Recently there has been an outcry on dissolution of adoptions- 275 dissolutions in three years and counting. Experts and observers who have worked in the area of adoption note that some years ago there were hardly any cases of dissolution. Dissolution of adoption means that parents after going through a long winding process of about two years to adopt a child, decide to give up the child after receiving a court decree which finalizes and seals the adoption of a child into the family.
It is worrisome on many counts. Imagine the plight of a child who has gone through a roller coaster journey of being relinquished by biological parents, has been in an institution, accepted by a family only to be rejected and sent back to the institution. Such a child would be scarred for life, besides the fact that her safety, security and future hangs perilously.
Secondly, parents who have waited for almost two years, as per current wait times to adopt a young healthy child from Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) rather eagerly and often anxiously to welcome a child are unable to accept the child. Experts observe that dissolution is more common in case of older children who have spent some time (often years) in an institution. Surely, the parents are equally pained by the decision having eagerly waited to welcome a child into their family. Parents’ angst notwithstanding, children must not be treated like commodities. Afterall, does a parent give up a biological child for her looks or behaviour; so why disruption or dissolution. Why should parents be allowed to reach a stage where they would think of dissolving an adoption and giving up a child for whom they had waited patiently. Much of this agony can be prevented by humanizing the adoption process and preparing the parents seems key.
Many parents today are opting to adopt an older child ( over two years) or a child in immediate placement category ( children who have been refused after multiple referrals and generally those children with either a mild correctible condition or appear sickly or underweight though generally healthy) to reduce their waiting period as there are very few healthy children under two years of age in CARINGS (75 to be precise, as on Sep 2019) for 26,000 odd parents who are waiting to adopt. Some are adopting on a rebound, sometimes grieving for a child or partner they have lost or some who thought they could support a special needs child. When they bring the child home, the child does not meet the picture they had in mind for their child or are unable to cope with either looks, language or behaviour of the innocent child. The fact that the matter comes to dissolution of adoption, where parents feel they need to or can return the child to the agency, corroborates lack of preparation.
Under CARINGS, the online system for adopting a child, the entire process of adoption right from entering the adoption ecosystem, registering for adoption, sharing one’s own profile, indicating one’s preferences for adoption and even getting a referral for a child happens online – without any human touch. Of course, there is home study conducted by a social worker, but only a binary outcome of the home study – that is whether a parent is eligible to adopt a child or not – flows back into CARINGs, not the findings, recommendations or guidance arising out of the home study.
This is the phase where parents need maximum hand holding. What kind of child can they adopt, how to give preferences, options available across various categories of children or across states? Sadly, adoption process does not provide answers to these queries, let alone address the whirlpool of emotions prospective adoptive parents go through. Counselling is conspicuous by its absence. CARINGS does not even provide a pointer to other families who have adopted – something we immensely benefited from while adopting in a pre-online era.
Adoption is a highly emotive issue as we bring a child into our life forever, to love and care as our own. Therefore, connection and bonding with the child is a must. It becomes even more important when the child is older, has memory of being relinquished, has spent time in the institution and has already been shaped by life there. In the CARINGS system, an algorithm matches the child with a parent, a parent has 48 hours to accept or reject a referral based on photograph of a child. Many parents are accepting the child referred to them and seen by them, because if they do not, they go down the waiting list for as much time as they have waited. They accept the child, bring the child home and if they are unable to connect or bond with the child, they decide to dissolve the adoption. There is no human touch in the process or stage when they are guided as to what to expect once the child is home.
When we adopted our first child nearly two decades ago, we benefitted greatly from guidance at every stage. Then Voluntary Coordinating Agency (VCA) chairperson guided us through her own adoption experience and gave us referrals of other adoptive families. They conducted sessions for prospective adoptive parents about what to expect after the child comes home. I still recall Dr Aloma Lobo’s vivid description of how child may be sickly when you first see her, but her health would pick up and how her diet would increase and how she would respond. She spoke about telling the child about adoption, people’s reaction and many more aspects from her own experience of having adopted three children and guided many parents through their journey. We benefited greatly from meeting another family who had adopted children. In other words, we were prepared mentally and emotionally through these interactions while we waited for our child.
At the time of registration, we also had guidance about agency which we should approach. At home study stage, the social worker in a threadbare manner, assessed our readiness to adopt a baby from physical, emotional and financial standpoint and guided us. Once we received the referral, we had a chance to see the baby. Although, we had already decided that we would not choose the child and would say yes to the child shown to us, the opportunity to meet the child and connect with him was vital for preparing us to welcome him.
CARINGS has definitely made the process of adoption transparent. It is particularly important to determine seniority on the waitlist and eliminates gaming in the process. It also potentially rules out possibility of corruption in dodging the waitlist being an online registration and centralized database but has become a process with no human intervention till the point you meet the child physically.
No one guides you; nobody helps you prepare through this journey as against our time twice over nearly two decades ago. While we must leverage technology and make the system fair and transparent, we must acknowledge that adoption is not a transaction like passing a financial claim, filing tax or industrial approval where minimizing manual intervention is beneficial. We are dealing with human lives where decisions affect both parents and children in adoption throughout life. Adoption process thus must incorporate human touchpoints without affecting seniority on the waitlist.
These should include an introduction to adoption, guidance on indicating preferences for adoption, references to other families, counselling, guidance during foster care and specific handholding to support adoption of older children or those with special needs or children in immediate placement category. These would enable preparation of parents for a joyful experience of building a family through adoption and prevent avoidable trauma for the innocent children.