Kids left stranded for years as adoption officials dither
It's become so bad in KZN that they're being taken to court, accused of deliberately blocking the process
The clock is ticking for a 16-year-old orphan from KwaZulu-Natal.
Before he turns 18 and the law prohibits him from being formally adopted, the teenager wants to be able to officially call his maternal aunt and uncle – who have loved and cared for him since his mother’s death nine years ago – “mom” and “dad”.
The teenager has never set eyes on his biological father, who has also since died.
Adoption officials in KwaZulu-Natal are now insisting that the family of his biological father – whom he has never met – be traced for their views on his adoption.
He is not alone in his adoption woes.
Scattered around foster homes and overcrowded children’s facilities in KwaZulu-Natal, dozens of babies, toddlers and children are waiting to be placed in their forever homes.
Now the Adoption Coalition of South Africa (Nacsa) – a voluntary body of social workers and child protection organisations – has turned to the Durban High Court. They are accusing the provincial government officials tasked with approving placements of meddling, in part because of anti-adoption cultural beliefs.It has challenged the provincial head of the department of social development, Nokuthula Khanyile, MEC Weziwe Thusi and the chairperson of the KZN Adoption Panel Buyisiwe Sophazi to explain themselves and for the court to supervise the adoption process going forward.
The use of a panel was introduced at the end of November 2016.
“It is not only an infringement of the rights of children, but also their prospective adoptive parents and biological parents in the adoption process,” said Marietjie Strydom, head of Nacsa in KwaZulu-Natal.
The heart of the 400-page application, drafted by Advocate Debbie Ainsley, deals with a legal requirement that, after a social worker has completed all the investigations required for an adoption, the report is assessed by the provincial panel after which the provincial head must issue a letter recommending, or not, the adoption of a child to the Children’s Court.
Decisions are taking as long as two years, while in other provinces the turnover time is anything from three days to two weeks.
The department is opposing the application.Spokesperson Ncumisa Ndelu did not want to get into the merits of the matter, saying the court ultimately would decide.
“But in any matter the interests of the child comes first. And the allegation on ‘African cultural beliefs’ is out of line. We are guided by the law, not personal interests,” she said.
Strydom said the trend seems to be that the HOD and panel raise “problems” on spurious grounds.
“They have elevated reunification with the family as the ultimate goal. The panel wants to conduct its own investigations, including tracing remote friends or families.
“While there have been successes in some (challenges) in the high court, it has not brought about any change in approach and actions,” said Strydom.
A department social worker Rose Mnisi told an adoption conference four years ago the practice was viewed as a “western concept that does not easily fit with the traditions and culture of most Black South Africans.
“It is therefore our responsibility as adoption service providers to unblock the cultural obstacles that impact negatively to the adoption of children by raising awareness and popularising adoption services.”Strydom said the impact of the delays on older children is obvious, and research showed that with newborn babies, the first 1,000 day of life were crucial.
“At the end of 2017, the HOD publicly stated that since then 53 applications had been processed; 45 were given positive recommendations. And there were only 28 applications waiting a decision,” Strydom said.
“The HOD boasted a 75% completion rate and said any delays were because of the new, stringent process, put in place to protect children. She said there was no opposition to cross-cultural placements as long as the child did not lose its identity and language.
“None of this was true. There were 74 cases waiting for a decision. The majority had been waiting for between six months and two years. Two had been waiting for more than two years.
“As at March this year, there are at least 38 children who are adoptable, who have screened adoptive parents and are simply waiting for a single step (the letter) in the already difficult process of their adoption.
“In each of these cases, the birth parents have either given consent or it has been dispensed with by the courts.”Social scientist Professor Paulus Zulu said he was not aware of any “cultural position” regarding adoptions.
In the past, he said, there were no legal requirements to formalise situations where children were being brought up by foster parents, be they relatives or not.
“I realise that there are a number of the so-called cultural experts and lots of misinterpretations, some politically driven and masquerading as indigenous knowledge.
“What some of these ‘experts’ miss are the economic circumstances surrounding a number of pre-colonial and recent history-influenced practices. In a social system where laws were not codified a lot of informal transactions occurred without much fuss.”