Johannesburg - In a precedent-setting court case which could have devastating consequences for adopted children in South Africa, a Krugersdorp couple has asked to cancel the adoption of a child they raised for five years.
They petitioned the North Gauteng High Court to compel the Ministry of Social Development to approve a request to relinquish their rights as adoptive parents. The boy, who is now 13, has been back in a place of safety for almost four years after his adoptive parents could not cope with his behaviour.
* Mark and Charlotte Robinson met *Jimmy Abrahams when he was only two years old while they were volunteering at a care centre for minor children. They officially adopted him in 2006, when he was four.
In court papers, the couple detailed “horrific” incidents of suicide attempts, sexual behaviour, aggression, violence and emotional blackmail directed at them as the reasons for their application.
He also killed several cats and a frog. They claim to have “pursued numerous interventions to try and parent, develop and nurture the child”. But Jimmy was unresponsive to their efforts.”We nevertheless remained hopeful and felt we couldn’t give up on him.”
A clinical psychologist advised that the couple had experienced significant guilt about what they described as a sense of loss. “Given their emotional states… it will likely require time to process and integrate this experience, and obtain closure.”
The Adoption Act stipulates a limited two-year period within which an adoption can be rescinded.
“An adoption is, by its nature, permanent and intended to ensure the well-being and stability of a child’s life. Without this two-year limitation, the legitimate purpose of an adoption may be undermined and eroded,” said Lumka Oliphant, spokeswoman for the Social Development Ministry.
“This means that the adoption order becomes permanent after two years and the parents should abide by it,” she said.
While volunteering at the care centre, and after unsuccessfully trying for a child of their own, they became quite fond of Jimmy. The couple visited him often and took him to their home on weekends.
After two weekends he started showing signs of maladjustment, forcing the Robinsons to halt the visits.
But the children’s home urged them to attend a parental programme to prepare them for fostering a child.
Two years later they formally adopted Jimmy.
The Robinsons maintained that, at first, the boy adapted well, but this changed as he proved to be difficult at home and at school.
They went from one school to another trying to find a place that would fit his personality. Occupational and speech therapists were consulted as well as psychologists and a psychiatrist when Jimmy grew aggressive and tried to commit suicide.
In 2010 he was admitted to Tara Clinic, where he spent three months for observation.
Court papers also revealed that he was given medication after he was found to have been sexually involved with another boy, and had to be kept away from other children.
When Jimmy was discharged from Tara he was placed in a school for kids with behavioural problems, and only came home on weekends. Even then, the Robinsons said, he was disruptive.
The Robinsons said that, apart from hurting himself, he would eat insects, was obsessed with food, and at times defecated in the garden or urinated in the toy-box.
They said he wanted to be alone, and would run away or disappear from home.
In 2011 Jimmy was admitted at a psychiatric ward at Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital. While there he stabbed another patient and spoke of slicing a woman’s neck in the same manner in which he killed the cats.
He was subsequently moved back to a children’s home.
A psychiatrist who evaluated Jimmy described the young boy as an “extremely damaged boy” as a consequence of early abuse and neglect and the failure of his primary caregiver to bond with him at an emotional level.
This was the origin of his Reactive Attachment Disorder. It is a fixed condition which will continue to impair the child’s capacity to relate to a caregiver or peers throughout his life. “(Jimmy) has a severe attachment disorder. He is a very lonely child in this world.”
The biggest concern, said the psychiatrist, was his anti-social behaviour, as shown by his cruelty towards, and killing of, animals. This also raised concerns that he may display this behaviour towards people, as he has threatened.
The psychiatrist recommended that the child should not be placed back with his adoptive parents or in any family-based placement.
Oliphant said South Africa had dealt with four broken adoptions, but added that the country generally had very successful adoptions.
In the last financial year, there were 1 401 national adoptions and 250 inter-country adoptions.
Meanwhile, the couple said they still loved their son. They criticised the manner in which social workers had handled the case, saying that they “didn’t play open cards with them about his diagnosis and prognosis”.
They maintained that, had they known, they may not have adopted him. “But we believe that we did everything we could to help the child.”
A trial date has yet to be set.
* Not their real names
* Comments on this story have now been closed. - IOL Editor