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Adoption Manager (Ag) at the Children's Authority Renee Neptune.

Do not abandon your babies or children at hospitals, in the streets or in any other area which may lead to their harm. The Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago is appealing to parents to come to them to work out the best alternative care for those children instead.

The Authority is continuing its month-long special public awareness campaign on Foster Care and Adoption. Through traditional media and several virtual sessions to NGOs and faith-based organisations and other groups, the Authority hopes to encourage members of the public to join its pool of 52 foster care providers in Trinidad and four in Tobago.

People considering giving up their children, those seeking to adopt or anyone finding an abandoned child are urged to contact the Authority, the specialised agency in this country responsible for the care and protection of children, and the sole agency charged with making arrangements for adoptions. The Authority is also appealing to the public to help defend and support children’s rights.

In T&T, the charge of child abandonment carries a penalty of up to five years in prison. That penalty increases if any harm comes to the child after he or she is left alone by a parent or guardian.

There are no legal repercussions for women seeking to give up their children for adoption as long as they come to the Authority, Acting Adoption Manager at the Authority Renee Neptune informed Sunday Guardian.

She said the Authority does not ask people to prove their economic, emotional, mental circumstances. She explained that matters were dealt with on a case-by-case basis and encouraged people to call or visit the Authority located at the corner of Dere Street and Queen’s Park West, Port-of-Spain, to discuss their situation and options, no matter how desperate.

If no other suitable relative is found, the Authority may place a child in need of care in a children’s home, or with foster care providers with the hope of reintegrating the child back with his or her parents if and when deemed suitable by the Family Court.

In Part One of this story last week, the Authority on Foster Care and Adoption, Foster Care Team Lead at the Children’s Authority, Anjuli Tewari-de Fague encouraged members of the public to come forward to become foster care providers as children ages six to 17 and those with physical disabilities, developmental needs, educational needs and behavioural challenges were desperately in need of placements.

The other alternative of the Authority in placing a child would be adoption. According to Neptune, foster care and adoption are not the same and people should not see becoming foster care providers as a route to adopting a child.

While foster care is a temporary living arrangement for children who have been removed from the care of their parents for various reasons, adoption is a permanent and legal arrangement. It is the legal transfer of all parental rights and responsibilities for a child from that child’s legal parents (birth parents or adoptive parents) to another person or people.

The “adopter” is the legal term used by the court to describe the person who adopts, while “prospective adoptive parents” and “adoptive parent” are terms used by the Authority for people seeking to adopt and when they are finally successful.

The process

Under the Authority, adoption and foster care are two separate processes. One may apply to become an adoptive parent regardless of marital status or gender. Simply contact the Authority, assess the information offered and submit an application form. A thorough psycho-social process is carried out to determine suitability to become a parent. Applicants are assessed on their ability to adequately care for a child’s physical, educational and social needs.

This takes the form of background checks, psychological assessments, clinical interviews and the submission of various documents. An adoption committee consisting of seven members from the Board of Management of the Authority, ranging from lawyers and doctors to psychologists and social workers, makes recommendations to the court. The court then grants an adoption order.

Neptune said once the court grants the adoption that child becomes a full member of the adoptive family.

“A new birth certificate–we call it a Certificate of Adoption–is given to that child, their birth certificate is sealed by the courts and the child assumes the same rights and privileges as a birth child. They would be entitled to an inheritance from the parents,” she said.

It would, therefore, be more beneficial for the birth parents to give up their parental rights to allow their child the opportunity to receive love, protection and care. They will also enjoy financial benefits prospective adoptive parents may be willing to offer.

She said in some cases where parents refused to give up their parental rights in the best interest of the child, according to Section 24 (2) of the Adoption of Children Act 2000, the court could revoke such rights.

‘Do not feel ashamed or intimidated’

Neptune said despite the stigma often attached to adoption in this country, birth parents should not feel ashamed of relinquishing their parental rights.

“There are the birth parents who may not want to give consent (although their child would have been in the system for an extended period of time). We want to reassure them that this would be a very selfless act as they would be providing their child with a second chance at life; a sense of belonging and a sense of permanence in a family,” she urged.

She said this extended to parents who had left their child/children for prolonged periods in informal arrangements with family or neighbours.

Nor should prospective adoptive parents feel intimidated to adopt, Neptune added.

“There are persons who are seeking to adopt and in Trinidad and Tobago who may not want others to know they are adopting, you are giving a child a loving home, feel free to come to us. There is no judgement from us,” she said.

She said at present there were more people willing to adopt than there were children who were available to be adopted. She encouraged those interested in adopting to expand their options to include older children, rather than solely babies.

Reach out to the Children’s Authority

The Children’s Authority can be reached at 627-0748; website: www.ttchildren.org

Foster Care: ext.40988; Adoption: ext. 40023 to 40025; Facebook: Children’s Authority of Trinidad &Tobago; Instagram: Children’s Authority of T&T.

People desperately in need of alternative care for their children or those wishing to adopt can also contact the Authority on Hotline: 996 or 800-2014, or email [email protected]