Couple struggle to adopt toddler

By Helen Bamford Time of article published May 17, 2008

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A distraught couple are fighting for the return of a child they were given when she was just 10 days old and who they raised for 18 months while going through the legal process to adopt her.

But they say that following an anonymous complaint, welfare authorities arrived at their Betty's Bay home late last year and told them to hand over the child, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

Jaqui, 47, and Rose, 24, Gradwell, who now live in Strand, said the social worker asked for the child's toys and clothes. They even took her nappies.

All they have left are scrapbooks and hundreds of photographs which portray a chubby and laughing toddler.

The couple, who have been together for 10 years and married for six, say they were never anything but good parents and cannot understand how their child could simply be taken away.

But Child Welfare has said that no social worker would remove a child without good reason and that their priority was always the safety of the child.

The Gradwells, who spent a number of years in America where Rose is from, told Weekend Argus they thought they had been given a godsend when they were offered the child, who was not wanted by her domestic worker mother.

"We had been looking for a while but she came out of the blue," Mrs Gradwell said.

"We're the only parents she's ever had."

Her biological mother, with whom the Gradwells enjoyed a good relationship, was murdered when the child was eight months old.

As soon as the couple took the new-born baby home they approached private social worker Wilna Malherbe to take them through the adoption process, but said it "dragged on" and that they were unsure whether the correct documents were ever submitted.

But Malherbe said everyone who adopted children through her office was required to submit a declaration of clearance from the national criminal board.

"I never received that so I was not prepared to proceed," she said.

After the child was removed from their care by Child Welfare, the Gradwells were initially allowed to visit three times a week.

She was placed with a safety mother in Kleinmond who the Gradwells say approached them and told them she wasn't keen to look after a small child.

Mrs Gradwell said the woman followed them to the shop one day and told them the child was "too much" for her to cope with.

"We then went to her house and cared for her ourselves for two weeks."

But the child was later removed to a safe house in Napier where she remains.

The Gradwells visited her when she first moved and expressed concern over her health which they claim had deteriorated.

"We are worried about her because we haven't been allowed to see her for two months," Mr Gradwell said.

The couple has since spent thousands of rands on a lawyer, who they said did very little, and have had numerous meetings with welfare authorities.

"We've done and given everything they've asked for. We've had interviews and been screened, but wherever we go people say 'this is not your baby'," Mr Gradwell said, adding that one social worker had told them they were not "culturally aligned".

"I assume that means we're white and she is coloured," he said.

But this was dismissed as "nonsense" by Trix Marais, regional director for Child Welfare South Africa, who said they did not discriminate on the basis of sex, colour or culture.

She said they were the first organisation to approve of same-sex adoptive parents and frequently adopted across racial lines.

Marais said that while she could not go into the details of the Gradwells' case, Child Welfare had to make sure that the adoptive parents could provide a stable life for a child.

"People are thoroughly screened. We go into their backgrounds which must be stable otherwise they can be disqualified because we have to make absolutely sure the child will be secure."

She said that it was up to Child Welfare to make sure that the adoptive parents met all the criteria in the Child Care Act.

Marais said that sometimes parents were disqualified because of a criminal record or their lifestyle.

"The court will take that into account even if we don't. They make the final decision."

Gradwell, who has been married six times and has three adult children, said that he did have a criminal record but that it was 20 years old.

"We both come from very dysfunctional families. I went to 27 schools as a kid and I did do some stupid things. But I've changed and now all I want to do is raise my baby."

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