Pretoria – The Johannesburg High Court has slammed the Department of Social Development and its social workers for frustrating the adoption process of two women who chose to give away their children for adoption without their families knowing or being involved.
The two women and the children will not be identified. The women will be referred to as X and Y, the children as B and L.
X and Y approached the court after they were victimised and received hostile treatment from social workers when they chose to have their babies adopted without their parents knowing.
X was a 23-year-old student and unemployed when she fell pregnant with B. She decided to put her child for adoption as she could not provide for him financially or emotionally. The father of her child abandoned her when he learned about her pregnancy.
She approached a private social worker, Ms Wasserman, and received counselling and consented to B’s adoption before a magistrate. She did not want her parents or relatives to know about her pregnancy and the adoption of B as she would face harsh consequences from her family.
She also felt it was best to give B to a family that would be able to provide him with opportunities and a fair chance at a life she was unable to provide and did not have herself.
When B was born in 2018, a social worker employed at the hospital interrogated X about the adoption of B. She then lodged a request for an investigation into the adoption based on her concerns that the adoption procedures were not followed and that the father’s wishes needed to be investigated.
X was not informed of the investigation. B was then moved to another hospital without X’s knowledge.
In court papers, the department said this was done in order to protect B.
As a result, parents who had planned to adopt B withdrew from the process, and then four months later, X managed to find parents who were interested in taking B.
Wasserman prepared the paperwork and B was taken to his new family.
“When B was placed in their care, B had a skin infection, oozing wound, an undetected lactose intolerance and could not latch properly, reflective of the care he received at the facility,” read the court papers.
After B’s placement, social workers then called X informing her that they are going to notify her parents about the adoption as they had a right to know.
In her submission papers, X described her interactions with the social workers as scary and threatening and she felt victimised and punished for choosing adoption.
She kept fighting her adoption battle with the department from 2018 until 2020. The battle went on after a magistrate had ruled that Wasserman should continue with the adoption process. Social workers dragged the matter and produced more reports casting aspersions on Wasserman.
Despite X’s consent, in 2020, social workers informed her parents of her pregnancy, the birth of B and his proposed adoption. They persuaded the grandparents to adopt B, which meant removing him from the family that had been raising him since he was four months.
As a result of how social workers handled the matter, X said her relationship with her parents soured and the conduct of social workers has caused her severe stress and trauma.
On the second case, Y was a 27-year-old mother of one when she fell pregnant and her partner was a married man and also denied paternity. Because she already had one child, she feared that her family would not approve as they had chased her away during her first pregnancy and allowed her to return after five months.
In an effort to hide the second pregnancy, she moved out of her parents’ house. She also approached Ms Wasserman to help her with the adoption process.
When she gave birth to L in 2019, she had completed all the necessary process with Ms Wasserman. L was adopted and relevant reports were submitted to the Children's Court.
When social workers became involved, they insisted on notifying her parents about L and his adoption thereof. They also wanted to remove L from his adoptive parents and place him in a place of safety while insisting that the adoption process should start from scratch.
Y obtained a court order which prevented the social workers from disclosing any information to her parents.
In its defence, the department argued that grandparents should be first in line for consideration as adoptive parents.
The department also said that the decision of the young mothers was driven by emotions and fear of what their families will say as opposed to the paramount best interest of principle.
The department said circumstances of a financially secure future, don’t negate other factors for consideration such as maintaining family links.
“The department is not led by emotions when making decisions that are in the best interests of the children, but reach factual conclusions after the investigations and careful consideration has gone into reaching the relevant decision,’’ the department argued.
However, X and Y argued that the department and social workers interfered and unlawfully stalled the adoption process contrary to the best interest of B and L, thus stripping the applicant of the right to choose adoption as an option.
In the judgment, Judge Fiona Dippenaar slammed the department and social workers saying they can be described as obnoxious and they disregarded the pain and trauma they caused.
“At worst, their attitude can be described as a deliberate stratagem to discriminate against and punish women who seek to have their babies put up for adoption. In either event, their attitude is intolerable.”
Dippenaar said she agreed with the applicants that the conduct of the social workers amounted to violation of rights and it was not in accordance with guidelines.
“In my view. It would be just and equitable to bring the conduct of the social workers to the attention of the council to enable it to exercise its statutory duties and oversight function … there must be accountability.”
She ruled that the department is liable for costs and also ordered social workers to leave the children with their adoptive parents, pending the final determination of the proceedings.