Monday 19 February 2018

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Taking care of our own

(The above is a stock photo)

The facts about adopting Maltese children

Maltese couples who adopt children from a foreign country are often in the news, but why is it still so difficult for those who wish to adopt Maltese children who need a loving home? Josanne Cassar speaks to Agenzija Appogg and the Department for Social Welfare to try and answer this question

 

There are a lot of misconceptions about why Maltese children living in children’s homes are not so readily available for adoption, but before delving into these issues, it is important to understand how the whole process works.

In Malta, the Department for Social Welfare Standards (DSWS) acts as the central authority for adoptions as per recently enacted legislation in 2008.  The said authority has regulatory functions in both local and intercountry adoptions. It is also the central authority and regulator for foster care.

Agenzija Appogg is the service provider for both adoptions and fostering and it has also accredited three other agencies to offer adoption services.

Francesca Muscat Camilleri, the assistant director of Central Authority Functions at DSWS, tells me that there are 120 children currently living in residential care who would benefit from a foster care placement. Unfortunately, there are still more children waiting to be fostered than there are foster parents.

In fact, according to a recent parliamentary question, the waiting list for the Appogg Fostering Service is nil, meaning that there are no prospective foster carers waiting to receive the necessary training to become foster carers and no current foster carers are on a waiting list to receive the support of the Appogg Fostering Team during a placement.

“A child in need of foster care placement is assessed and referred to the Fostering Services by the Looked After Children’s team/Child Protection Services within Agenzija Appogg. As per Foster Care Act 2007, the Fostering Accredited Agency is responsible for the matching process of the child with foster carers”.

When it comes to a Maltese child being put up for adoption, there are various ways which this can happen: either through a Care Order issued by the courts, or with the parent’s consent or through dispensation of consent as per Civil Code Title III of Adoptions.

“Additionally, when a Care Order is issued, it does not necessarily mean that the child/children involved will automatically be given up for adoption. The recommendation is done through the child’s social worker after consulting with the agency lawyers who in turn examine whether the provisions mentioned in the Civil Code to place a child for an adoption placement are met. As for foreign children, it is their country of origin that would decide according to the respective legislation”.

What kind of situations can lead to parents being stripped of their legal rights over their children?

“A distinction should be made between physical care and custody and parental rights. A Care Order results in loss of care and custody.

The loss of parental rights will free up the minor for adoption. The reasons are laid down in Article 117 of the Civil Code (see below). This is the last resort as all efforts are made to keep the children with their birth parents. Where this is proven not to be possible or advisable under Article 117 of the Civil Code, minors are placed within another family unit which would guarantee a permanent and stable environment.

It is understandable that removal of parental rights is to be used with caution in the best interests if the child. Moreover, this is done when there are preconditions for a parent to get back his or her child such as a rehabilitation programme”.

Figures on local adoptions may vary from year to year according to data provided by Agenzija Appogg. Between January 2011 and December 2011, there were 3 Maltese children who were adopted. The number of children adopted in preceding years is indicated in the table below:

 

Year

Adoption of Maltese children

2010

27

2009

8

2008

18

2007

12

2006

17

(These figures include children adopted by partners of biological mothers or fathers following marriage)

Given these figures, it might seem that many biological parents, even those who are unable to provide adequate care, prefer to let their children reside in a home rather than be adopted. I ask Ms Muscat Camilleri whether this is correct or simply a misconception.

 

“The main aim in any social work intervention with children at risk is to keep children with their biological family. If this is not possible or not in the best interest of the child, there are different alternative placements and the one chosen will depend on the situation and the care plan.

Whatever the case, it is always difficult for a parent to let go of the child. And whilst a home can be a temporary solution, adoption is for life”.

Another myth is that “unfit parents” refuse to allow adoptions so that they can continue to collect children’s allowances and other social benefits. This is simply not true.

 

“Children’s allowances and other social benefits are given to the person taking care of the child. When children are in care or being fostered, the birth family does not get children’s allowances”, Ms Muscat Camilleri stated.

Still, the fact remains that we have too many children growing up in institutionalised environments rather than in a family. Ms Muscat Camilleri confirmed that there are certain legal changes that can be done so as to facilitate more adoptions of Maltese children. The Adoption Board organised a seminar in September 2011, specifically with the aim of discussing the freeing up of Maltese children.  Amendments to the law will also be presented following consultation by the Ministry, to simplify the adoption process and to free up local children for adoption purposes. .

However, she pointed out, there may still be prospective adoptive parents wishing to adopt from a foreign country.

This brings me to my next question: Do some people prefer overseas adoptions to prevent any possible contact with biological parents?

“Adoptive parents have their reasons for wishing to adopt locally or from abroad. So we believe that the demand will always be for both. Adoption for children cannot work in a vacuum. Adoption placements should be available for children who have lost all possibilities of living permanently with their biological family. Thus, the legal instruments should be available so that our care system provides alternative placements for children at risk.

As we always say, the aim of adoption is not to give a child to a family, but to give a family to a child”.

Article 117 of the Civil Code

(1)  The court may dispense with any consent or with any hearing required by article 115 if it is satisfied –

(a) in the case of a dispensation with any such consent, that:

(i) the person who is required to give his consent is incapable of giving such consent; or

(ii) the parent cannot be found or has abandoned, neglected or persistently ill-treated, or has persistently either neglected or refused to contribute to the maintenance of the person to be adopted or had demanded or attempted to obtain any payment or other reward for or in consideration of the  grant of the consent required in connection with the adoption; or

(iii) either of the parents are unreasonably withholding their consent; or

(iv) either of the parents may be deprived of parental authority over the child to be adopted in accordance with article 154(1); or

(v) the child to be adopted is not in the care and custody of either of the parents and the Adoption Board declares that there is no reasonable hope that the child may be reunited with his mother and, or father; or

(vi) the parent or parents have unjustifiably, not had contact with the child to be adopted for at least eighteen months; or

(vii) it is in the best interests of the child to be adopted for such consent  to be dispensed with;

or

(b) in the case of a dispensation with any such hearing, that the person who is required to be heard cannot be found or is incapable of expressing his views; or

(c) that in view of special and exceptional reasons and taking into account the interests of all persons concerned, it is proper for it to dispense with any such hearing and consent.

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