Our children are our future, but around the world and here in Trinidad & Tobago there are some children who are unwanted and find themselves in a children’s home. But there is hope. Senior writer Lara Pickford-Gordon spoke with the Children’s Authority on its adoption programme and their challenges.
There are many children growing up in children’s homes because they have not been placed with a family through adoption or foster care. The reality for many is that they will exit the system at 18 years after spending their formative years in an institution.
The Catholic News interviewed Christalle Gemon, Deputy Director – Care, Legal and Regulatory Services, Children’s Authority (CA) and Melina Humphrey, Manager Adoption Unit on July 26 at the Authority’s headquarters on Wrightson Road about the adoption process and the work of the Authority.
Gemon said the CA was established to be the guardian of all children in Trinidad and Tobago especially those who are vulnerable or at risk of being abused.
Its mandate is “quite extensive” encompassing receiving and investigating reports. After children are assessed, a treatment plan is developed which will recommend the most ideal placement and rehabilitation interventions for the health, mental and emotional well-being of the child.
The options for placement of the child are: reintegration into the family considered “the most ideal”, foster care, adoption, and community residences/children’s homes. The children’s home system “is the number one placement option” , however Gemon said the CA wants to move away from institutional care to children being in a “family environment”. Consequently, there is a big thrust in promoting and educating the public about foster care and adoption.
The Adoption of Children (Amendment) Act was proclaimed on May 18, 2015. Gemon said the legislation works “in tandem” with The Children’s Authority Act 46:10 , The Children Act 2012; The Children’s Community Residences, Foster Homes and Nurseries Act. “They refer to each other and need to be reviewed holistically,” she said. Humphrey said the key difference between adoption and foster care is that “parental rights are terminated” in the former; the consent of parents must be given for this to happen.
Adoption involves several steps: Expression of Interest, Information Session, Psychosocial Assessment and Background Check, Notification of Approval, Matching Process, Interaction Session (between adoptee and prospective adoptive parents), Probationary Period, Application for Adoption Order, and Adoption Finalised.
Anyone can make an application to adopt a minor child: old prejudices based on age, gender and marital status have been abolished. Persons interested in adopting are required to fill out an application form at the CA. There is a section for them to indicate the profile (age, sex, race, religion) of the child they wish to adopt. “They may say they do not want a child with special needs,” Humphrey said.
The applicants are contacted when the CA is ready to process the form. There is a rigorous and lengthy inquiry into the applicant’s background involving a “home study”, which is a “social investigation into that person’s circumstances” with visits by the case worker. The study takes into consideration both financial state and ability to provide for the emotional needs of the child; and a psychological assessment is conducted. Applicants must provide written testimony from references who are also interviewed.
Humphrey said the interested party is required to submit the names of someone they would recommend as an “alternate carer”. She explained, “If something should happen… [someone] to continue to provide care for the child.” After interviews and the home study are completed, reports are compiled and sent to the Adoption Committee which “hears all matters of adoption”. It will give a ruling on the suitability of the applicants to adopt and “once they are approved they join a list of prospective approved persons”. When a child becomes available they are matched to someone on the list.
The person/s are invited to an Information Session which notifies them of the prospective child to be placed with them. Humphrey said, “Once they are interested we show them a picture of the child; once they agree then we go to the next step—interaction sessions.”
The meetings between child and prospective parent(s) are observed by a case worker assigned to the case. The aim is to see if there is a “good fit”. A report is prepared giving feedback to the Committee on the sessions. The next stage is the probationary period, which is mandatory in the legislation.
“It is at least six months and the Committee has the right to reduce, waiver, extend it as they see fit,” Humphrey explained. At this point the child is in the care of the prospective adopter. There continues to be surveillance through visits by the case worker at intervals of the first, second, fourth and sixth month. “They interact with the prospective adopter, interact with the child, see the dynamics again,” she said. Reports are prepared on each home visit.
The case worker discusses any concerns seen during the probationary period and recommendations are given. “At the end of that [probationary] period once all is well and we have no concerns: the parties and child mesh well; we see interaction, good bonding; we see attachment between the parents and the child then we come back to the Committee again,” Humphrey said. Feedback is given on the probationary period and a recommendation may be given for an Adoption Order to be filed at the Family Court.
NEXT WEEK, PART 2: BABIES ONLY?
Chap. 46:03 Adoption of Children Act