‘Freeing children for adoption can give them a better future’
Throughout his teens James* yearned to know more about where he came from and who his birth mother was.
With the support of his adoptive parents, he embarked on an emotional journey that also led him to the discovery that he had two brothers.
Thinking back, James believes that having been adopted was the best thing that ever happened to him even though it was tough to come to terms with.
He believes that more needs to be done to make it easier for Maltese children, who live in institutions, to be adopted. Now that he is an adult, in his early 30s, he can speak up for children in care.
“Every child should have a family. There are situations of children who yearn to have a family and can’t because of legal constraints (mainly the consent of their biological parents)… Freeing children for adoption can help children have a better future,” he said.
James was a few days old when he was adopted, straight out of hospital. He vividly remembers being told he was adopted when he was about five years old. His father tried to explain to him that his birth mother could not keep him so she gave him to them to look after and love him.
“It was a bit of a shock. What exactly happened? I was five and trying to put the pieces together. You start to ask why your mother couldn’t keep you and why you’re different,” he recalled.
He also started having nightmares about his adoptive family not wanting him.
“In the dream I’d be running in the house and my family, including my grandmother, trying to catch me in a negative way,” he said adding that he found it hard to speak to his adoptive parents about his fears since he was scared to hurt their feelings.
James added that he never doubted his parents’ love and never felt inferior for being adopted. But there were moments of loneliness and confusion that intensified in his teens.
“I always knew this was my family but, at the same time, there was another family. I prayed for them… There was always the wish to meet my family,” he said.
When he completed secondary school he decided he wanted to find his family.
“It’s not that I was not happy with my family. But it was like putting a jigsaw puzzle of your life together,” he said adding that he made a conscience decision to take things one step at a time.
“In a way you’re opening a Pandora’s box. You never know what you’re going to find,” he said.
When he was about 16, with the support of his parents, he met a person who worked in social welfare who knew his birth mother. This man gave him information about where he came from. He found out that he had brothers.
“I asked him if he knew why my mother had given me up for adoption and he told me she had financial problems and could not cope,” he said.
The man offered to introduce him to his mum but he was not ready for that step as yet.
The tumultuous teens made it harder. There were moments of anger when he felt lost and lonely. He started going to therapy to prepare himself for an eventual reunion.
Years passed and James went to study abroad for about a year and, some time after his return, he decided it was time to meet his birth mother. He located her with the help of a social worker. His mother agreed to meet him.
“I remember it very clearly… it was a very emotional event – meeting your mother after 23 years. It was a great day.
“I remember her coming in. She told me: ‘Here I am’. I hugged her. Everybody was in tears. She told me not to cry. She said I remained her son and she was proud of me. She told me to respect my parents because they brought me up well and I was to look after them. There was no resentment. It was very emotional but at the same time very calm and serene.
“This was my mother, the person who got me into the world. She told me she was sorry to have to give me up but, at the same time, she was happy that things had worked out and that I was OK,” he recalled.
That day James went back home and shared the experience with his adoptive parents. A piece of his life puzzle had been solved.
He learnt that his father had died as he was already quite old when he was born. He never saw photos of him.
After that he wanted to know more. The next question was: What about his brothers?
He found out that he had two brothers who he managed to find and meet. They were adopted in two separate families. The three families met together and he then introduced his brothers to their mother.
“I felt the bond immediately. You come together and the puzzle continues to close,”he continued.
Now that James has the full picture in front of him, he feels that being adopted was “the best thing that could have happened”.
“I look at adoption today very differently to when I was 17 or 18. Today I’m able to deal with it whereas, way back, it was much more difficult,” he said.
*Name has been changed.
Over 450 children live in out-of-home care which means they don’t live with their biological parents, according to Appoġġ agency.
“The reason for children being placed in care, whether residential or foster care, varies. Some require simple temporary placement while others, even though they are placed on a long-term arrangement, may not be appropriate or willing to be adopted,” Appoġġ said.
Last year 15 children were referred to be freed for adoption. In order for a child, who lives in a residential home, to be adopted there first has to be a request to adopt that child. If adoption is considered to be in the child’s interest the consent of the biological parents is sought.
Should the parents refuse to give consent, there are specific legal criteria when the court can dispense of parental rights. These include instances of abuse and neglect and mental incapability to decide.
• Parents should collect as much information as they can about the child’s origins and put it in a life story book.
• There should be more support groups available to adopted children and their parents.
• Adoptive parents need to be aware of what the children may be feeling and specifically ask them how they feel as they might not be able to express it clearly.
• Adoptees and adoptive parents should seek support from qualified professionals such as social workers and therapists to help them deal with issues.