ONCE YOU MAKE YOUR DECISION to adopt, where do you go for the correct information and guidance? Most major cities in India have adoption agencies, children’s homes and other institutions that have children for adoption ( Annexure 5). You may approach or contact any adoption agency or Voluntary Co-ordinating Agency on the list for the more information. At any of these, you can learn the correct procedure of adoption. The agency will provide you not only factual data, but also the psychological, emotional and moral support which you will need as you go through the process of adoption.
Adoption agencies and Voluntary Co-ordinating Agencies employ professional social workers whose role it is to arrange for as smooth and untraumatic a placement for a child with her adoptive parents as is possible. The social workers know where children are, and how to ensure that they are legally free for adoption, so that later on there are no claimants for them. As you go through the process of adoption, you will find the social worker to be indispensable in pre-adoptive counselling, in selection of the child, in legalisation, and in post-adoptive assistance.
You are strongly advised not to arrange private adoptions through hospitals and medical practitioners. It may be very tempting since there are no procedures nor any paperwork, but it is very risk in the long run. This is because a private adoption does not address all the legal intricacies of adopting a child, and you face the risk of problems caused by the child’s biological parents, in the future. Besides, with a private adoption, you cannot have guaranteed confidentiality. Any deception leaves behind the fear of discovery, and such an important relationship as the one between you and your child ought not to be based on an untruth.
Procedures and paperwork
Contrary to common belief, the procedures and paperwork related to adoption are not too complicated or length. They have been streamlined and major requirements have been made somewhat uniform.
At the first meeting with the social worker - the intake interview - you will receive basic information on adoption. Here, you can clarify that you need to know about procedures followed and documents required ( see Annexures 1 and 2).
Once your papers are ready, the next step is normally an interview with both of you, and a home visit. At this stage, it might help to discuss some things considered by the agencies when deciding whether you can, indeed, be adoptive parents - these are criteria that have been evolved by adoption agencies.
For one, the adoptive family ought to be as close in nature to a biological family as possible , and hence it is recommended (though not mandatory) that the age difference between the adoptive parents and the child should be no more than 45 years. The reasoning behind this stipulation is that since the physical and emotional energies required for parenting diminish with advanced age, it would be working against nature to place children with couples beyond childbearing age.
Another recommendation: the couple should have been married for at least five years to atleast for the stability of the relationship. (This would not apply to single parent adoption; see Special Situations, page 44). Of course, the number of years of marriage is not the only measure, nor is it the final yardstick for evaluation, but counsellors believe that it will give some indication of the bond and compatibility in a marital relationship.
The couple should also have a regular source of income. Neither of them should have a major illness that would come in the way of parenting or reduce his or her life span.
These are only a few of the things considered during the Home Study. It might seem arbitrary and unfair that someone is sitting in judgement of your ability to be parents when biological parents go through no such assessment. But the purpose of the eval- uation is not only to decide how suitable you are as adoptive parents, but also to meet the agency’s responsibilities for the welfare and protection of the destitute child.
Because the social welfare agency helping you also has legal custody and moral responsibility for the child, they make their decision to place her with a family only after careful assessment.
In fact, the onus on the social worker is so much during the process of placement that sometimes her job is referred to as "playing God" in the life of the destitute, abandoned baby - but one could see it instead as working with God towards the rehabilitation of the child.
Getting ready to adopt : Home Study and counselling
The purpose of the Home Study Report is twofold. One is to provide you with an opportunity , as prospective adoptive parents, to think through your decision to adopt and to have all your apprehensions and doubts clarified , so that you feel confident of your decision. Secondly, it is an assessment of your capacity to parent, and of your emotional readyness to parent a child who is not related to you biologically.
Through individual and joint interviews, and a visit to your home, the agency is assuring itself that you will provide a caring and nurturing home for the adopted child. A dual responsibility lies with the professionals working for adoption: to help you make your decision and adopt a suitable child into the family: and to help abandoned, destitute children become part of your family and gain a permanent home which gives them love, security, protection and opportunities for healthy growth and personal development.
