Adoption conjures a mix of emotions. It appears as a quick remedy to bring a child into the home for some, an act of nobility for others, a few people think of adoption as “Plan B” while others view it as an opportunity to complete the family without getting into a the travails of pregnancy yet again. Whatever be the driver most parents carry an air of caution, loss, suspicion, grief and surprise around adoption.
Unlike law, religion, science, taxation, relations, marriage, careers and whole lot of domains prescribed at school and college education, adoption has completely escaped the attention of our educators. It is not part of any curriculum, there are no festivals dedicated to it, it is not enshrined in any political party’s manifesto and there are hardly any family or public conversations around it. Whatever little people understand of adoption is largely fed through Bollywood and fiction in melodramatic overtones. Which was the last Bollywood film you remember that highlighted the legal process of adoption or telling a child about her adoption from Day 01? Their portrayal of adoption is oblivious of the legalities and contemptuous of transparency that it deserves. Little wonder that even those people who are presented with an opportunity to experience adoption without adopting a child, for example adoption by next of kin, colleagues, friends or acquaintances – react with sympathy, disagreement, bewilderment, shock and disbelief – as if one is getting into an avoidable territory.
Here are 10 things you need to know about adoption to gain an objective understanding about it and to present the same to your near & dear ones with the facts, inspirations and role models in place of myths:
- Anyone can adopt – Adoption is not just the last recourse of couples affected by infertility. More and more families are choosing to adopt a child, irrespective of their need or ability to reproduce a child. There are families who have adopted without having any children, on their own volition, and there are families who have added a child to their family – already having a biological child in their family. Many single parents are also opting for adoption. The law does not differentiate between rural, urban, rich, poor, single, married or divorced status of the parent. IT does not discriminate on the basis of religion or social status too. You do not have to prove if you are affected by infertility. You do not have to answer why you want to adopt. It is just another way to build one’s family. It does not matter what your need in adoption be – be confident and rest assured that millions have tread this path, and that there is support system available, should you need help.
- CARA is the only legal and safe option – Strange as it may sound, India has two perfectly legal options of adopting a child. The old, unsafe and restrictive method was to adopt a child under the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 (HAMA). Only Hindus can adopt a child. It is a totally private method of adoption, and parents choosing to adopt under HAMA must take full responsibility and caution of knowing the antecedents of the mother and the child, before adopting. At the same time, you need to ensure that the mother or the parents of the child would not affect the child’s development post adoption. This is because many touts are operating in the gray market, in the garb of HAMA. There are several risks of adopting under HAMA, namely, child trafficking, fraudulent or missing child health record, black mailing by the touts, incomplete paperwork and even removal of the child from the family followed by punishment under law for erring parties to the adoption. It must be understood that adoption under HAMA is not illegal. Just that HAMA being an old law, is not designed to support mass scale adoptions between strangers. You assume full responsibility to ensure that there is no trafficking or any other non-compliance to law of the date, and that you are not endorsing a commercial transaction by a tout.
The safer option is to register with the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) on their website www.cara.nic.in where the entire process is online. You don’t need to visit any agency to search for a child. You can register online with CARA and upload the required documents. Once your registration is accepted, you will be assigned a Unique All India Seniority which does not change across the adoption cycle. Adoption process with CARA is transparent, devoid of any risk, assures you of the child’s background, protects privacy of the birth parents and adoptive parents, offers recourse and support in case of post adoption issues and even covers legal expenses.
- Entire Process is Online – The adoption process with CARA is fully transparent. Soon after registration, your home study will be conducted by a Social Worker from the Adoption Agency closest to the address provided by you. Once your home study is approved and uploaded, you become eligible to receive a referral. CARA currently offers profiles of 3 children, 1 at a time, 60 days apart. You are encouraged to accept the first profile you get, as there is very little to compare across the profiles, there is no merit in waiting for further profiles, and there are penalties if you do not accept the child after reserving the profile. You get 48 hours to reserve the profile referred to you and 20 days to accept the child after completing necessary formalities. You pay a sum of Rs. 48,000 for all expenses including the legal fees. Once you accept the child, the adoption agency files for an Adoption Order in the Court, on your behalf. The agency also arranges for the birth certificate in your name.
- Yes, there is Wait – Currently there are roughly 16,000 parents registered for adoption with CARA and just under 2000 children. More than half of these children have a special need, leaving just about 400 children below 2 years of age, legally free for adoption in the CARA system. This has resulted in a wait for about 15-18 months for getting your first referral. The wait time varies, and could be shorter for different preferences according to age, gender, State of the child. Most parents fall into the trap of adopting under HAMA to avoid this wait, but it is simply not worth it. Seek counselling to validate your preferences, explore options on tweaking your preferences and how to manage this wait time.
