Adopting a child in Cayman can be a long and arduous process, with some parents waiting up to five years before they can permanently welcome a new member into their family.
According to the Department of Children and Family Services, there are currently 21 children in the process of being adopted – 16 already living with the families that hope to adopt them, four in various other stages of the process and one approved and awaiting the next step in an inter-country adoption.
There are also 24 children in foster care in nine foster homes throughout Cayman, but not all children who are in foster care go on to be adopted, said Crystal Melville, the acting Foster Care and Adoption Co-ordinator at the Department of Children and Family Services.
A debate in the Legislative Assembly in February highlighted the fact that adoptions seem to take a long time in Cayman, typically taking two years.
The Legislative Assembly heard that of the 21 adoption cases working their way through the legal system, four had been filed more than five years ago.
According to figures given to the Legislative Assembly, there were two outstanding adoption cases from 2003, one each from 2004 and 2005, and 15 still to be determined that were filed from 2006 onward.
Community Affairs Minister Mike Adam said, even in the best-case scenario, adoption cases typically take two years to complete, adding that 33 adoption cases had been resolved before the Cayman Islands courts since 2002
Melville acknowledged that delays can occur at any stage of the adoption process. She said this can be caused by workload, changes in the family’s circumstances, awaiting receipt of information from families or other relevant parties or locating birth parents so that adoption counselling can be undertaken.
“Every attempt should be made, however, to avoid delays,” she said.
Under Cayman law, it is illegal for a family to adopt a child privately, and all adoption must involve the Adoption Board.
The Cayman Islands Adoption Law stipulates that adoptive parents may be married or single; childless or already have children; and must be at least 25 years old and under 65. Married couples who want to adopt must be married and living together from the date of marriage for at least three years. If a person is separated, he or she needs the written consent of his or her spouse in order to make an application.
The Cayman Islands Adoption Law allows non-Caymanians, who are domiciled in the Cayman Islands, to make application to adopt.
All adoption orders must be completed before the child reaches 17 years of age.
Adoptive parents are not required to own their own home, but must have sufficient space to comfortably accommodate a child joining the family. They also need to earn enough income to adequately support the child.
To begin the process of adopting a child in Cayman, prospective parents first contact the adoption co-ordinator at Child and Family Services to arrange an initial interview.
Melville explained that at this interview, adoptive parents can ask questions and provide information about themselves and their reasons for wanting to adopt. The adoption process is explained and if everything is in order, they will be given an application packet to take away and complete.
The adoption application packet consists of an application form and other documents. When making an application, the parents must provide medical and police reports, a letter from their employers and marriage certificate or divorce decree, where relevant.
Once the required documents are completed, the parents contact the adoption co-ordinator who sets up a second interview. If everything is in place, the co-ordinator will file the application with the Adoption Board. There is a fee of CI$75 for processing an application for adoption.
The co-ordinator will check references from referees listed on the application and, on their receipt, refer the case to the Adoption Board.
If all requirements have been met, the Adoption Board will arrange for a social worker to carry out an assessment, or “home study”. This involves several interviews with the adoptive applicants and all members of their household.
This home study evaluates the prospective adoptive family and the physical and emotional environment into which the child would be placed.
During this process, the family, with the social worker’s assistance, considers all aspects of adoptive parenthood and identifies the type of child they wish to adopt, Melville said.
When the assessment is done, the social worker produces a report for the Board.
But families should be prepared to wait. The home study is carried out over a three-month period, and it takes about five months from the time the application is made until the case is presented to the Board.
The second half of the process takes another six to seven months.
If the parents want to adopt a child from overseas, the process typically takes about two years. The Chief Immigration Officer must give permission for a child to enter the Cayman Islands for the “express purpose of adoption”, under the law.
One of the 16 children currently in the process of being adopted is being placed through an overseas agency in collaboration with Cayman’s Adoption Board as an inter-country adoption.
“It should be noted that there is an international protocol with respect to international adoptions. The best interests of the child are paramount and immigration authorities have to give permission for the child to be admitted into the country for the express purpose of adoption,” Melville said.
Prospective parents whose applications are denied have the right to appeal the Adoption Board’s decision. “However, few applications are turned down; the majority receives the board’s approval,” Melville pointed out.
Once approval is given, the next step is identifying a child who best fits the profile for placement within a particular family.
There are usually more older children, aged between four and 10 years old, than babies available for adoption.
There are also sometimes siblings, of two or three brothers and sisters, who need to be adopted by one family.
Children with special needs, who have been abused or neglected, or who have lost their natural parents, are sometimes within the adoption system as well.
Once a child is placed in a family, there is a statutory period of three months’ supervision, during which time the family will be visited by a social worker. The social worker will visit several times to ensure that the child is well cared for and that bonding is taking place.
At the end of the supervision period, the social worker will write a report for the court to support the application for the adoption order.
When the court supervision report is completed, the adoption order application will be prepared and the case filed with the Grand Court. The Clerk of the Court issues a date for the hearing and summonses will be served on the applicants and all other interested parties to attend court on that date.
As well as the prospective adopters and the child, the child’s birth parents (if known) or previous guardian, are required to attend. The adoption co-ordinator, the chairman of the Adoption Board and the social worker also attend the hearing.
Once the adoption order is granted, the new parents need to register the child as their adoptive child. They do this by presenting the adoption order to the Registry Department. If they so choose, they can at this point, change the child’s name.
Adoption authorities advise that if the child is old enough to understand, he or she should be consulted if the parents intend to change the first names.
The adoption co-ordinator usually arranges prior to the court hearing and the relevant form is prepared as part of the court documents.
“The adoption process can be seen as two-pronged: the prospective adoptive family and the birth family. They are linked by the Adoption Agency which ascertains that the child available for adoption is matched with a family which will provide him or her with a suitable, permanent home,” Melville said.
Revisions of the Cayman Islands Adoption are currently being finalised.