When you approach an agency, you may have a lot of anxieties and misconceptions about the process of adoption. It is the agency’s responsibility to reassure you, alleviate your doubts and answer your queries.
The first phase - an exploratory phase - involves a mutual sharing of information. You are given information about procedures, regulations, legal aspects, the time involved and the approximate cost of the entire process. These costs are normally the professional fees or service charges of the agency, pre-adoptive child care, medical costs, and legal fees. Those working in the field have tried to standardise the procedures where possible so that you gain uniform and systematic information. Besides this, the social worker seeks some basic information from you by which to assess whether you meet the agency’s criteria of age, duration of marriage, income, and so on.
You are also asked whether, in the past, you approach any other adoption agencies and whether you are likely to do so in the future: this avoids work being duplicated for both you and the agencies involved. The role and responsibility of the placement agency at this stage is really to establish a comfortable, mutually acceptable and open relationship and to establish a ‘contract’ for work.
Pre-adoptive counselling and preparing the Home Study Report involve in-depth discussion on the following issues:
See Annexure 3 for format of Home Study Report
The purpose of probing into a prospective adoptive couple’s family history is really to assess their childhood experiences since these significantly contribute to the personality. A Home Study also focuses on the couple’s marital relationship: specifically, the quality of the marriage, patterns of communication, mutual respect and expectations, value orientations , commonality of goals and areas of adjustment and compromise. How the couple interact with their respective extended families is also relevant in the Indian context, because this plays an important role in the acceptance of the adopted child into the family.
A couple’s motivation to adopt could range from infertility, the desire to give a home toa destitute child , or to adopt a child of a particular sex when they already have a child of the opposite sex.
The possibility of having one’s own biological child after adoption is also discussed because sometimes in the case of unexplained infertility women are known to conceive after adoption and then their feelings towards the adopted child need to be reflected upon.
When you are involved in the Home Study process, this is a chance for reflective discussion on your particular situation. The study helps you to clarify your doubts and mitigate your anxieties. This period can be compared to the nine months of gestation provided by nature before a biological birth, which allows a couple to prepare themselves emotionally for parenthood.
During this time, the agency focuses on the following issues when counselling the adoptive parents:
Most childless couples make their decision to adopt as a last alternative - when all other options to have the biological child have proved impossible. The process of medical treatment is both physically and psychologically traumatic for parents. With medical advancement and the availability of In Vitro Fertilisatin (IVF) and Gamete Intra-Fallopian Transfer (GIFT), couples are likely to have tried many different things in the hope of the woman conceiving. Thus, when they finally choose to adopt, it is very often with a feeling of compromise and reconciliation with fate.
It is this sentiment, and the helplessness that goes with it, that the counselling process might help you to overcome. The bond of love between a parent and a child is a result of nurturing and not just an outcome of biological birth. Once you accept this, you will be able to look forward to the joys of adoptive parenthood.
If you have concerns about the child’s social background, this is understandable in the Indian context. There is a social stigma attached to the fact of illegitimacy and it would help to remember that when a child is born out of wedlock, it is the relationship and not the innocent, vulnerable child who is illegitimate. In addition to this, a child’s social position and religion are acquired after birth, and not from her genes.
Counselling looks at which of the two - environment or heredity - is more influential in a child’s personal development. While heredity provides the potential, it is the environment that helps or hinders the child in drawing on her potential. If a nurturing, stimulating environment and maximum opportunities are provided to the child, when she is able to develop in a healthy, wholesome manner. Behavioural patterns and personality traits are acquired by the child through the process of identification and role modelling ; these are not inherited. On the other hand, predisposition and sus- ceptibility to certain illnesses are inherited. To check for these you can get a complete medical screening done on the child before adoption.
Through counselling, the couple gains reassurance about the confidentiality of the adoption. The utmost possible care is taken to conceal the identities of both sets of parents and to protect the rights of the child and the adoptive parents through the legal process.
