New Delhi: India’s Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) is facing a crisis — there’s been an unprecedented rise in adoptive parents returning children soon after adoption, or ‘disruption’, as it is called.
Earlier this year, social workers in the field of adoption in Karnataka noticed an unusual spike in incidents of families returning children to state adoption agencies, and filed an RTI on it. In August, the RTI response from CARA confirmed their observations — of the 6,650 children adopted by Indian families between 2017-19, 4 per cent or 278 were returned.
While there was speculation that most children who were returned were specially-abled and the families failed to adjust with them, it was mostly older children, above 6 years of age, who were returned, according to CARA’s member secretary and CEO Deepak Kumar.
“Of the 3,200 children adopted by Indian families in one year, hardly 50 are those with special needs. For inter-country adoptions — 400 of the 700 adopted are specially-abled. It’s the older children who comprise a majority of children returned,” Kumar told ThePrint.
Worried at the spike in ‘disruptions’, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) had decided to carry out a fact-finding exercise, though its chief Priyank Kangoo told ThePrint there isn’t yet a conclusive finding.
Indians only want new-borns
The Juvenile Justice Act of 2015 mandated that all Child Care Institutions — which take care of “troubled” or generally older children — be linked to Specialised Adoption Agencies, which take care of children between 0-6 years of age, to enable the adoption of the older children too.
Then, in 2016, CARA launched a new category of children available for “immediate placement”, which parents could use to bypass the long adoption process. These were children who were otherwise “hard to place”, either because of a minor deformity or because they were older in age, but didn’t fall in the ‘special needs category’.
A combination of these two factors is what led many Indian families to go for older children, though Kumar said “Indian families usually only want to adopt new-born children who are completely ‘perfect’ according to them”.
“Many Indian parents tried to adopt older children, but they realised that they weren’t prepared and couldn’t adjust with them,” Kumar said.
Older children also find it more difficult to adjust to a new environment — leading to ‘disruptions’.
“A lot of times, institutions don’t prepare the children well either — they aren’t well-groomed or counselled about what it would be like to live with a family,” Kumar said.
When a ‘disruption’ occurs, the respective State Adoption Resource Agency (SARA) holds counselling sessions with the parent(s) as well as the child to determine where the nub of the problem lies. Based on its findings, the child or the adoptive parent is temporarily removed from the list until they can prove their preparedness again.
“Whatever the issue, it’s better if the child returns in such a case. It’s better than the child struggling there.” Kumar said.
Inter-country adoptions have fewer problems
Of the 278 children returned after adoption, only three were outside the country. Experts working in the field said this is an indication of the adjusting nature of foreign families, as well as the support system around them.
“Unlike many foreign countries, India doesn’t have a great support system for adoptive parents and children. Here, admission of older children in schools becomes an issue, if they are over-age,” said Lorraine Campos, assistant director of Palna, one of the oldest adoption homes in Delhi. “We don’t have great psychologists either. All this plays a role.”
Expectation and reality
Adoptive parents ThePrint spoke to said older children come with their own issues, and their limited means until the time of adoption often restrict their growth and development.
“When people adopt kids, they want the children to fit into their families, their dreams, the vision they have for their children. When they realise that’s not what is happening with their older adoptive children, they are shocked with the gap,” a Bengaluru woman who adopted two seven-year-olds in 2008 told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity. Both her children later began showing signs of dyslexia.
“The first five years of a child’s life are a time of maximum development — their language skills, their discerning abilities, and a lot of their personalities are developed in this period. Most kids given up for adoption come from a lower economic strata and limited resources, which influences their development. The effects often surface later,” she said.
Madhu Tugnait, who runs Icha Foundation, a foster home for abandoned children, particularly those with special needs, said a lot of children struggle to adjust with the families because they are used to living in an institution-like facility.
“Here, for instance, we look after the children like they are our own. So they will struggle to adjust with a new family. But some kids also come from centres that don’t treat them all that well. Then that would be a different case,” Tugnait said.
Some parents persist through the tough ride, but often it ends up being about their level of privilege and resources.
“It is about the resources and padding the parents have. That can’t be discounted,” the Bengaluru parent said.
Aneela Qazi and Yahya Qazi, a couple in Maharashtra’s Amravati, adopted nine-year-old Kamil in 2009. Kamil had lost his biological parents to HIV-AIDS, and this made his adoption highly controversial in the Qazis’ social circle.
“A lot of our friends said ‘we will not come to your home if he’s there’. I said fine, don’t come,” Aneela said.
But while Kamil was HIV negative, he did carry trauma from his life before adoption, which made adjustment a huge issue.
“He used to get nightmares all the time, he wouldn’t be able to sleep. He would wet the bed sometimes. He suffered from anxiety, and also had a lot of anger issues,” Aneela said.
But 10 years later, the family has done a lot to ensure Kamil becomes more comfortable.
“We put him in the best school, but he just couldn’t study. Today, he is an excellent painter because we realised that’s where his skill set lies,” she said.
More heart needed in the process
Changes brought in by the women and child development ministry to the adoption process in 2015 also introduced a centralised digital list as part of the Child Adoption Resource Information and Guidance System (CARINGS), where all potential parents could access one list of children available for adoption across states.
Campos said while this may have streamlined the process, it also rendered it compassionless.
“There needs to be more heart in the process. Especially in the case of older children — they are not a commodity. Each child has a different personality and that needs to be kept in mind while placing them in homes,” she said.
“Previously, we would interact with the potential families for some time, prepare them for what it is like to live with an older kid. We would try and place kids who are friends in the same area — so that they have a sense of familiarity after shifting to a new home. Everything has become too digitised now.”