World Adoption Day
Today, the 15th November 2016 marks the third World Adoption Day, a day designed to celebrate adoption and adoptive families. All over the world families are posting pictures of themselves on social media with a smiley on their hand. Why? Simply because no matter how tragically a child’s story begins, adoption brings new hope. Whether you are an adoptive family or not, you can join us: grab a pen, draw a smiley and post a photo too.
And, here are a few more ideas about how you can celebrate:
Think about adoption
Even if adoption has never been on the agenda before for your family, today is a day to think about it. Ask yourself these questions:
- Can you love a child?
- Is adoption something that you might consider?
Talk about adoption
To everyone. Most of our children are now exposed to adoptive families and they may have loads of unanswered questions. Today is a great opportunity to talk about what it means to be adopted, why children need adoptive families and how they should talk to friends who are adopted.
In addition, anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that children who are exposed to positive adoption stories when they are children are more likely to consider growing their families through adoption when they are adults.
Also remember that the reality in South Africa is that there are millions of unparented children who need families. The situation is tragic so even if you are not in a position to adopt, it is probably not something that you should ignore.
If you are not able to adopt (and even if you are), consider helping those who take care of orphans. Today is a great day to find a local Place of Safety or orphanage in need of aid, discover what they require and offer to donate goods, money or time to help them (involve your children if you can, they will love being able to assist and it will give them a new perspective on their own lives and how privileged they really are).
Finally, if you are an adoptive family, tell your story
If you are an adoptive family, wherever you happen to be on the day, tell your story. Be it with family, friends, at your place of worship, your sports club, the gym or the mall, today is a good day to talk about adoption and what it means to you. Tell what you feel comfortable telling, tell it formally or informally but however you do it, use today to celebrate your own adoptive family and, if you are willing, share your journey to inspire and help others.
How can you find out more?
If you need any assistance with getting involved or finding out about more about how to adopt, see How to adopt in South Africa or www.adoption.org.za or send me a message on the contact us page and I will do my best to point you in the right direction.
Time to celebrate
Happy World Adoption Day everyone, show off your smiley :), enjoy the day and here is to many many more!
Robyn Wolfson Vorster In this two-part article, the focus is on how we as adoptive parents, can best parent our adoptees. Part 1 contained tips 1-4. This article explores the last three. 5. Your child should not remember the first time they heard their adoption story Years ago, I watched an episode of the sitcom “Friends” where Chandler inadvertently told a little boy that he was adopted. They made it funny, but it was a particularly uncomfortable story line for me because I vividly remember my brother and I accidentally revealing to a friend that he was adopted when we were small children. We had no idea that it was a secret, and to this day, I wonder why his parents told family and friends (we weren’t even close friends), before telling him. It was admittedly a different time, where all adoptions were same race, so easily hidden, and for some, there was an odd stigma and sometimes even shame associated with having an adopted child. Those reasons should no longer be valid today. But there are still children that go years without their parents telling them that they are adopted. Nor does this only apply to same race adoptions. I recently met a five-year-old at a local school who does not know he is adopted, despite his mother being Indian while he is black. Part of him undoubtedly knows, he came to the school when anger issues forced him to leave his previous one, and children in the park tell him that he is lying when points out his mother to them (his adoption is being “outed” all the time). The school is in the process of helping his mom to tell him his story, and while it is very late at five, it will hopefully help him deal with whatever part of his identity has been wounded by this secret. It is easy to judge this mom. However, she is doting, guilty of ignorance, not malice. And, she isn’t alone. I have even heard stories about children discovering that they were adopted when a parent died, sometimes when they were left out of the will. The bottom line is that regardless of your reason, not telling your child reinforces the notion that adoption is something to be ashamed about (especially for the child). It also forces a child to build their identity around a lie or half-truth. So, please tell your child their adoption story from when they are tiny. Tell them during cuddles, when they feel safe and nurtured, tell them when they ask questions about pregnant women, and skin colour. Tell them because you love them and because you want to affirm their place in your heart and your family, and above all, tell them before anyone else does. If you haven’t already done so, and your child is little, start today. But if your child is older, please seek expert help about how to broach the subject in a way that does not compound their sense of loss and rejection. 6. Birth parents matter Love is not a competition. As a mom of two step-daughters and an adoptive child, I can’t stress this enough. Your child will always have two families and her need to connect with her birth parents is natural and healthy. It...read more
