From what to tell your adopted child to how to handle uncomfortable questions, this is the first part of a two-part series on the life-transforming act of adoption, for potentially apprehensive parents and curious children
Sidney Rocha is director, Catalysts for Social Action (CSA) a social welfare organization dedicated to the cause of child welfare and focuses on adoption, and institutionalized child care.
Here, Rocha balances both the legal and the emotional aspects of adoption, talking about the best approach for a family with adopted children as they seek to forge a bond of love and security.
What is the age group (preferably), in which couples must be in to adopt a child and should they adopt a very young child/a teenager/or somebody in the four-five years age group?
Rocha: In order to adopt children in the age group of 0-3 years, the maximum composite age of the Prospective Adoptive Parents (PAPs) should be 90 years, wherein the individual age of the PAPs should not be less than 25 years and more than 50 years.
In order to adopt children above three years of age, the maximum composite age of the PAPs should be 105 years wherein the individual age of the PAPs should not be less than 25 years and more than 55 years.
A single PAP desiring to adopt should not be less than 30 and more than 50. The maximum age shall be 40 years to adopt children in the age group of 0-3 years and 50 years for adopting children above 3 years.
If adopting a baby, is it preferable for a couple to choose a child whose complexion is close to at least that of one parent?
Rocha: Indian parents are often concerned about the skin colour in order to help the child blend into their family. But in case of inter-country adoptions, PAPs are not very rigid, when it comes to complexion of the child. Therefore, child matching in case of in-country adoptions is done according to parent’s preference. Complexion preferences do not matter. Adoption is a noble deed and it is not to be hidden from the child and society. What matters is love, affection, care, joy and a sense of belonging between parent and child.
I met a couple who are fair complexioned. They have a comparatively darker-skinned nine-year-old adopted daughter. They adopted her when she was just six months old. She pleasantly surprised me when she told me that she is willing to have a sister as her sibling, and she has also convinced her parents to adopt another baby. This shows parents have invested quality time in their adopted daughter and have been open with her regarding her adopted status.
Both PAPs have to be 100 per cent sure they want to adopt — if there is any ground for doubt in one person, the adoption option must be ruled out. Do you agree?
Rocha: Yes. Otherwise, it would be difficult to maintain a healthy, positive atmosphere for the baby to grow up in. A Home Study Report and pre-adoption counselling for PAPs by the adoption agency is a must, prior to placement of the child. In case either parent is not ready, enough time to make the decision should be awarded to the couple without any force or pressure.
What if the couple already has a child of their own and then wants to adopt another child — would they be able to love their adopted child as much as the one that they have given birth to?
Rocha: As per the Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Act 2000 as amended from time to time, the court may allow a child to be given into adoption, to parents to adopt a child of the same sex irrespective of the number of living biological sons or daughters. In case if the family already has one adopted child, a second adoption is permissible only when the legal adoption of the first child has been finalized.
Pre-adoption counselling plays a very important role in such cases. In order to facilitate an informed decision by the PAPs, the concerned Recognized Indian Placement Agency (RIPA)/ Specialized Adoption Agency (SAA), Licensed Adoption Placement Agency (LAPA) shall provide pre-adoption counselling to them. This agency shall also prepare the PAPs for adoption and related process by providing them with all relevant information and consequences.
Our experience with such families has shown that the adopted child becomes an integral part of the family. I would like to mention here about a case wherein there was a childless couple who adopted a baby girl through our facilitation and soon after six months of the adoption, the wife got pregnant and gave birth to another daughter. But their affection towards the first, adopted child remained unchanged, in fact they consider their first daughter as their lucky charm.
Should a single woman adopt a girl; should a single man adopt a boy?
Rocha: Single men are not permitted to adopt a girl child. Single women can adopt either a boy or girl.
When should a couple tell a child that he/she is adopted?
Rocha: During their preschool years, children begin asking questions like, “Where do babies come from?” That is a good time to begin introducing information about their special backgrounds.
In what way should they break the news — alone, or with somebody else present?
Rocha: First, talk about adoption in a gentle way taking into account your child’s ability to understand in person. You can follow below stated guidelines during your conversation with your child:
* Give a simple, direct, and honest explanation.
* Explain that he/she was not born to you from your tummy but from your heart and it is God’s plan that he is with you.
* Tell him that he was born to other parents who could not take care of him. And they loved him a lot and felt that he deserved a better life than what they could provide. They cared for you and so they gave you up for adoption; it was very hard and difficult for them to do this because you are so precious. Then describe why you chose to adopt a child.
* Talk about how much you and your spouse wanted him/her, and briefly explain the process you went through to get him/her.
* Allow your child to ask questions.
Your explanation should answer most of his/her questions in ways appropriate for his level of maturity. Moderate your conversation — don’t talk too much about it, but don’t undermine his curiosity either. Keep it casual and be normal. If you express discomfort or become upset while speaking on this subject, your child may develop negative feelings and will be confused.
Today, with the accent on social sites — parents sometimes blog about their personal affairs, including adopting a child or write somewhere about it, with a chance that the child can read it or hear about it from somebody else first…
Rocha: It is always better to develop a strong, trustworthy bond with your child and tell him about adoption early on in his childhood, when the child starts understanding you. This will enable the child to become comfortable with his past and face future situations that come his way.
I recall an incident that took place recently. We were in touch with a high-profile school from Mumbai to raise funds for our NGO, Catalysts for Social Action (CSA). A presentation was being done for students from the eighth standard. While the presentation was still underway, a boy from the class stood up and said, “My parents adopted me from an adoption agency in Pune when I was eight months old!” To be able to boldly mention this in front of the class requires courage, and is possible because his parents have been honest about his past and have inculcated a positive spirit in him towards adoption.
If a child has a sibling (not adopted), should the parents tell the sibling first? When can they tell the sibling?
Rocha: The family should tell the first child (biological/adopted) about their decision to adopt a second child. One of the documents required to complete the adoption process for the couples, who have child/children is written consent of the biological and/or adopted child/children, if they are above seven years of age. If the child is not able to read and write, the parents should explain to the child. So it is very necessary to prepare the older sibling, whether biological or adopted as the case may be.
Parents are especially nervous telling their children, they need to first pluck up courage themselves. Is it obligatory to tell kids, or is it okay if they do not tell them their entire life?
Rocha: I would say yes, it is ideal and critical to tell your child that he/she is adopted. Often parents who are reluctant to reveal that their child is adopted, may have difficulties in accepting that their son or daughter is not their biological child. Sometimes, they might feel ashamed or inadequate because they could not have children of their own, and so they avoid explaining the adoption angle to their youngster so that they will not have to revisit this issue.
Sometimes, parents are hesitant to talk about the adoption because they are protective of their child’s feelings, sensing that he might get hurt if he finds out that he was adopted. They might also be afraid of being rejected by their adopted youngster. They might think, “What if my son/daughter says, ‘I don’t want to live with you any more; I want to go live with my real mummy’?” That, however, is an uncommon reaction, and not one that children are really serious about pursuing.
It is important for the child to know about his adoption status by the time he enters school. Your honest communication about this important issue early on, can strengthen the relationship you have with him, building a strong bond of trust. So if you have any apprehensions about telling your child, try getting over it, engage with a child counsellor or get in touch with the NGO from where you adopted your child for help in communicating with your child.
This concludes Part I of the adoption series. See Part II.