- The Adoption Board is conducting a review of the country’s Adoption Act.
- Among the issues being looked at are: the right of a parent to place a child for adoption and the circumstances which would be considered.
- Several other steps are being taken to improve the efficiency of the adoption process in Jamaica.
In an effort to make the adoption process in Jamaica less tedious and more in line with international standards, the Adoption Board is conducting a review of the country’s Adoption Act.
Youth and Culture Minister, Hon. Lisa Hanna, said the review is being conducted with the help of consultants engaged by the Child Development Agency (CDA).
Among the issues being looked at are: the right of a parent to place a child for adoption and the circumstances which would be considered; what constitutes relinquishing the right to parent and what qualifies a country to be on the schedule of countries whose citizens are allowed to adopt Jamaican children.
Ms. Hanna also informed that several other steps are being taken to improve the efficiency of the adoption process in Jamaica.
Among them is the placement of additional staff in the regional offices to facilitate the clearing of a backlog of adoption applications. Currently, there are some 311 requests awaiting matches, some dating as far back as 1999.
Chairman of the Adoption Board, Tricia Sutherland, says about 50 per cent of the outstanding cases were made prior to 2012. “The first thing that the CDA and the Board has agreed on to do in order to clear that list, is to make sure that those persons are still interested in adopting,” she added.
The Chairman noted that since 2012, the Board has asked the CDA to give preference to those applicants who have been on the waiting list the longest.
Mrs. Sutherland also revealed that in 2013, the Board approved the placement of 10 children with families on the waiting list. She pointed out that once those placements are successful, the law prescribes a minimum of three months of follow-up before the applications are approved, after which the adoption can be finalised by the Court.
The CDA will also be implementing a major public education campaign to inform Jamaicans about the adoption process and what it entails to improve the system.
Additionally, Minister Hanna said the agency will place increased focus on the role of parents and parenting this year, with a view to reintegrating and rehabilitating families.
“While we’re taking care of the nation’s children, we realise that the integration with their parents (must also be a focus). This is because we have children in our system now, eight years and under, who are still in contact with their parents and what we’re trying to do is work with those parents to have their children (reunited) with them,” she stated.
The current Adoption Act was implemented in 1958, and under the law, any child over the age of six weeks and under 18 years old is eligible for adoption. Also, any person 25 years and older can adopt a child or children, and persons who are 18 years old and older can adopt younger relatives.
All adoptions, regardless of the category (family/related adoptions or the adoption of a ward of the State), must undergo the same process.
This includes the submission of a pre-adoption application provided by the CDA, which is used to determine if the prospective parent is suitable. Following this, a full application is submitted, along with a medical report. The CDA will also provide a list of the required documentation to be presented to the agency.
Documents required include: birth certificate, marriage certificate, character references, and letters of responsibility (which transfer guardianship of your adopted child to another adult or adults in the event of your death).
Additionally, a month-long home study, involving a series of home visits and other examinations, interviews and counselling sessions, is conducted by the CDA. If the assessment is positive, the person will be assisted in finding available children for adoption.
Finally, the application is sent before the Adoption Board for approval. If this is granted, the application goes before the Courts for final approval. If granted, the adopter assumes full guardianship of the adopted child or children.
Mrs. Sutherland explained that the investigations and paperwork involved in the procedure are extensive, but this is essential and in the best interest of the child.
“We do not want to send our children into (unfavourable) situations, so by virtue of that, we are very careful how we examine the data presented to us in reviewing these cases and do not rush our decisions. We try our best to be efficient, but we do not rush,” she stated.
Minister Hanna said prospective parents may also experience some delay in the adoption process, simply because of the number of children available for adoption in the system.
She noted that at present, there are some 257 children under the age of eight in State care. Of that number, about 140 are between the ages of zero to three.
Miss Hanna informed that 98 per cent of the adoption requests are for children three years old and younger.
“This brings us to one of the commonest misunderstandings about children who are wards of the State – there are not that many children zero to three in the system, and not all of them are eligible to be adopted,” she explained.
Miss Hanna pointed out that some of these children are still in contact with their parents or family members and efforts are to be made to reintegrate the family.
“In every single adoption application, we start with the premise that the child’s best interest is to be in the custody of his or her biological family, unless the family is absolutely unable to care for the child,” she said.
“The State has a responsibility to make absolutely certain, at every step of the way, that the child that is to be adopted is in need of being removed from his or her biological parents’ custody, and that the prospective adopters are suitable in every way to become parents. Adoption is final and has far reaching implications,” Ms. Hanna emphasized.