by Robyn Wolfson Vorster As adoptive parents, we should constantly be learning how to parent our adoptees better, which led me to documenting these seven top tips for adoptive parents, along with some related dos and don’ts. But first a disclaimer. I am a step-mother, a biological mother, an adoptive mom and even a grandmother. It makes me a veteran parent, not an expert. I am also only six years into being an adoptive mom. I am however trying to learn all the time. This article is the product of that learning (and the expertise and experience of adult adoptees, social workers, psychologists and other adoptive parents). But the content is not exhaustive, I’m sure as my daughter grows to adulthood, I will be able to add many more relevant points. Your child should be the first person to hear their story Stated differently, your child’s story is their own so don’t share it with others before your child is old enough to consent to the story being told. In the adoption process, there are three separate stories, one for each member of the adoption triad (adoptee, birth parents and adoptive parents). The only one of those stories that is ours to tell is our own. It may sound simple, but it isn’t because people ask for details all the time. “How much do you know about him?” “Have you met her birth mother?” “What ethnicity is he?” Most of these are perfectly innocent and generally well-meaning questions but they all telegraph something about your child. For example, answering “no” to the birth mother question or “I don’t know” to the ethnicity question can cause people to deduce that you child was abandoned. Interestingly, adoptive parents and social workers appear to have slightly different boundaries in this regard, usually based on how a child was placed for adoption. For example, while it is considered an “overshare” to say that your child was abandoned, saying that they were consented isn’t. Other families are willing to share that their child was abandoned, but not how. Our family’s work as adoption advocates and educators mean that we regularly talk about our family, so we have been forced to set our boundary very firmly. Our choice is to share no information, including how our daughter became adoptable. But, regardless of where you have drawn the line previously, please be aware that sharing information that is personal to your child before they are able to decide if they want that information shared (and to whom), should be avoided. It may be helpful to role play some responses to these questions before you adopt. Answers could include: “That is part of insert child’s name’s story, so I am unable to share it”. Or if you feel that you would like to answer the question in some way, you can even say “I know everything that my social worker knows about insert child’s name and his story.” The only exception to the no sharing rule is when professionals (social workers, counsellors or therapists such as Play Therapists or Occupational Therapists) need the information to treat your child (for example, if your child was born prematurely as a result of a late term abortion or if your child’s birth mother drank or took drugs during the pregnancy, or...read more
Robyn Wolfson Vorster The 2016 World Adoption Day celebrations are proving muted, overshadowed by the election soap opera in America, and here at home by the crushing disclosure that there were only 1,165 adoptions last year. In a country with 3-million orphans and tens of thousands of crisis pregnancies annually, adoptions have stuttered and, in some cases, stopped. While reported reasons range from fear of child trafficking to bureaucratic sabotage, most agree that in child protection, the gap between what is legislated and what is achievable is widening. So, how will the government and adoption community respond to the crisis? World Adoption Day was postponed this year. Unable to compete with the madness of the US presidential elections, its belated arrival is proof that adoption and politics make uneasy bedfellows. Not that we needed any. Here in South Africa, the day was preceded by the Department of Social Development’s muted yet devastating revelation that only 1,165 adoptions occurred last year, a 30% decline from 2014. Revelation may even be a stretch – the figure was buried in a slide in a presentation that the Director of Adoptions made at a joint National Adoption Coalition (NACSA) and Department of Social Development conference. You had to look for it. At the same conference, the Children’s Institute confirmed that South Africa has 3-million orphans, of which up to 1.2-million maternal and double orphans could benefit from adoption; not to mention untold numbers of crisis pregnancies where abortion or maternal care are not an option. And yet, the consensus is that adoption in South Africa is challenging, and that in some provinces, it has almost ground to a halt. This is confirmed by the tiny number of adoptions, which alarmingly may even be overstated. Professor Julia Sloth-Nielsen, senior law professor at the University of the Western Cape, suggested that if the figure had been disaggregated (it wasn’t), up to 80% of those adoptions would be step-parent adoptions. It amounts to a handful of inter-country adoptions and an equally tiny number of non-family national adoptions. As a child protection strategy, adoption may already be staring into the abyss. At the same time, it is on the cusp of an important change to practice. With the Children’s Second Amendment Bill nearing finalisation, Department of Social Development social workers will soon be able to perform adoptions. This, along with a strategically timed revision to the rates that private and agency-based adoption social workers are permitted to charge for adoptions, could eventuate in adoptions becoming the monopoly of already overburdened and, in some cases, somewhat sceptical government social workers. Small wonder that the state of adoptions feels like a threat to some. But it might also be an opportunity to address why adoption is so challenging and highly contested, and to reinsert it as an integral part of the country’s child protection strategy. It isn’t news that adopting in South Africa is hard – the word most commonly used to describe the process. Even impartial observers employ it, usually by way of the frequently asked question: “Given how many South African children are in need, why is adoption so hard?” The answer is that it is intentionally difficult, but not for the reason people imagine: it isn’t to prevent paedophiles from adopting or to stop our children being trafficked; at least, not entirely. The South African...read more
