An analysis of the Registry of Adoptable Children and Parents (RACAP) in 2013 revealed that of the nearly 500 children available for adoption, over 60% were abandoned, and less than 40% were formally placed in the adoption child protection system. Further research revealed a number of complex reasons for the high levels of abandonment. Many young women I engaged with spoke of their fear that if they were to formally place their child up for adoption, and sign their parental rights away, that they would be punished by God and their ancestors. The punishment most feared was that of infertility, as one women said to me, "you have been given a gift, if you just choose to give that gift away, maybe God will not give you another gift, that will be the only child you will ever have and now it is gone". It was felt that if they abandoned their child, they were leaving their and their child's fate up to God, and that He would decide what would happen to them. It was also believed that they could always possibly return for their child at a later point as abandonment was not seen as permanent in the way that adoption is.
All this being said, the National Adoption Coalition of SA has seen a marked increase in the desire to adopt from a range of different families across racial categories, which is a very positive sign. The major challenge is that many young girls who are experiencing a crisis pregnancy are not aware of the options available to them, and thus the importance of the Courage Option Counselling Map, featured previously.
If a child is found abandoned, it is critical to get them into the child protection system as quickly as possible, this process is illustrated in detail in the Courage Statutory Intervention for Child Abandonment Map (featured below). This entails contacting a recognised child protection officer such as the police, a social worker, a registered child protection organisation or a representative of the Department of Social Development. They will take custody of the child and place them in the care of a social worker who can manage their case. Sadly, abandoned children who die, or are found dead, are buried in a municipal grave, with no acknowledgement of their personhood.
The social worker will gain all of the legal documentation required to manage the abandoned child, which includes, putting them in a place of safety, conducting medical and age assessments and administering ARV medication if it is believed that the child may be at risk from exposure to HIV/AIDS. The police and social worker then work together to conduct a detailed investigation to try and find the birth parents or extended biological family, this includes advertising for the parents in a local newspaper.
If the parents are found, the social worker will need to decide how to proceed. If the child was left in a safe place, such as the hospital or a baby home, and the mother was under extreme stress at the time of abandonment, they may consider counselling and family reunification over time. If, however, the child was abandoned in an unsafe place and placed at risk, the police and social worker may consider charging the mother with concealment of birth and even attempted murder. Other options considered include kinship care, foster care and residential care, until a permanent placement solution can be found for the child.
If no relatives are found, the social worker will obtain identification and registration documentation for the child, including a birth certificate. The child will then be placed on the register of adoptable children and parents. The social worker will then attempt to match the child with parents through the process of adoption.
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