by Lisa Isaacs
Cape Town – Thousands of children could be stuck in the foster-care system for years and prevented from being adopted.
This happens when biological parents refuse to sign away their parental rights, causing the children emotional trauma, foster and adoption experts say.
Sihle Ngobese, spokesman for Social Development MEC Albert Fritz, said at the end of February there were 28 657 children in foster care.
“Parents sometimes withhold consent for adoption because of cultural and religious factors, stigma and the belief that their circumstances will change in the short term, and then they will be able to care for their child themselves,” he said.
Eloise Loots, a social worker at adoption assistance organisation Procare, said when children were removed from biological parents’ homes, many parents were unwilling to co-operate or consider putting their children up for adoption.
“Many of these parents don’t see that their life circumstances may not be in the best interests of the child. For some it is a case of: ‘This is my child, how can someone else take care of my child’,” she said.
In some cases, Loots said, foster parents would prefer to foster a child with the aim of adopting them, a process they felt was within their control, instead of using adoption services where they were screened and matched with a child.
“They would rather identify a child, take them in as a foster child and decide if this will work out. If it doesn’t work, then the child is moved. They often identify a child they feel they fall in love with… and the child is not adoptable.”
Foster parents could pursue adoption through the courts, taking years as social workers needed to assess what was best for the child.
Ngobese said the Children’s Court dispensed of parental responsibilities and rights of parents when they were unreasonably withholding consent for adoption.
“It can cause a lot of heartache and trauma. The child develops a need to protect themselves. They shut off and don’t trust people,” Loots said.
Melody Inglis, social work supervisor at the Cape Flats Development Association, said the organisation would see one or two adoptions a year, with dozens of new cases in their offices each month, including those of children removed from homes where there was abuse or neglect. In March they received 36 cases.
Children were fostered for different time frames and biological parents given the chance to improve their circumstances, Inglis said. If they could not, the child was again fostered. If the same foster family was unable to accommodate the child, another suitable home was found, said Inglis.
After two years, foster parents could adopt a child, but if the child’s biological parents had not signed away their parental rights, they faced a lengthy court battle.
Child rights NGO Molo Songololo director Patrick Solomons said: “To give up parental rights is not easy. Some children are in foster care for many years. It can cause stress and anxiety; some feel they don’t fit into their family environment.
“They may feel isolated and marginalised. Some feel they are a throwaway child.”