This Christmas many of the 21,000 children living in 355 registered Child and Youth Care Centres dotted across South Africa (and even perhaps some of the 2,000 living in 115 unregistered ones) will receive gifts from companies, schools and kind-hearted strangers. But who are these children and why are they in care this Christmas? Behind the statistics are little lives changed by poverty, death, abandonment and neglect. These five true stories provide some insight. It’s Christmas, a time for giving, and a time for children. Across South Africa, the Christmas trees at Child and Youth Care Centres (which, despite the vanilla name, range from nurturing home-based care to old-school institutions reminiscent of Oliver Twist or Annie), are bulging with presents for children in care. But strict confidentiality laws mean that we are seldom able to find out who these children are, or why they are in care this Christmas. Conventional wisdom says that they are orphans (after all, we have 3-million of those); and many are. But UNICEF has indicated that almost 60% of the children in care are the vulnerable children listed on Part A of South Africa’s Child Protection Register (a register that, while incomplete, already includes 34,500 children who were either abandoned, neglected or removed from their families due to abuse ). Today we get to meet five of these children – perhaps one of them received a Christmas gift from you. We find Themba* in the garden at his Child and Youth Care Centre. A shy and sweet child, he is happiest outdoors, so the football he was given as a Christmas gift is the best present possible. Themba is an orphan, but not a stereotypical one – his father is still alive. Instead, he is one of over half a million maternal orphans in South Africa who are so classified because UNICEF considers them to be particularly vulnerable. He can’t remember his mother; she passed away when he was only six months old. He also can’t remember a time before the home. His father brought him here just after his mother died. The last thing his father did was sign consent for Themba to be adopted. He has not seen him since, or any other members of the family. At first, there was talk of adoption. His social worker must have looked for a while. But as he grew older, his file sunk deeper and deeper into her pile of open cases. Eventually, she probably filed it away, believing (not without evidence) that an HIV+ boy over the age of three would never find a family. That was seven years ago, and this will be his 10th Christmas in the home. Although a “lifer” in the institution, he isn’t neglected. The caregivers are strict but kind, just overworked and under-resourced. As one of the oldest of 45 children in their care, he worked out quickly that the younger, more demanding children got the most attention. It is why he spends his days outside. It is supper time and the children pile indoors. Themba carefully places his treasured football on a makeshift shelf at the end of his bed. After bedtime prayers, we ask what he wants for Christmas. He smiles – all he wants is a sunny day so he can play with his...read more
For the sake of my family and my sanity, I work hard to keep the emotion of what I do at bay. This week it all unravelled over a cup of tea, a cuddly yellow bunny and an innocent question. The week started with a chat with a formidable member of the National Assembly. As we sipped our tea, she confirmed the decimation of kinship care, the dire state of adoption, and how many orphans and children born from crisis pregnancies will grow up in child-headed households or institutional care unless we find a way to fix child protection in South Africa. I would probably have been fine (as crushing as it was to hear, nothing she said was news to me), but I went straight from the meeting to buy Christmas presents for two vulnerable children (my daughter’s nursery school makes an effort every year to give Christmas presents to those who would not normally receive any). As I chose a sturdy red dump truck, I found myself choking back tears. The four year old boy who will play with it on Christmas Day is probably too old to be adopted in South Africa and unlikely to be adopted elsewhere. Unless by some miracle he is reunited with his family, he will grow up in an institution… It was the bunny that finished me off though. I chose the bunny for a baby girl (a child who is the age my daughter was when we adopted her). It was only when I got home and sat cuddling it that the penny dropped. Someone gave our little girl a bunny when she was in her Place of Safety. We still have it. Our daughter, whose name means hope, and whose story epitomises hope. Four years later, adoption figures have plummeted. With so few family-based options for orphan care left, I wonder what hope there will be for the little one who receives this yellow bunny, whose name poignantly means mercy and grace. Last night as we packed the children’s Christmas presents into boxes, my beautiful four year old daughter asked the most important question of all, “Mommy, will those little children get a mommy and a daddy?” I had to answer her truthfully and say, “I don’t know, my Love”. “That is so sad”, she said, “who will care for them when they are sick or afraid?” Who indeed? Then she added, “it makes me want to cry”. Me too precious one, me too. Today, I’ll carry on thinking, writing, fighting–it’s what I know to do—but Kgaugelo and her yellow bunny will stay with me for a long time to come… “Orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend that they are not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes.” David Platt....read more
