The impact of Covid-19 on child protection and adoption
The Covid-19 pandemic and the 21-day South African government mandated lockdown period has impacted everyone’s lives in some way or another, not least of all child protection.
According to the National Adoption Coalition SA (NACSA), there are many organisations who work with abandoned babies and unplanned pregnancies that are being cared for in various child and youth care centres or temporary safe care facilities.
These babies and children have come into the child protection system after being abandoned by their mother either in the hospital after giving birth or in safe or unsafe places around the city. Other babies are voluntarily given up for adoption by their birth mothers.
It often takes several months to complete all the legal requirements necessary to make a baby adoptable and during this time, the babies and young children need to be cared for in temporary, safe, care facilities or child and youth care facilities.
Due to the Covid-19 situation, many of the caregivers in these facilities are spending the 21-day lockdown permanently with the children to avoid using public transport to and from the facility, leaving their own families, to care for these vulnerable babies and children during this time. Their commitment is greatly appreciated.
Many of these temporary, safe, care facilities do, however, rely heavily on committed volunteers who play a vital role in the optimal functioning of baby nurseries by helping with the day to day care, stimulation and nurturing of the children and support of caregivers, as well as playing the role of ‘buddy’ to the children.
With lockdown, volunteers are restricted from access to temporary safe care and child and youth care facilities, leaving some of the older children wondering where their ‘buddy’ has gone.
Lockdown also means that regular drop-offs by donors and volunteers of baby goods, food and other items to temporary safe care facilities and child protection organisations - who often rely heavily on these donations - came to a very sudden halt. The financial crisis as a result of the pandemic will have a major impact on fundraising.
As most social workers from child protection organisations are working from home, although continuing to respond to emergencies, the screening of prospective adoptive parents, has largely been put on hold.
The process for many children who were already matched or about to be matched with their new families, have now also been put on hold. New parents would not be able to visit a child in a temporary safe care facility for the introduction and required bonding period due to lockdown restrictions, with most temporary safe care facilities not allowing visitors at this time.
Some of these older babies and toddlers who have special needs, have already been matched with prospective adoptive parents from abroad and were due to be placed with their new families within the next few weeks. But due to worldwide travel restrictions and quarantine periods, these placements have had to be put on hold until things get back to some form of normality.
These children have spent their whole life in care, and we all know the effects of long-term institutional care on babies and children. Every month of delay to be placed with their new families is a month too long in their lives.
What if the lockdown is extended? When will travel bans be lifted? How much longer do these children have to wait? There are so many unanswered questions.
The Covid-19 crisis has also affected normal functioning of government departments, such as the Department of Social Development and Justice. This will cause delays for the granting of adoption court dates or birth mothers wishing to sign consent for the adoption of their child as only essential and emergency situations will be dealt with during this time.
With babies not moving into adoption, the ripple effect is that children are not moving out of the temporary safe care facilities which makes it very difficult for social workers to find space for the placement of new babies who remain waiting in hospital to be removed. We anticipate that the babies will keep 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.
The economic fallout as a result of Covid-19 will also inevitably have many other repercussions for child protection organizations as well as adoption in South Africa. People who were thinking of adopting a child may now have second thoughts, particularly when they have been financially affected by losing their business or losing their employment. It will take a long time for families to recover both financially and psychologically.
The economic crisis will also affect the ongoing financial security of child protection organisations and NGOs in general, in the aftermath of regular donors experiencing huge financial losses and struggling to regain and rebuild their own financial stability. Incomes of these already underfunded NGOs are likely to be severely affected, becoming the victims of the worldwide economic crisis.
Pamela Wilson is coordinator for communications portfolio the National Adoption Coalition SA (NACSA)