A little-known public service
The Adoption Board: Helping place children in families
By Angela Osborne
April 18, 2004
It performs a public service that is rarely publicised. Every month, the Adoption Board reviews between 12 and 16 applications. However, contrary to what one might expect, very few of these are for babies.
In fact, Head of the Adoption Board Sheila George says that the majority of children being adopted are between the ages of three and 17 plus years.
The board has to take care to ensure that the child is not yet and will not reach his or her eighteenth birthday during the process, which takes some seven months to be completed. According to the law, a child who is 18 years old cannot be adopted.
George says the board receives approximately 200 applications per year, but only 20% of these are for orphans. Many of these applications are from grandparents or other relatives of the children, who are living overseas and want to give them a better life.
George says the Adoption Board is seeing more and more cases of grandparents adopting their grandchildren. Their main reason for doing so, she said, "is to take them out of the country for a better life. This is not sufficient ground for adoption."
Applications are also received from other overseas-based Guyanese who are not related to the child/children for whom the application is submitted. Of some couples who apply to adopt a Guyanese child one spouse may be Guyanese and one non-Guyanese. Applications have also been received from non-Guyanese couples who have been living here for a period.
In 1997, the adoption law was amended to allow non-Guyanese the opportunity to adopt children. Formerly one had to be living here and be a citizen to adopt any child from Guyana. This amendment also allows unmarried couples and single fathers to adopt children.
According to Chief Probation Officer Ann Green, "there has been an increase in non-resident adoption." Persons who are willing to adopt can also adopt siblings.
Adoption is not actively encouraged by the Adoption Board, as it is not in the position to do so, George says. "The process can be done from any of the homes [orphanages] provided for children. Parents wishing to adopt a child can begin the process by visiting an identified child at one of the homes."
After months of visitation, the intended parents can uplift the forms necessary for the adoption from the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security. "The Ministry acts as the facilitator in the process of adoption," says Green.
Once these forms are uplifted and filled out, the process can begin. Within months, the adopting parents along with the child and parents (in the case of non-orphans) or guardians will have a meeting with the Adoption Board. The head of the home, that is, if the child lives in a children's home, is required to make a presentation on behalf of the adopting parents, stating why the child should be adopted. The report also covers what occurred during the visitation: the way the child was treated by the intended parents.
Putting the child first
George says: "The main objective of the Adoption Board is to ensure that a child is within the family unit. [That is why we] rely on the report of the person in charge of that home; they have to provide this in the best interest of the child."
Parents who are giving up their child for adoption are required to prove that they are not capable of taking care of the child. All parties involved must be aware of the fact that the child is being adopted.
The Adoption Board is an organisation commissioned by parliament, which is established after the minister recommends its members. At present the members are George, Shakela Singh, Soroujanie Singh, Mohan Ul Hack, Green, Youganand Persaud and a representative each from the PNCR and the PPP/C. The board meets on the last Wednesday of every month to consider adoption applications which are recommended, referred or rejected.
The entire adoption process takes approximately seven to eight months if there are no complications. The documents needed are the child and parents' birth certificates, death certificates (in the event that the parents are dead) divorce decree (if the parent is divorced) and similar documents for the persons seeking to become new parents. These documents, together with the official forms, are returned to the ministry for verification.
Once verified, the documents are taken to a lawyer, who would file the documents with the court. While the papers are being processed in the court, social workers from the ministry will visit the home of the adopting parents, the child and the child's parents. This should be done more than once, because contradictions can arise during an adoption.
For persons who are living overseas, the board requires a home study from a recognised social service within that country. The notarised documents should be here at least one month before the actual adoption.
The final decision on the adoption lies with the Chief Justice. So on a specified date, all parties involved would meet in the Chief Justice's Chambers to review the matter. Checks are made with the registrar's office to make sure the documents are in order to facilitate the changing of the child's name.
Persons whose applications to adopt are rejected are usually allowed to appeal. This is because in many cases additional/new information surfaces, which was not available before, or because there might have been a misunderstanding of the process.