Says Smriti Gupta, who is a child rights campaigner, and a partnerships and marketing professional. She is working to drive awareness and find lasting solutions for India’s most vulnerable children. In this interview with PRERNA SHAH, she talks about creating a Facebook group that supports Prospective Adoptive Parents (PAPs), how a family can prepare themselves prior to bringing home a child, as well as her campaign on Safe Surrender. Gupta also addresses several pertinent issues regarding adoption in India, including the lack of maternity leave for parents who bring home an older child.
You run a Facebook group that helps PAPs who are interested in adopting older children, siblings and children with special needs. How did that group come about and what sort of help are PAPs looking for when they sign up?
When I started engaging with Facebook groups related to adoption within India, I realised that the conversations is these groups were mostly geared towards adoption of younger children in the normal category. I wanted to create a space for PAPs to be able to discuss adoption of children with special needs (any age), normal category children above six years of age, and sibling groups. That’s how the Facebook group (India Adoption – Children with special needs, older children and siblings) came about.
PAPs in this group are looking for similar things that I have seen in other groups; only the children’s profiles are different. For example, PAPs are looking to understand how to care for a child with a certain special need, or how to prepare themselves for an older child adoption, or how to help siblings adjust, etc. Having an exclusive group really helps because you are getting answers from adoptive parents who have had similar experiences.
Are Indian PAPs opening up to adopting older children? Do you see a significant increase in parents opting for or considering adopting older children and children with special needs?
Yes, Indian PAPs are opening up to adopting older children, sibling groups, and children with special needs. I can’t say how significant the increase is since I don’t have the statistics around it but it’s very heartening to see PAPs opening up to a wide profile of children. International adoptions do play a significant role in the adoption of these children, and I am very thankful for that because every child deserves a family.
How does one define older children and what are the particular challenges that parents face when they bring home an older child? Or when they bring home siblings?
I think the definition varies on who you ask. There was a time when Indian government didn’t allow adoption of children over six years of age, so many people consider that as the cut off for defining older children. (By the way, now children can be adopted up to 18 years of age – a positive change in how India views adoption). I would personally define pre-teens and teens as an older child adoption, so over 10 years of age.
I don’t like the word ‘challenges’ when it comes to adoption. I would rather say what type of ‘preparation’ do PAPs need when they bring home an older child and an older group of siblings. I think the biggest preparation is accepting that it will take time to adjust and bond for the child as well as the parent. Also the child may require catch up time to match with his/her peer group both educationally and emotionally. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t rush things. Every child and every relationship has its own path.
If an adoptive parent and the (adopted) child face a challenge in bonding with each other, who can the parents seek help from? Are there enough resources for adoptive parents in India?
In such a scenario, I would encourage parents to talk to other adoptive parents to get some tips and also a reality check around expectations. I remember telling a PAP that it took one of my daughters two years to really start hugging me on a consistent basis. She had bonded with me in other ways; it’s just that hugging wasn’t her thing in the initial years. I think the PAP was quite surprised but I also hope it gave them some perspective on how every child is different.
For more formal counselling, the adoptive parents can reach out to therapists, though I am not sure how many therapists in India today are well versed with adoption. So try both formal and informal help.
Disruptive adoptions are also on the rise. What happens when an adoptive parent and a child decide that they do not or no longer function as a family?
I want to step back and bring a bit of a perspective to this since it’s an important topic. My understanding is that until few years ago, people only adopted babies or very young children. Now people are becoming open to adopting kids of all ages, a positive development which needs to be supported with more preparation and more counselling. I wonder whether disruptive adoptions happen due to lack of such counselling.
One of the adoptive families in India recently adopted a 12-year old child. I had long conversations with them perhaps four to six times before the adoption, and about four to five times post adoption. The family is obviously very open-minded and warm. Still I could see how talking through the process was useful for them. I believe this type of a support network should be in place for all adoptions.
There is a process for adoption dissolution when the adoption does not work out. But let’s try and make sure we never get there. Let’s prepare the families upfront.
If an older adoptive child displays behavioural issues that may include violent behaviour, what can an adoptive parent do to help the child and also themselves?
First and foremost, let’s remember we are talking about a child, irrespective of whether the child came into the family via reproduction or adoption. Seek out relevant resources and support. Find good therapists and child counsellors. It’s not easy but it’s doable. Make sure the child knows that his/her acceptance in the family is not dependent on his/her behaviour.
You also run a campaign regarding safe surrender. Can you tell us something about it?
Indian law allows parents or guardians to legally surrender a child at an adoption agency, if they are unable or unwilling to raise a child. This is a hugely important law to protect children but public awareness about it is non-existent. Almost weekly we see news stories about children being unsafely abandoned or killed. Which is why we are running the safe surrender campaign, which you can read more about here:
https://waic.in/safesurrender/. We also have an ongoing petition to the Indian media about it: http://change.org/SafeSurrender and we are currently training Anganwadi workers in one of Telangana’s district about this law.
I believe building Safe Surrender awareness requires much more attention and resources. So I am hoping that at some point the government would highlight Safe Surrender just like they are running campaigns such as Beti Bachao Beti Padhao.
Can you share a couple of stories or case studies from the Facebook group that you run, in which the adoptive parent was helped with advice, resources or support that helped them go ahead with a successful adoption or helped provide a solution to an issue or a problem.
There are many small stories, one of which I mentioned above – the family who adopted the 12-year old child reached out to me through this Facebook group. Another anecdote I can share is about another family in India who adopted siblings and used the group to talk about getting prepared for the adoption, and some everyday things post-adoption such as helping the kids learn English etc.
What made you choose to work in the adoption ecosystem?
Before I became an adoptive parent myself, I theoretically knew that each child deserves a family who passionately loves and protects them, how important it is for children to feel secure in a safe family, and how vulnerable children are in many shelters and other less than ideal scenarios. After my daughters’ adoptions, the reality of it hit home. They had been impacted terribly by previous lack of care, but as soon as they came home, they started thriving very quickly and beautifully. It was magical to see their personalities transform and them becoming their own person. The idea that any child anywhere is in a vulnerable position is not acceptable. So I work in this ecosystem to hopefully make a tiny contribution towards ensuring a safe family for every child.
Recently, an adoptive mother shared her experience on a professional network. She said that the company she worked for, refused to give her maternity leave since the child she had adopted was not an infant. Do you think there can be a greater sense of awareness and possible solution seeking exercises on an issue like the one above?
I had faced the same issue a few years ago. I had even started a petition about it. I think this is one of those issues which is so solvable that it’s ridiculous that it exists in the first place. All the government has to do is say we don’t differentiate between maternity leave for reproduction and adoption. Both get the same leave. Done. There are less than 4000 adoptions versus millions of births annually in India. So parity in maternity leave is a very minor thing from a human resource perspective, but an extremely important thing for the mental welfare of every child who has just been adopted into a family and needs time to bond and adjust.
Interested in reading more stories about adoption? You can read Sangitha Krishnamurthi piece on how certain issues in adoption are often pushed under the carpet here. You may also like to read a piece by Anjali Fahnline,14, who talks about her journey as an adoptee here.