Adoption: Online, but without a soul?

Adoption: Online, but without a soul?

 Since the entire process is online, adoption agencies have minimal interaction with the parents.

Eight-year-old Harsha (name changed) was recently adopted by a couple in Hyderabad from an adoption agency in Bengaluru. The prospective parents were eager to take the child home and hence he had to be pulled out of school mid-year. Like any other child of his age, Harsha was active and mischievous. While the father, a school teacher, found this behaviour normal for a child of that age, the mother found it difficult to cope. She grew exasperated with him. Regretting the adoption, she approached the agency to take the child back, even as the agency members tried to reason with her. 

Several children like Harsha end up with harrowing experiences owing to the chaos caused by the unpreparedness of adoptive parents. 

The Ministry of Women and Child Development has digitised the entire adoption process from the last four years. While this has brought in transparency and has streamlined the process, the lack of human intervention has resulted in a different set of conflicts: Since the entire process is online, adoption agencies have minimal interaction with the parents. The process does not emphasise on adequate counselling either for parents or children and hence often, both parents and the child end up in conflicting situations. The online system is also pan-Indian, allowing inter-state adoption. This creates linguistic and cultural challenges, which neither the parents nor the child is equipped to handle.

Children brought up in a state-run home are likely to be malnourished and are not used to the ways of family life. Prospective parents who come with high expectations either about the appearance of the child or about their performance in school, tend to get disappointed. 

Read: Fewer takers for kids with special needs

Owing to this, the number of instances where children are brought back to the adoption home is increasing, according to experts. As many as 275 such children had been returned to the system across states, between April 2017 and March 2019, according to an RTI filed by Karnataka social workers. Karnataka witnessed 25 such cases, the second highest number after Maharashtra, in this period.

The process 

Interested couples or single parents have to register with the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) — the government body handling all inter- and intra-country adoptions in the country— by providing the requisite documents. The registration procedure is explained on the CARA website. Once the registration is done, the prospective adoptive parents (PAP) have to transfer their documents to the nearest adoption agency. A list of such agencies is made available on the CARA website.

The agency will then counsel the parents and conduct a home study. A report will be sent to CARA based on this. If the local agency gives a positive report, the PAP’s name will be added to the seniority list. As and when a child is available for adoption, the couple is notified. The PAP need to state their decision within 48 hours.

If they give their consent, the parents need to go to the agency to convey their willingness. The child will be given for adoption. The adoption process is completed through a court procedure, which the agency will facilitate. In case the PAP refuse to adopt the child presented to them on the website, they will be given another option within 60 days. If they are not in agreement with the second option too, they have to begin the process from scratch again.

Read: 'Counselling is a must for kids'

The process is designed for minimal human interaction, in order to make it more objective and transparent. A senior official working closely with adoption in the Department of Women and Child Welfare, requesting anonymity, said: “I can say with certainty that the online process has definitely streamlined the system. For one, the online queue for prospective parents is objective and the adoption is given based only on the seniority list. For another, the online system takes into account only agencies that are registered with the government and hence many unauthorised agencies have shut down. However, the lack of counselling for parents and children is a drawback. We need to work on that.” 

What does the present system say about counselling? Malathi, a counsellor from Bengaluru-based Mathruchhaya, a registered adoption agency, explains: “At the moment, until the court procedure is completed, there is counselling for parents every month. Once the legal procedure is done, the parents have to give an update every six months. However, parents stop showing interest in follow-ups and in several instances, change their addresses, which makes it difficult for agencies to track.” 

Malathi added that on part of the agency, they meet the prospective parents after the child is allotted to them through the online system, giving little scope to interact with them. This is contrary to the earlier manual system where the agency had several meetings with the parents before the child was officially adopted. 

Since the online system is pan-Indian, the system often allots couple from one state to a child in another state. Senior Manager of Mathruchhaya, Sumangala Angadi pointed out: “As far as possible, the system needs to be tweaked to favour adoptions within the state. This will help the agency to keep a better track of parents and interact with them more. At the moment, if there is a couple from another state, we take the help of a local agency in their area to give us updates.”

In case of inter-state adoptions, there is a requirement for frequent counselling to help both the child and the parent understand each other’s culture and language, she added. 


Support groups

Madhuri and her husband Paul (names changed), both software professionals, adopted a child in 2012, before the online system was introduced. They see a stark contrast in the process. “They have something called the immediate placement list, where they put up a list of children available for adoption that week. The parents have to take a decision within 24 hours as to whether they want the baby or not. The entire process is clinical and detached. It is not really child-centric. Previously, we had to make several trips to the agency, which gave us an opportunity to get acquainted with the reality. It gave us time to sensitise our family. The agency also got an opportunity to sensitise us.” 

Paul added that the process could be made more efficient by covering the aspect of counselling.”The CARA should have counselling centres and then maintain record of how many sessions a couple has gone through.” 

Both Madhuri and Paul, who are part of a support group for adoptive parents, emphasised the need for it. “Being part of these groups is very important. You can go there and share without being judged.” 

As they try to negotiate their way, several couples seek support in exclusive groups for adopted parents. 

There are several city-based support groups for parents. Their online presence increases their reach to parents even outside India. Sroboni Das, co-founder of For and Of Heart Babies, a parent support group, urged the government to include all stakeholders in policy making. Groups like theirs could provide valuable inputs based on shared experiences and ground realities, she said. The government should also make efforts to bring more children into the adoption pool by cracking down on unauthorised adoption centres. “There are many children out there who are not being adopted because of the lack of documentation,” she added. 

State-level programmes

However, after several instances of disruptions in the adoption process were pointed out, CARA has begun to look into the issue.

Sindhu Naik, member of the Karnataka State Council for Child Welfare, the only legally authorised agency for scrutinising adoption petitions in Karnataka, explains how CARA responded after hard data through the filing of RTI confirmed their concerns about disruptions.

“CARA is organising state-level training programmes for all social workers and district child protection units to sensitise them on the entire home level study process. In Karnataka, we see many social workers sending parents and children for further counselling. The PAP are sent to counsellors to understand whether they want an older child or a child with special needs. But we can’t say whether there’s been a drop in disruption as we haven’t collected the most recent data.”