Opinion by: The National Adoption Coalition
The Department of Social Development’s recent media statement that it wants its social workers to provide adoption services in a bid to “curb the high cost of adoptions and make it easier for ordinary families to adopt children” is deeply concerning at its core. Not because of its intention to train and skill government social workers in the specialised adoption practice – this is to be lauded as indeed there is a shortage - but because the spirit in which such an announcement was made is deeply harmful and dishonest in its treatment of child protection organisations and social workers in private practice.
DSDS’s statement that 'Adoption Agencies charge no less than R100,000 to manage the adoption process of a single child", is both irresponsible and inaccurate. Not only is it untrue, but it paints Child Protection Organisations who do exceptionally important work in an unfairly poor light. More fundamentally, it can only discourage people from considering adoptions, possibly waiting for the DSD to provide “free and cheap” adoptions, while millions of orphans remain in orphanages and far from the ideal circumstances of a loving parental home and family.
The primary losers in this political fracas are the millions (not thousands!) of adoptable children who will be left without any hope of a loving home due to bureaucratic red tape and political posturing. Evidence of this is already clear in the unintended consequences of the Children’s Act implemented in 2005, which has seen a 30% drop in adoptions in a country with about 5.4 million orphans since its implementation. Currently less than 1600 adoptions are taking place annually. When you do the sums, it becomes frightening, if not insurmountable in the current status-quo.
Some incredibly important realities need to be put on the table, and the Department of Social Development would do well to acknowledge the important work done by all the role players and the importance of collaboration in working towards our single most important purpose – child protection and loving families for our orphans.
Here are the facts:
· The Children's Act 38/2005 actually makes provision for the payment of fees in respect of an adoption to a Child Protection Organization. These fees are regulated in terms of Regulation 107 of the Children's Act.
· The fees are not however legislated for in respect of accredited adoption social workers in private practice. The National Adoption Coalition, a mandated body of adoption service providers, has been consistently lobbying the Department of Social Development to give attention to the regulation of the fees in respect of adoption social workers in private practice to bring it in line with those of Child Protection Organizations.
· More importantly, given the fact that adoption fees are regulated by the Department of Social Development, it would be difficult for a Child Protection Organization to charge R100k for a single adoption. All adoption reports are canalized through the Department of Social Development before an adoption can be finalized in court. The fees paid in respect of an adoption need to be declared in a formal report and if the Department have picked up that some agencies are charging R100k, why have they not investigated such outrageous fees being charged by organisations? If unusually high fees are charged by certain organisations, then such specific cases should be dealt with by DSD swiftly.
· To indicate that organizations can charge this amount for an adoption really discredits all the good work being done by so many Child Protection Organizations who also specialize in processing adoptions. This should not be about an “us and them” situation, and working together as a collaborative is critical to resolve the many onerous challenges we face as a cohesive voice.
· Most Child Protection Organizations work on a sliding scale and accept applicants from all walks of life, including people from rural areas, domestic workers and cleaners. In fact the fee paid in these instances is minimal and does not preclude anyone who has a genuine desire to adopt a child, and who is found to wholly competent.
· There are entirely valid and important reasons for some fees to be charged – and these are steeped in the reality of the situation. Fees vary between adoption social workers and CPO’s, ranging between R5000 to R20 000 for a national adoption. These fees are dependent on how much is subsidised by the DSD and the amount of work required to finalise an adoption in SA – an intensive process that requires skilled and experienced people. The fees are derived from the costs of detailed assessments, pre-adoption workshops and preparation, counselling, administrative fees (often involving months of work), court preparation, legal documentation and court reports, ongoing consultation with DSD at both a provincial and national level, medical fees, and so on. All the while, these children are taken care of, clothed, fed, kept healthy and homed by dedicated caregivers – none of which is without cost and none of which are included in the adoption fees.
DSDs statement that adoptions will be ‘cheaper and easier’ when government social workers are also able to process adoptions is entirely misleading. What Government should rather have been putting out there, is that once Government social workers are able to process adoptions, it will open up a new option for prospective adopters wishing to adopt, but that it works hand in hand with all the other role players in the adoption community, who also provide an excellent service to help people with the adoption process.
The National Adoption Coalition is constantly trying to recruit adoptive parents in what is a national crisis. Putting out a false message that it costs R100,000 to adopt is wholly counter-productive and irresponsible, as it discourages anyone from coming forward to adopt. Adopting a child is a life changing and lifelong decision with enormous responsibilities – at all times child protection and putting the interests of children first are paramount before all other considerations. It seems inconceivable that the Department responsible for accrediting adoption service providers would want to discredit a community of organisations who do incredibly important work, who assist Government with training and skills transfer for their own social workers, and we can hopefully out these statement down to poorly conceived notions and statement by an individual who has possible not considered the long term unintended consequences of such statements.Adoption is a specialised service, which means that people who provide these services must be accredited to ensure that the best interests of the child are protected. Many parents who have worked through a social worker who was not specialised have found that the adoption requirements were not properly met. If government social workers are trained in this field, it would assist with the shortage of specialised adoption social workers, but it could not be done successfully without the support and skills transfer from specialists in private practice and dedicated child protection organisations.