Friday, 26 June 2020

Impact of Covid-19 and lockdown on places of safety and adoption

Photo: Left to right: Ms. Nakedi Ribane – Patron of Child Welfare Tshwane; Ms. Nina de Caires – Adoption Supervisor; Ms. Isilda Felix - Owner of Dove's Nest

During one of the coldest weeks this year so far, representatives from Child Welfare Tshwane visited Dove's Nest, one of the registered Temporary Safe Care facilities for abandoned babies that assist Child Welfare Tshwane's Adoption Unit in taking care of the babies who need care and protection during the adoptability investigations.

Dove's Nest is a Community Based Organisation (CBO) and registered Non Profit Organisation (NPO) that provides a residential facility caring for abandoned or unwanted babies and children from birth to two years of age. They support them ensuring that they have milk, food, shelter, and the delicate care necessary for these precious lives.

Upon entering the house, Isilda Felix was cuddling and feeding little *Desmond, a mere 14 days old. He was legally placed there by the social worker when he was 2 days old after the biological mother requested that he be made available for adoption due to poor socio-economic circumstances. She already has two other children, is unemployed and without any family support. His father denied paternity and disappeared. His biological mother made an informed decision after intensive counselling that she would want a better future for him within a family where he will be loved and cared for. The adoption investigation is in the process by our Adoption Unit supervisor, Nina de Caires.

In the living room, we were welcomed by *Jessie, *Thandi and *Liya, three young ladies between the ages of 16, 18, and 19 years who grew up in Dove's Nest and are in the process of completing their schooling.

We were taken to a sunny bedroom, with baby cots lined up, and four friendly babies admiring the visitors. All between two weeks and four months old, each one with their own unique story and awaiting their future families and homes. One of them, *Thato will be meeting his adoptive parents in a couple of days and an exciting, beautiful moment and future within a forever family awaits them all. He will be part of a family that cannot wait to give him a home, a future, and the love and care he deserves.

However, Covid-19 and lockdown have had an unforeseen impact on the future and adoption process of these children and babies. In *Thato's case, even though the legal and adoption processes have been followed, the very last step of the final court order is outstanding. Due to a positive Covid-19 test result of one of the court's employees, and necessary precautions and sanitizing that had to take place, a great uncertainty raised as to when the final order will be obtained.  So, he will be able to meet his prospective adoptive parents, but not go home with them until a final court date is obtained to get the necessary order. This is both heart-breaking for the prospective adoptive parents, and the crucial parent-and-baby bonding is delayed.

Since the number of abandoned babies that enter the system are, unfortunately, an on-going occurrence, it can also potentially mean that Places of Safety like Dove's Nest will reach capacity because adoptable and matched babies are not able to move out to their new homes, which creates space for new babies that need temporary safety and care.

Another impact that lockdown and Covid-19 had, is due to the vulnerability of the babies, caretakers, and assistants that were not able to travel back and forth from home to work. They want to avoid unnecessary exposure of the virus to the babies. No one can just imagine the cleaning, cooking, bath time, nappy changes, feeding and sleeping routines in a house with four babies and three toddlers.
"A strict routine", is Isilda's answer to this well-organised caretaking and management of her house. Many years of experience have made her well equipped to care for all of them.

Thankfully, *Jessie, *Thandi, and *Liya are all also able to lend a hand when they are not busy with schoolwork and can help with daytime play and stimulation, but the sleeping time and night-time feeding remains the responsibility of Isilda for now.

The fact that babies cannot move further along the adoption process, and move out of the temporary safe care facilities make it very difficult for social workers to find space for the placement of new babies, who remains waiting in hospitals to be removed.  Social workers anticipate that babies will continue coming into the system, possibly even more so in the weeks and months to follow, as mothers find themselves in dire financial straits after losing their jobs or getting sick and are unable to care for themselves and their child/ren.

The process is dependent on many different departments such as the Department of Health, Department of Justice, Department of Social Development, Department of Home Affairs, and the South African Police Service to do adoption investigation and finalise adoptions. So, should one or more of these departments face temporary closure due to Covid-19, it will hinder the entire process.
As a result of Covid-19, the economic downfall will also inevitably have many other repercussions for child protection organisations and adoption in South Africa. Couples who were considering adoption may now have second thoughts, particularly when they have been financially affected.

The pandemic will affect the future financial security of child protection organisations and Non Profit Organisations (NPO’S) in general. Regular donors will reduce due to experiencing financial losses themselves and the income of already underfunded NPO's is likely to be severely affected, ultimately making their beneficiaries the innocent victims.

If you are pregnant and considering giving up your baby for adoption, or if you know someone who might be, please contact Ms. Nina de Caires, the Adoption Supervisor at Child Welfare Tshwane on 0124609236 during working hours. If you are prospective parents considering adoption, please also make contact with Nina.

Should you be able to donate baby products (milk, nappies, baby clothes, etc.) or support us financially, please contact Child Welfare Tshwane at 0124609236.

* Names withheld to protect their identity 

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