for help but it was the authority’s responsibility to provide information and guidance that would help the person make an informed decision.
However, if the person persisted that they did not want the child, the authority would receive the child into its care and, after six weeks, consent would be taken from the parent.
This would boost the very small pool of children which, at the moment, was only a few babies from birth mothers and hospitals. These babies, she said, still had to be legally “freed” from their parents before the authority could match them with prospective parents. Humphrey hoped that, by making this call, the authority could reduce incidences of abortion, neglect, and people abandoning their babies and leaving them to die.