Some parents request a secret adoption, wherein the woman poses as pregnant and the couple pretends that the adopted child is their natural born child. Often reasons given to justify this are social pressure and the family being unwilling to accept an adoption. Such a pretence is discouraged. Keeping a secret of this kind is no simple procedure - it would be difficult, for instance, to locate a compatible child just at the time when she is required, to procure a birth certificate as proof of birth, and to keep this a secret forever.
Sharing the fact of adoption with the child is something else for which a couple can receive guidance through counselling. Parents are recommended to tell their child she is adopted, at an age when the child is just able to understand this fact. It is important that the child does not hear about the adoption from a source other than the parents. No genuine relationship can be based on an untruth or on fears of being found out, hence it is best to be honest right from the onset.
Post-adoption counselling services are also available for the adopted child and the parents to help them tackle the issue of adoption ( see After adoption, page 63).
The Home Study emotionally prepares a couple for adoptive parenthood. It is not only a process of evaluation and assessment but also an opportunity to reflect on your experiences, expectations and aspirations.
‘Choosing’ the child
The process of deciding which child to adopt is referred to as ‘choosing ‘. This does not imply that the couple choose one child and reject the others. In fact, literature in the West now speaks against this way of going about adoption; it is believed to place a tremendous pressure on the child, almost as though since she is ‘chosen’ she must live up to the expectations of the adoptive parents.
As applied to the process of adoption, ‘choosing’ is the choice that a couple makes to adopt a child as an alternative means of parenthood. This is what the title of this book refers to - Ours by choice.
A traditional practice in adoption was for the couple to visit an orphanage and select the child they found most appealing. Today, we are moving away from this, and we are explaining to couples that it can be emotionally traumatic for them to see a large group of children and choose a single child from among them.
For most adoptive parents, this is the most difficult and anxiety-provoking phase in the adoption process. You, as parents, are very likely to have some idea what your child should be like - you have an image, a profile of expectations, and you hope that the child you adopt will fit this image and meet these expectations.
In western countries, child selection is now understood very differently. The ‘chosen child’ concept has been set aside, and all that adoptive parents are encouraged to anticipate is a fairly normal, healthy child, with remedial and correctable medical problems. The idea of matching a child with adoptive parents is seen as implying a bias, involving as it does a process of selection and rejection which is arbitrary and discriminatory.
However, in the Indian socio-cultural context, we need to look at the whole issue a little differently. We are still at the stage when the societal view of adoption is conservative and somewhat unaccepting. A couple’s decision to adopt is itself viewed ambivalently. Realising this, adoption agencies seek to provide as much support as they can to the couple. For the sake of the adopted child’s acceptance and integration into your family, social workers try to place a child with you who is compatible, as far as this is possible, in looks, colour and complexion with the adoptive parents. This facilitates the child’s adjustment and integration into your family.
At the same time, it would probably be traumatic and emotionally incorrect for you, as parents, to see several children simultaneously and then ‘choose’ a child. What is recommended is that, during the Home Study process and pre-adoption counselling, you discuss with the social worker a profile of the child that you have in mind. The social worker then uses her own skills and judgement in order to identify and locate a baby that matches your expectations, while also helping you to reflect on the realistic nature of your expectations.
For example, some parents feel they would like a child from a specific community. But are the traits attributed to this community inherited, or acquired through socialisation? If it is the latter - that is, if the child is most likely to acquire these traits through role modelling, nurturing and upbringing - then it won’t matter which community she was born into.
At this stage, it is very important for you to keep in mind that children awaiting adoption may not be the bouncing, bonny babies you might expect. On the contrary, they may have been born underweight as a result of poor pre-natal care, malnutrition and undernourishment of the biological mother. However, this does not mean the baby does not have the potential to grow into a normal, healthy child. In fact, with the nurturing, loving care and proper nutrition that parents can provide, the child should soon blossom into good health.
