Douglas and Marlow Newman-Valentine with their adopted daughter Rebecca.

Cape Town - When Douglas Newman-Valentine was granted paternity leave by his employer because he and his partner Marlow Newman-Valentine were adopting, he set a precedent at the organisation.

The couple adopted Rebecca in 2011 when she was three months old. Douglas described the family unit as “progressive” and “gender neutral“.

He said that with he and his partner being professionals, the problem of leave was compounded by their both being fathers. They were unsure what kind of leave would apply to them for an adoption.

The Basic Conditions of Employment Act makes no provision for paternity leave, but new fathers may take three days’ family responsibility leave a year.

Douglas said his employer, the University of Cape Town, deserved praise for granting his paternity leave because it was “a bold step to set a principle”.

“It was the first time they’d had a case like this with a man applying for adoption leave.” After much discussion on both sides and after he’d explained his situation and why he needed the leave, he qualified for four months. “I took a chance. If you don’t ask, you don’t know.”

His partner’s leave from an NGO was also approved, but as it turned out, Marlow was retrenched before he could take it. The fathers ended up at home with their new daughter for about six months, which included annual leave, and Douglas said he thinks this time together strengthened their bond as a family.

“Almost three years later, you can see that special bond between us.”

Douglas said he believed if South Africans wanted fathers to be more involved in the raising of their children, legislation was needed to enable them to take the necessary time off.

If fathers wanted a bond as he and his partner had with their daughter, this needed to be forged as early as possible.

For Heather Tuffin, who adopted teenagers, a biological sister and brother, it has been an entirely different matter. She said an issue she experienced was that foster parents were not provided for in the Act.

She said she had not been entitled to family responsibility leave until her children had been officially adopted. This meant that if she needed to go to court or if one of them fell sick, she had to take unpaid leave or make up the hours.

With her job as an improvement adviser in emergency medicine in the Western Cape, she was fortunate as she could spend time with her children and make up the hours, she said. There needed to be a law for people who provided long-term foster care or adopted older children.

Turrin said the law should provide for the adjustment period that children needed once they moved in with their adoptive or foster families.

[email protected]

Cape Times