Or see this article on adopting your baby online in www.you.co.za: Many couples yearn for a baby of their own, but are challenged by circumstances and reproductive issues. Luckily, adoption can open many doors for families to expand. Read more for everything you need to know about adopting your baby in South Africa… ...read more
By Robyn Wolfson Vorster I saw a beautiful adoption picture this morning. It was of a mom and dad, each kissing a cheek of a gorgeous baby. The caption read: “When God made her, he had us in mind.” It was compelling. I found myself looking at it for a long time, enjoying the words, and wondering if I should share it on social media before it dawned on me that as lovely as it was, it was an image of adoption that I no longer found familiar—the child in the picture was white, just like her adoptive parents. It wasn’t always true, I still remember my reaction and depth of sadness when, during our adoption screening process, I read an article on adoption and came face to face with a number of images of white families cuddling white adoptive children (which, despite any statistics to the contrary, were still the norm in the media until recently). The emotion, while intense, turned out to be short lived. When our social worker, unexpectedly ended our final session by asking if we would accept a white child, I was able to say with certainty that she should rather place the child with someone desperate for a same race adoption. I still wonder why she asked (our agency doesn’t even place white children). Regardless, it was a defining moment. In that instant, I knew beyond question that transracial adoption was our first choice, not just our only choice. Nonetheless, I still find myself occasionally thinking about that moment and in trying to understand why this issue is so emotive and why so few people adopt transracially, it is a memory that I draw on. Perhaps in order to understand why people do adopt black children it is helpful to first ask why they don’t. Why are people reluctant to adopt transracially? I have questioned loads of people and came up with two key reasons why some families avoid transracial adoption: Stigma and identity (the deep seated desire to have a child that looks like them, anxiety about their child’s identity as a teenager and adult, and concerns about the stigma of adoption). Fear and prejudice (sometimes those of the adoptive parents but often from other people in their inner circle). Stigma and identity Historically, stigma has been a huge factor. Growing up, one of my close friends was adopted and her perception was that she was matched to her adoptive family predominantly on the basis of looks. It was back in the day when the Government prohibited trans-racial adoption and it appears that this obsession with being with people like you extended to adoption. This may have been largely about identity but it also spoke of a deep seated reluctance to bring unrelated children into the family. After years of infertility, my aunt and uncle told my grandparents that they were considering adoption. Their reaction was swift and merciless, that no adopted child would inherit anything from them. Perhaps they would have reconsidered but I suspect that their obsession with “genetic purity” would have stopped them from loving an adopted child. Sadly, my aunt and uncle didn’t find out—they abandoned their plans and remained childless. Careful matching meant that in many cases, children didn’t even know they were...read more
Our story as told on the Heart Mama Blog on 5th December 2014. Tell us a bit about your family. This year marks the 21st anniversary of the year when Neil and I first met. We were friends for years before we finally surprised ourselves by falling in love. We’ve now been married for 13 years and run a chaotic household in our leafy suburb in Johannesburg consisting of two twenty somethings (Neil’s daughters from his first marriage who call our house home), our seven year old son Luke, our two year old daughter Asha, three cats, six fish and every wild bird, insect or snail that my compassionate children can find to care for. Did you always know that you wanted to adopt? ile Sadly no, we had a long painful journey through infertility treatment before we came to adoption. My husband had had a vasectomy while married to his first wife so we always knew that we would struggle to have children. My son was conceived miraculously through our first attempt at IVF (he was our only surviving embryo) but when we went back to try to have another child, we had failure after failure (four in total) before we finally gave up. At the time, Neil wasn’t open to adoption and was quite content with our family. His decision to adopt marked a profound heart transformation that initially came from recognising how desperate I was for a daughter, and then feeling a bit of God’s heart for orphans. Looking back I realise that we needed the journey. But, we do sometimes wonder what took us so long because when we finally decided to adopt, it was the best decision that we have ever made. Read the full article...read more
