CHAPTER 17 – INTERCOUNTRY ADOPTIONS – Section 258: "Accreditation of child protection organisations for inter-country adoption"

I intend putting forward a motivation for private accredited adoption social workers (currently excluded by the Bill) to be eligible to apply for accreditation to perform inter-country adoption services. Before doing so I will briefly detail my background and authority to make this appeal.

1. My Professional Background, Status & Authority to Make this Appeal:

Robyn Shepstone – Submission to Parliamentary Committee (con)

2. Conditions Justifying the Need for Inter-Country Adoptions in KZN

The burgeoning AIDS epidemic has given rise to enormous numbers of children being orphaned or abandoned by ailing parents. Prof Alan Whiteside of HEARD (Health Economic & AIDS Research Division, at University of KZN) predicts that from there being 100 000 AIDS orphans in 2000 by 2010 there will be 2 million. Since KwaZulu/Natal has both one of the highest populations out of all the Provinces in South Africa and the highest infection rate (35% as against 26% countrywide), it follows that the numbers of babies and young children being orphaned/abandoned is a lot higher in KZN.

The response of the welfare authorities (State & child protection organisations), especially in the case of orphaned children has been to try and arrange foster care with extended family members or other members of the child’s community. (Pinetown Child Welfare Society apparently has 4000 children in kinship care placements.) This is less possible for abandoned babies/children. While it is a widely accepted principle to preserve family ties wherever possible and it is acknowledged that many of these placements have been successful and in the children’s best interests; there are far too many instances where they are not. Senior social workers at child protection organisations are open about the fact that all too often carers of children are motivated to foster by the grants, which they see as a means of alleviating their own poverty and the children become 2nd class citizens in their homes. There are many reports of secondary abuse in these foster care placements, of children being orphaned again when the substitute carers also die from AIDS-related illnesses, of carers being too old, overextended and poverty stricken to provide adequately for the children’s needs.

Robyn Shepstone – Submission to Parliamentary Portfolio Committee (con)

Where foster care placements have not been possible and particularly in the case of abandoned babies, these children are placed at places of safety and orphanages and left there for interminable periods of time. It is not uncommon for Children’s Court Inquiries to take more than a year to finalise. Since most social workers in the State sector and child protection organisations have heavy workloads and extreme pressures, it is understandable that they delay arranging permanent placements such as adoption for such children they know are at least "safe" when there are so many others at risk to attend to. It is an established fact that no matter how good the care is in an orphanage, babies and young children are better off being raised by a loving, nurturing family to whom they can belong.

3. Capacity of State Dept’s and Child Protection Organisations to Perform Inter-Country Adoptions in KwaZulu/Natal

State Dept’s have traditionally not been involved in providing services to the young child, thus social workers in their employ seldom do adoption work.

From the early 1990’s child protection organisations in KZN, such as, Durban Children’s Society, Pinetown Child & Family Welfare Society and Christian Social Services downscaled their specialist services such as, adoption, to devote themselves, quite rightly to the development of previously disadvantaged communities. (In fact I became involved in private adoption work in 1991 when the Commissioner of Child Welfare in Durban called a meeting of private social workers with adoption experience to fill the gap left by the transformation of the traditional adoption agencies.)

Since the child protection organisations are doing relatively little adoption work locally, they have few social workers with the required knowledge, expertise and experience in this field. In fact, since both Durban Children’s Society and Pinetown Child & Family Welfare Society have huge staff turnovers (Durban replaced 60 out of 73 posts last year and Pinetown 28 out of 21 posts) their social workers seldom remain long enough to build the necessary skills to do work as specialised as adoption. Constant staff changes retard the progress of children’s permanency plans and create instability to the organisation. Directors and senior social workers in these organisations have admitted that despite their best intentions, permanency plans for children are often delayed which means they are left in orphanages for far too long. Unfortunately when children are still in orphanages by 5 or 6 years, it becomes more difficult to arrange successful adoptions. The smaller organisations are even less equipped to do this work.

As far as I know, at present, inter-country adoptions are not being performed by State Depts or child protection organisations in KwaZulu/Natal.

Robyn Shepstone – Submission to Parliamentary Portfolio Committee (con)

4. Motivation for Private Accredited Adoption Social Workers to be Eligible to Apply for Accreditation to Perform Inter-Country Adoption Services

Since inter-country adoptions became legally possible in July 2000, private accredited adoption social workers have been the forerunners in the field of inter-country adoption work in South Africa. They have contributed in setting standards and procedures in adoption practice in accordance with the Hague Convention. For some years now, several private accredited adoption social workers have had working agreements with licensed inter-country adoption organisations in countries that are signatories to the Hague Convention. These agreements have been unreservedly recognised by the relevant authorities in those "Hague" countries, which have been giving consent for approved applicants to adopt South African children who cannot be placed locally.

Over the past 4 years, I have built a practice in inter-country adoption services, developing specialised skills and knowledge and the necessary professional relationships overseas. I have facilitated adoptions of 12 children to the following countries; Australia, USA, Canada, Hong Kong and the UK. I have a working agreement with a licensed inter-country adoption organisation in Canada, an established "Hague" country and have placed 5 children in and around Toronto. My working agreement is recognised by the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services, in terms of their Intercountry Adoption Act of 1998 and the Canadian authorities appear satisfied with my standard of professionalism.

If private accredited adoption social workers are excluded from performing Inter-country adoptions in the future, the skills, expertise and international relationship networks built over the past 4 years will be lost to the profession. In view of the fact that government policy is to enter partnerships with the private sector (as it has in the Health Sector), it would seem that inter-country adoption is a perfect context for such a partnership in the Welfare Sector. As already mentioned, the formal welfare sector has to date not been able to fully service the needs of its potential clientele so private accredited adoption social workers are well-placed to continue to play a complementary role in meeting the needs of children who could benefit from inter-country adoptions. Furthermore, it seems prejudicial to exclude private accredited adoption social workers from practising the very services they are most skilled at. Surely, the exclusion of these skilled, experienced practitioners is not in the best interests of the children the Bill is trying to protect.

Should private accredited adoption social workers be included in the Bill for intercountry work in the future, they will be strictly regulated by the same standards, structures and procedures as the child protection organisations.

Robyn Shepstone – Submission to Parliamentary Portfolio Committee (con)

It seems relevant to point out that all the private accredited adoption social workers were originally employed in the State sector or child protection organisations and tend to have a solid background of many years exposure to the various aspects of child/family-oriented work.

In closing, I wish to express that I uphold the principle that children have the right to be raised by their biological parent/s &/or extended family where they are available and competent to do so. Adoption is never the first option for a child. Unfortunately, this ideal is not feasible for all children. Once it is established that adoption is the best permanency plan for a child, then a placement needs to be arranged without undue delay, in the child’s best interests. Once searches for same-culture and local placements have not been successful, then inter-country and cross-cultural placements are regarded as preferred options to institutional care.



I put forward the following people from whom references can be obtained concerning the standard of my adoption work:

  1. Petro Booysen, Commissioner of Child Welfare, Durban Family Court
  2. Rashid Ameer, Commissioner of Child Welfare, Pinetown
  3. Mr Taljaard, Commissioner of Child Welfare, Camperdown
  4. Marike Bloem, Interim Central Authority/Registrar of Adoptions, Pretoria
  5. Priscilla MacKay, ex-Director Pinetown Child & Family Welfare Society, now ANC MP