- Counselling is must – Even if you are aware of the overall process, it is a good idea to seek counselling in adoption. CARA itself offers counselling, there are NGOs and Adoption Support groups who can also offer counselling. Counselling not only advises you in choosing the right preferences, it prepares you for adoption, helps you overcome the feeling of loss, connects you with the child, networks you with other families in adoption, trains you in Positive Adoption Language and offer post adoption support. Genuine advice can help you decide which category to adopt from, for example, immediate placement category, special need group, older children, from anywhere in India or from a given set of States.
Do not be restrained with a layman presumption of these categories. There are opportunities within each and only a good counsellor can advise the option best suited for you – as each parent is different and capable of supporting a different kind of child. Consequently, you may be able to save a few months of your wait by opting a child that is more suitable for you – not necessarily for others. A good counsellor can also point you to authentic resources in adoption such as books, videos, families, lawyers, doctors etc. and engage you in events associated with adoption.
- Accepting the first child you see is essential – Most parents carry a mindset of seeing a few children before they make up their mind or “choose” a child. The child could appear weak. This may be due to lack of attention in institutional care, or gap in nutrition before the child arrived at the agency. Most children pick up health dramatically, once in a family. So do not judge a child by its appearance. Waiting to see another child may be futile as the earlier profile may seem best to you, which you cannot revert to. Also, there is little comparison that is possible across children. So do not elongate your wait and delay the happy times in seeking multiple profiles. Adoption is not about “matching” a child. It is about accepting one.
- Refraining from extra medical tests – each child that is referred to you has been medically examined and the medical reports are available along with the referral. These reports are valid for 6 months. Do not be tempted to conduct extra medical tests, unless really called for. Remember, a child loses up to 5% of its blood every time a new set of parents conducts its tests (blood test is the most basic requirement, in addition to other tests) and needs two weeks to recuperate the loss. Repeated tests by parents, sometimes week after week, cause extreme pain, trauma and set back to the child’s development. Even a perfectly healthy child may become sick with repeated exposure to tests, radiation, diagnostics and strain.
- Telling about adoption – Contrary to what you see in films, it is absolute necessary to share the fact of adoption with your child. Not just because it may create challenges later, but primarily because it is your child’s right to be aware of its identity, it helps your child to discover its true potential and relate to its own personality and physicality. One must remember that even if you do not tell, most likely the child will discover on its own, or through someone else about the fact of adoption, and that will create a huge trust deficit in you. Further, it will reinforce the stereotype that there must be something wrong in “adoption” – which is so very untrue. You will also come across several instances where you will need to share the fact of adoption, especially with the pediatrician as you cannot conceal that the child was not a natural delivery to you. What is most important that even before you share the fact of adoption, you refer to adoption as a happy event. So that as and when the child is made aware of the fact of its own adoption, it relates to it as a positive experience, rather than an undesirable experience.
- Accepting the truths – There are certain gospel truths that you need to accept as a parent, in order to experience joy and bliss through adoption.
- THAT your child indeed has birth parents. Refer to them with respect, especially during growing up years of the child. This is required for a positive self-esteem of the child. Your child should never feel that his/her parents were incapable of taking care of him/her.
- THAT your child will have a different personality that yours. Allow your child to realize his/her true potential, and accept the child with its uniqueness. Given the space, your child will outperform your expectations, in a field of his/her competence.
- THAT the child may develop some challenges post adoption, through growing years or later in life. Do not thrust your wishes – moral, academic or emotional on your child. Your child may live in the shadow of being different from you. Encourage the feeling of difference, rather than trying to curb it or ignore it. Celebrate the difference and how this difference has made the family more potent and capable. Allow the child to take pride in the difference, rather than feeling ashamed or defensive about it.
- THAT the child may continue to feel a void and an urge to search for its roots. Enable the child and support him/her in her quest for an identity. You have no reason to feel insecure. The child will only reflect your own comfort (or lack of it) around adoption, and it is in your mutual interest to approach adoption is positivity, openness and confidence.
- Embracing Positive Adoption Language – Adoption is just another way of building a family. You need to make a conscious effort to refer to it with a positive overtone. Labeling the child as an “adopted” child, comparing it with “real” children, referring to adoption as “Plan B” are a result of conditioning over hundreds of years and stereotypes established by Bollywood and fiction. Make no big deal about adoption. Share your values, beliefs and underlying message of humanity and love through adoption. Make your child feel comfortable with adoption and do not shy from correcting, educating or sensitizing the uninitiated folks when accosted with uncomfortable situations. Prepare your children to expect these situations and train them to deal with such occasions through Positive Adoption Language (PAL). Make sure adoption is perceived as a positive identity by you, the child and all those in your eco system.
Life is a journey. Each one of us is blessed uniquely. Adoption may be the opportunity to rediscover ourselves, our hidden potentials and our ability to love and connect with another soul bonded with love. Have faith in those core human principles and when in doubt, always keep the child’s interest above everything else.
LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED.