Please Note: This post serves as an invitation to all interested/effected parties to join a conversation in which we discuss the decolonization of adoption in a safe, humble and respectful fashion. In particular, I extend the invitation to officials in the Department of Social Development. Please e-mail me if you would like to participate justin@peaceagency.org.za

There is a major outcry about proposed amendments to our legislation on adoption in South Africa.

The long and short of it is that the Department of Social Development (DSD) is proposing that professionals who currently render adoption services – social workers, psychologists, lawyers etc – not be allowed to receive payment for these services. Only department-employed social workers will be permitted to do adoptions. But according to non-department social workers, DSD social workers are not suitably qualified to do adoptions and hence adoptions will dwindle further.

Why would the government do this; stop professionals from making a living from offering a service to children and families? The Department contends that adoption is a child protection issue and it therefore has an obligation to render this service free to all. It argues that by doing this, adoption will become more accessible to all South Africans. But then why not make adoptions done by the Department free and adoptions done privately, paid for? This is how many critical areas of South African life operate; health care, security, post to name a few. Surely there is more to this than meets the eye?

Adoption practitioners, advocates and the media have suggested that the move is designed to effectively put an end to adoption in South Africa. Private practitioners can’t derive an income from adoption therefore they will stop offering the service, and government practitioners are not qualified, so cannot offer the service. The people who will suffer the most are adoptable children and their future families. Again – why do this?

For some years now, I have advocated what I refer to as the urgent need for the “decolonization of adoption”. Simply put, adoption is a Western notion (and predominantly middle-class) that needs to be rethought and overhauled for our African context. Why do I say this?

Adoption (especially unrelated adoptions) is practised mostly by white social workers matching black children with middle-class, white parents (precisely because adoption is a widely vilified practise throughout African culture). This would all be fine on one level except for the fact that we as the adoption community of adoptive parents, practitioners etc have made little if any effort over the past quarter century to understand the intricacies of how and why adoption is repugnant in most black African cultures and how we can work together to make it relevant cross culturally and across demographics, in South Africa in 2019.

For example, in African culture connection to one’s ancestral roots is of vital importance. Should this not be considered, respected and acknowledge in adoption practise? What about language? Should it not be a requirement of cross-cultural adoption that parents learn and teach their adoptive child a language that will make them feel connected and accepted in later life? There is so much evidence now to suggest that this is vital.

Now, I am aware that this will cause some unease. I spoke this narrative of decolonization in front of a group of adoption practitioners and the tension was palpable. One of them even said of my suggestion around acknowledgement of the ancestral heritage of an adoptive child: “Over my dead body.” I get this. We feel a threat – especially on a religious level – from this kind of “decolonizing language”. But the question that must be asked is, can a concept like adoption – especially trans-racial adoption – survive in such a deeply polarised environment if we don’t have these conversations? Indeed, should it survive? Do we not have a responsibility to come together and talk about how we can do it better….in the best interests of African children?

And stories abound about black adult adoptees rebelling against their white adoptive parents because this stuff wasn’t considered let alone spoken about. One all-too-often hears stories of adoptees that speak of a lack of belonging, a lack of cultural identity and a feeling of displacement. So, we ignore it at our peril as adoptive parents and as the community at large. The argument for the department making adoption free? I guess it’s that at least we make this service available to all and end it being the virtually exclusive domain of the white middle/upper class. Can’t knock that.

Like with all things in our 25-year-old democracy, we will either do the hard work of decolonization through dialogue, generosity of hand and spirit, vulnerability, humility and love, or it will be done for us through legislation and even expropriation or violence.

We can talk about the best interests of children, but are we sure that how we are practising adoption is currently in the best interests of children? I’m not.

Let’s get together and talk it out. My NGO The Peace Agency would be glad to sponsor this dialogue/series of dialogues.

Please e-mail me if you would like to participate justin@peaceagency.org.za

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