In this week’s series on adoption I had promised to discuss the steps one needs to take to satisfy the court of suitability to adopt. It has been suggested to us that before we do that we might consider writing a piece on what potential adoptee parents should consider before making the decision to adopt. While this is not a legal issue it can affect whether you are allowed to adopt or not. We are aware that many of the adoptee parents applying to adopt are white expats living in Vanuatu. We are also aware that some adoptions are done with New Caledonia and New Zealand applicants.
Adopting a child is both bold and wonderful and changes your life and that of the child forever. It also means assuming full responsibility for life to care for a child that is not biologically related to you. Before you embark on this journey, either alone, or with a partner, you should do some serious soul searching and plenty of homework. You need to ask yourself some tough questions and be honest with yourself and each other. These are some of the things you may need to consider:
What is your motivation to adopt?
People adopt for many reasons. Infertility, age, single, or no desire to have a baby of their own. Whatever your reason for wanting to adopt it should not be because you want to “save” a child from a life you consider is distasteful or you are looking to do a good deed. In such a case adoption is most likely not for you. It would be better for you to choose a charity and fulfil that desire to “save” there.
Are you willing to learn?
Adoption is something many of us think we understand and when a person becomes desperate to adopt there are often much they do not consider, particularly when they are adopting a child of a different race and cultural background. One may think it would be as simple and easy as raising a white child in a white home or raising your own child, but it is often more complex than that. When you come to adopt, the court is not expecting you to have all the answers or even the right answers. What it wants to know is whether you are looking at the entire experience of adoption through rose-coloured lenses or you are willing to learn how to get the right answers so that your child feels taken care of. It is not always going to be enough just to love that child. Often, children of adoption, whether you adopt from birth or older come with their own particular trauma’s, which can either be acquired through the environment they lived in prior to adoption or the trauma that will arise later on as a result of the marked difference between you and them.
Are you willing to wait?
Because there is no set procedure or agency in Vanuatu to help with the process of adoption it can be quite a stressful event trying to identify a child. This may not happen as easily as one might think and neither will you be able to tick off a list the type of child you would ideally like. You may want a boy but at the time you only have access to a girl, or maybe you have an arrangement prior to birth with a mother who wishes to give her child up for adoption but when that child is born it has medical issues or is disabled or has special needs. Once you get over that hurdle you will have the wait time before the court. It can take anywhere between 4-6 months to adopt in Vanuatu. The law is not clear on all you need to provide when you make an application and because there are no agencies to help the court with background checks and home reports, etc, the court, we are aware, is having to facilitate these requirements. It therefore appears to be an evolving process before the court. So be prepared for there to be some degree of uncertainty in the process as the court is working with you to gather all the relevant information it needs to make a decision. Our experience though has been that most of the information you need can be obtained from the clerk in the Master’s office where all adoption applications go. So be patient and prepare yourself for the time and effort you will need to put into the adoption process.
Are you prepared to be stared at?
If you adopt a child of your own race it is very unlikely that anyone will look twice at your family, but once this child is not obviously of your race you must expect that persons, no matter where you go or travel to will stare. In a small country like Vanuatu persons, particularly Ni-Vanuatu will stare, and as is their nature, they may ask questions which you consider particularly forward. In the outside world the same is to be expected. Therefore it is something you may want to consider as it will always be part of your life and may even feel invasive at times. If you are not prepared to be conspicuous or answer questions for the rest of your life, as you will very likely have to do, then adoption of a different race child may not be for you.
Are you prepared to embrace your child’s culture and language?
The Ni-Vanuatu culture is very rich and their language is very much a part of that tradition. As there are no closed adoptions in Vanuatu you will very likely know the family and parents of your child. The court here is always interested to know whether applicants intend to teach and expose the child to their culture and whether the applicants themselves have taken or intend to take the time to learn about their child’s heritage. If you are closed to this possibility then adoption in Vanuatu is likely not for you.
Are you prepared to maintain contact with the birth family of the child?
Ni-Vanuatu have their own traditional kastom adoption done between Ni-Vanuatu to Ni-Vanuatu and it never completely breaks the original familial bond. The children often grow up knowing who their birth parents are and have contact with them. As a result, it is a less traumatic break for both the child and especially the parents. While legal adoption completely severs that bond and their traditional adoptions do not, the birth parents may ask you to maintain some sort of contact. Usually pictures through the years prove enough or an occasional visit. It would be important to consider whether you might be prepared to share this child with their birth family even after the adoption is final.
Adoption can be a highly emotive issue. It is good to find other families who have adopted to understand their experiences and how they were able to deal with them, particularly families who have adopted different race and Ni-Vanuatu children. They can offer greater insight than persons with their own biological children. You may be dealing with a labyrinth of emotions that they cannot comprehend. You may have concerns about bonding with this child or fears about the final adoption going through and not feeling that instant connection with the child. As your child grows and you begin to face your own particular challenges people may tell you that you are facing normal, age appropriate issues but it could be much more than that. You must therefore be prepared to dig into the matter and work through the issue with your child. You will encounter people who will be thoughtless and nosy. So in choosing to adopt you are choosing to be, not just your child’s parent but your child’s protector and advocate. It will become your job to educate the thoughtless and nosy and have the difficult conversations, even with your child.
There are many families in Vanuatu who have welcomed Ni-Vanuatu children into their home and it has been a happy bond. But for the difference of race you would not know that they were not connected by blood. Most of these families are open to helping and offering support to persons looking to adopt. Vanuatu is small. Ask around and you will, we are sure, be directed to numerous such persons. Find some adoption courses online to give you a better insight into what you may be in for. If you have access to a social worker or therapist to work through your feelings it would also be a good place to start.
So Good Luck if you decide to go through the process!
DISCLAIMER – This is a legal column to provide basic information on the law and court procedure. It is not to be used as a substitute for legal advice but to be used only as a starting point in understanding what you might need and what you might need to do.
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