How to safeguard your family when the adoption process goes wrong by Robyn Wolfson Vorster They are the stories that make the headlines—weeping adoptive families saying final goodbyes to distraught, confused or hysterical children, couples telling stories about life-altering adoption scams or parents relating how their adoptive child’s behavioural problems has negatively affected their lives. It may make for good TV but how common is it for adoptions to go wrong? The short answer is not often. In a country where only about 2000 adoptions take place annually, most proceed slowly but uneventfully. But even if they are uncommon, tragic stories do affect peoples’ willingness to adopt and their expectation about how it will proceed. So, can these tragedies be averted and what, if anything, can you do to ensure that your adoption doesn’t become one of these headlines? This two part article examines the biggest pitfalls experienced by adoptive parents—problems with the process, and attachment challenges—and how to minimise their impact. Part one: When things go wrong with the process The adoption process that best protects your family involves using an accredited adoption social worker to match you with an available child. A social worker will evaluate your and your family and determine if you are eligible to adopt. At the same time, another social worker will ensure that your child is declared legally adoptable. When you are eligible to adopt and your child is adoptable, the two social workers will match you together. If you follow this process, there are rarely problems with the legalities of the adoption (occasionally social workers make mistakes but the majority proceed smoothly). So, if there is an adoption process that can save you from heartache, why not use it? Well, there are several reasons why many people choose a higher risk strategy: The first reason is that social workers are sometimes not able to provide families with the children that they are requesting. For example, many white, coloured and Indian families are looking for same race babies. But in South Africa, demographics have resulted in a huge number of black children in need of adoption but not many children of other races. For this reason, some social workers prefer to place black children. So, if you would like a white, coloured or Indian child, you may have to wait for ages for one or even employ a different strategy for adopting. This is why many parents opt to find a child themselves. Secondly, families sometimes fall in love with a child (often through volunteering at Places of Safety or other connections to the child). In these cases, the child must be made “adoptable” for the adoption to proceed. Finally, very occasionally, a birth mother may approach you directly and ask you to adopt her child. In all of these cases, things can go wrong. So if you don’t follow the mainstream process, how can you best safeguard your family? Here are some tips: 1. Avoid “do it yourself” adoptions I recently read an article about adoption in the online version of a reputable baby magazine. It was a well-written but rather unremarkable until I got to the comments section which literally took my breath away. The comments contained a number of posts from women “offering” their unborn children up for adoption....read more
What to do if your child struggles with attachment by Robyn Wolfson Vorster Regardless of the process that you use to adopt, adoptions can still go wrong if the child doesn’t attach or exhibits profound behavioural problems. Internationally, this is the adoption-related issue that receives the most attention, especially in first world countries where adopted children are often older or where children have been adopted from hugely deprived environments, such as orphanages in Russia or China. These children sometimes have difficulty attaching to their adoptive families or find it hard to adjust to their new lives. Adoptive parents often find this challenging, so much so that a recent study by Reuters International exposed a number of families in America who have chosen to “re-home” their adoptive children, ostensibly because they were “difficult” or behaving “badly”. When my husband and I decided to adopt, a friend in England told us we were ruining our lives. Thankfully, he was wrong, our daughter could not be more delightful. But I could see where he was coming from—he knows at least one family in the UK who are living a nightmare because of their children, who just happened to be adopted. So should this make you think twice about adoption? Well in truth, any child, biological or adopted, can exhibit behavioural problems but attachment can be a real issue in adoption, especially for older children. However, there is hope. Reactive attachment disorder (the most severe version of attachment disorder) is relatively rare and can be overcome with expert help, while other, less extreme versions of attachment problems are more easily combatted if you follow guidelines provided by social workers and Places of Safety. Here are six things that you can do to safeguard your family against potential challenges with attachment. Visit your child before you take her home It is hugely tempting as a new adoptive parent to scoop your child up at the first meeting and take her home with you. This is particularly appealing if your child is not in the most nurturing environment. But, even if the Place of Safety is not ideal, it is your child’s home and in many cases, the only home and the only caregivers that she has ever known. While not all Places of Safety require you to visit your child before you take her home, this “courtship period” is extremely important for your child’s ability to attach. Social workers will tell you that you need to visit “until…” Small children may bond quite quickly but the older your child is, the more introverted she is, or the more abusive her history is, the longer she may need to get comfortable with you and your family before you move her permanently into your home. Trust your child’s social worker and caregivers and wait for signs of acceptance from her before you take the big step of taking her home. Follow the guidelines provided by your social worker When we took our daughter home, our social worker told us that my husband and I needed to do all of her bathing and feeding for her first month at home. She explained that it would make a huge difference to our child’s bonding process. I have heard many adoptive families complain that this is impractical (especially if...read more