Safiya Noel

FLASHBACK: Children’s Authority director Safiya Noel, left, shows the reception area of the new Children’s Authority South Regional office and Assessment Centre to Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister, Ayanna Webster-Roy, during the opening of the centre at Manahambre Road, Ste. Madeleine. Looking on at right is the authority’s chairman Hanif Benjamin.

People are willing to adopt, but only babies.

Chairman of the Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago Hanif Benjamin is hoping that adopters will embrace special needs children and teenagers as part of their families.

It was during the Rapidfire Kidz Foundation’s (RKF) annual dinner on Saturday night that president of the foundation, attorney Kevin Ratiram, said that statistics on adoption from the Children’s Authority showed that, as of July 23 2019, there were 40 children’s homes registered with the Authority.

He said, “These homes house some 651 children but, here comes the most worrying statistic, between May 2015 and June 2019, some 33 adoption orders were granted by the court. This means that, on average in Trinidad and Tobago, only eight children per year are legally adopted. I was further informed that there are some 62 people on a waiting list to adopt.”

He asked whether adoption was taboo and called for a change to the perception of adoption, and for a national conversation on the issue.

In a telephone conversation yesterday, Benjamin agreed that discussion is necessary, given the number of children to be adopted and because September is Foster Care and Adoption month.

He told the Express, “Most adopters want babies … That is why we have a long list of adopters but very few children to adopt because most people want to adopt babies and what we have been encouraging is for people to open their homes and their hearts to all ages of children.”

Benjamin added, “The major focus of the Children Authority is how do we get persons to open their hearts and their homes to not only babies but children who are dealing with mental health issues, behavioural issues, special needs, medical issues and the thing is that we walk with you, we help you, we train you, we guide through its process.”

The chairman said that people prefer babies because they believe the older children have challenges and they (the adopters) don’t want problems. He however said, “These are normal children who, given a good opportunity, will be dutiful citizens. They have had trauma whatever the trauma might be, all of us have trauma but, given a chance, they will show you they are beautiful souls.” He said the Children Authority wants to change the misconceptions and instead show that all children who are shown love and attention can flourish. Benjamin said there have been several success stories.

Legal process involved

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He explained that adoption is not about walking into a children’s home and picking a child but involves a legal process. “A child must be freed to be adopted and the court is the ones that frees children.”

He said that the freeing process involves the parents of the child givie up full rights and responsibility or there are situations where there is absolutely no family member that can come forward to claim the child.

Benjamin said, “Because a child is in a residential facility, and we no longer call them orphanages, doesn’t mean that a child is free to be adopted. It could be that a child is going through a difficult period with their families and they need a moment, it might be that some moments are too long, but we don’t want to say that we just roll up in there and adopt children, that is not how it works. The child must be freed by the courts so we go through that process before we can engage in adoption.”

RKF is a non-governmental organization that has distributed hundreds of reading glasses to school children, toys to children at hospitals, taken children on field trips, hosted children’s parties and distributed books and toys to Venezuelan migrant children.

President Paula-Mae Weekes, recently installed moderator of the Presbyterian Church and RKF member Joy Abdul-Mohan and Miss World T&T representative Tya Jane Ramey also attended its dinner held at Achievors Banquet Hall, San Fernando.

Weekes addressed the gathering on citizen building and of civic pride being instilled to create a generation committed to taking ownership of their country.

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