The adoption process
In South Africa, the only way in which you can legally adopt a child is by working through an accredited adoption agency, or with the assistance of an adoption social worker functioning within the statutory accredited adoption system. If you would like to search for an adoption agency or private social worker in your area, use the “Find Professionals” search box to the left.
When working through an adoption agency, the process usually starts with the prospective adoptive parents submitting an application to the agency. Each agency has its own set of requirements – it’s a good idea to phone the particular agency to get their set of criteria before you actually apply in writing. Getting your application right from the start can save a lot of time later.
All prospective adoptive parents are required to undergo a screening and preparation process. Adoption agencies are often criticised for ‘all the red tape’ or ‘making applicants jump through too many hoops’. But if one considers that in most cases the social worker is completely responsible for making a decision about a child’s future, the involved process becomes a necessity to ensure that the right parent(s) is/are chosen for every child – the parent(s) that will provide the specific child in question with the best possible home and family.
The screening process normally involves orientation meetings, interviews with a social worker, full medicals, marriage and psychological assessments, home visits, police clearance and references.
The screening process basically allows social workers to get to know prospective adopters as a family, their motivation to adopt and their ability to offer a child a warm, loving and stable home.
Once the screening process is complete, applicants are placed on a waiting list for a child. Applicants have their own ideas and wishes about the child they wish to adopt – they can decide about the age and sex of the baby or child they would like to adopt and adoption agencies will try to meet those personal expectations
It’s a very joyous and happy day when the new parents are informed that they have been matched to a child and arrangements will be made for them to meet the child. There is usually a period of introduction to the child, the length of time varying according to the child’s age.
The official placement of the child with the adoptive parents is a legal process, carried out through the Children’s Court. Once the child has been with the new parents for a period of time and the social worker has assessed the adoption to be in the best interests of the child, the adoption is finalised through the Children’s Court. The child then becomes the legal child of the adoptive parents as if the child was born to them and has all the same rights as a biological child.
Adoption Process for Birthparents
Once a birth mother has decided to make her baby available for adoption, her first point of contact should be an adoption social worker. This social worker may work for the State, an organisation or a private establishment that facilitates adoptions or offers services to birth mothers. At this stage it is assumed that the birth mother has received option counseling to weigh up the long and short-term, as well as legal, financial, physical and emotional implications of the choices and is satisfied that adoption is the route she will take. If you would like to search for an adoption agency or private social worker in your area, use the “Find Professionals” search box to the left.
Once she has the support of a social worker, the birth mother will become part of a therapeutic process designed to care for her physical and emotional health and thus the wellbeing of the child. Depending on her needs, she may receive medical and ante-natal care, HIV counseling or treatment or be accommodated in a home for expectant mothers during her last trimester. Care and accommodation is also available during the recovery period after the birth.
During this time, and depending on which organisation is assisting her, the birth mother will be advised of her options in terms of selecting the adoptive parents and determining the contents of the adoption plan and agreement, for example the extent to which she would like to receive progress reports on the child’s early years of development, in line with the type of adoption chosen and prevailing legislation.
The social worker will work with the court to facilitate the legal process which will include identifying the birth father and obtaining his consent to give the baby up for adoption. If the birth mother is a minor, the social worker will assist in the interactions with her guardians, who then have legal responsibilities in terms of consenting to the adoption. The consent forms are signed before a magistrate in the family court and from this date, the birth mother or father has the right to change their minds within a 60-day period during which the baby may be in the care of the adoptive parents or fostered in the interim.
Thereafter the adoption is considered complete and the adoptive parents are considered the child’s natural parents. The birth mother will have effectively given up the rights to the child but the conditions set out in the agreement will be upheld by the parties concerned.