Your first sight of the child you will adopt is likely to evoke very mixed feelings of excitement and fear of the unknown. You have probably been waiting for what feels like a lifetime for this moment, and you really cannot anticipate your reactions. Before you see the child, your social worker will give you as much of the child’s social and medical background as is available. Our experience has shown that most adoptive parents liked the first child shown to them and this is because the social worker uses a great deal of discretion in "matching" the child, based on her understanding of your expectations and needs.
Agencies normally do a complete medical screening of the baby before referring to the parents. However, adoptive parents are recommended to visit their own pediatrician to reassure themselves that the baby has no congenital or medical problems. This assessment should be a little different from that of a normal child brought up in her own family, because before you meet the adopted child, she may have suffered physical, nutritional and emotional deprivation. Your doctor is the person to reassure you of the child’s present condition and her potential for normal development Of course, the final decision is yours, and if for some reason the child does not meet with your expectations, you must feel free to be able to discuss this with your social worker without guilt. However, repeated refusals of child after child may imply that you are not emotionally ready for adoption and will need to resolve this before seeing more children.
The whole process of child selection is very emotional - you have been waiting for so long, and with such mixed feelings of anticipation and anxiety. Varied reactions of adoptive parents have been expressed, ranging from the unsureness and ambivalence to enthusiasm: "something just clicked" or "it was love at first sight."
The most important thing to keep in mind in this process of ‘choosing’ is that adoption is essentially a child welfare service to the orphan and destitute child and hence the needs of the child must be kept in focus, while simultaneously making efforts to meet the needs of the adoptive parents.
Your child at home: bonding and attachment
Developing a bond with the child you have adopted, and a feeling that the child belongs in the family even though she was not born into it, is a crucial task for the adoptive parents. Having arrived upon the role of parenting via a different process, you may wonder if the bonding can ever be as strong as if the child had been born to you. Remind yourself, then, of the oft-quoted saying: "Ties of love are stronger than ties of blood."
The feelings of love, caring and attachment are not instantaneous; the process is slow, and it culminates in a feeling that the child is an irreplaceable part of the family. The child grows on you gradually and often one has heard adoptive parents say, "We need to be reminded that we adopted her!" Of course, this is not to deny the reality of adoption, but to imply that the process of integration and bonding is so complete that one cannot distinguish parenthood by adoption from parenthood by procreation.
The day the child is brought home is one of great excitement and a day that most adoptive parents have been awaiting for many years, with great anticipation. Besides preparing the basics, adoptive parents need to be emotional ready for the occasion. They probably feel over- whelmed by ecstasy, mixed with a fear of the unknown. With time these mixed feelings mellow, and the parents learn to feel comfortable in their new role.
However, coping with or disciplining your child remains an aspect of parenting that is trying, whether you are adoptive or biological parents. As adoptive parents, you might tend to be overindulgent and overprotective, in an unconscious attempt to compensate, in some way,for her not being your ‘real’ child, or from a fear of people around you pointing this out. You must be careful not to succumb to such the pressure of such comments and remember that your child is your child first, and then an adopted child. Be firm and consistent, while at the same time expressing your care and concern for her.
Foster care for children awaiting adoption
Once the child has been relinquished by the biological mother or biological parents, the child is in the care and custody of the social welfare agency or institution. The law allows the biological parents three months reconsideration period, in case they want to think through the situation and reconsider their decision. During the interim between relinquishment and adoption, children live with foster families, institutions and orphanages.
With the present stress on developing non-institutional services for the care of abandoned and destitute children, many are kept with foster families. A foster family is one that provides care to the destitute child for a temporary period till the child can be rehabilitated in a permanent home. It provides substitute family care so that the child does not have to risk possible neglect in a huge institution or orphanage.
The emotional deprivation and the absence of a one-to-one relationship can inflict long-lasting trauma on the child and through foster homes this situation is averted or minimised. These foster homes are an indispensable part of the adoption process. They play a crucial role in the early care of the child who is awaiting adoption.