Zachery Wright has waited 10 years to be adopted by the family who has reared him since he was a baby.
The decade-long delay in his adoption reached an urgent point recently when it looked like the 15-year-old needed to go off-island to undergo a medical examination for seizures he has been experiencing. However, he cannot leave the Cayman Islands because he does not have a passport and cannot get one until his adoption is complete, his family said.
The Wright family has tried repeatedly to finalise Zachery’s adoption, but has never been given a court date to complete the procedure.
Zachery lives with his biological father, Dorson Wright, and his father’s wife, Gaylette, who wants to adopt him. Shortly after he was born, his Jamaican mother, who gave birth to him in Cayman, asked his father to come pick him up in Jamaica, where she and her newborn baby went when authorities told her she had to leave Cayman. She signed the guardianship rights to the child over to the father and his wife.
Although her husband is Zachery’s biological father and his name is on the teenager’s birth certificate, Mrs. Wright said she wanted to be acknowledged as Zachery’s mother, a desire her son also has. “She’s the only mother I’ve got. It would not be fair to have someone else’s name as my mother,” he said.
The family first applied to adopt Zachery in 2002, Mrs. Wright said.
“It’s my right to adopt him as my son, to be his mother,” Mrs. Wright said, adding that over the years, the family has dealt with several case workers within the Child and Family Services Department and each time their case worker leaves and a new one takes up the post, everything goes back to square one. “The last time we talked to the latest social worker, she told us you don’t have to worry, by the time school opens again, it will be over. We’ve been here so many times before … and now she says she’s leaving, too.
“It started back in 2002, then it all started over again in 2003, it’s been going on like that, on and off. The reason is they keep changing the social worker. Everybody leaves. Whenever I call, there’s a different social worker and the new one wants to start all over again,” Mrs. Wright said.
Zachery, who has had four unexplained seizures during the past year, needed to undergo a check with an electroencephalogram, or EEG, to measure electrical activity in his brain because X-rays and MRIs have been unable to determine why he has been having the seizures.
“Now, I have been sickly, the test I’m supposed to do is in Jamaica because they don’t have the facility here, but I don’t have a passport and I cannot travel there,” said Zachery, in an interview with the Caymanian Compass last week.
When the Compass approached the Health Services Authority to determine if EEGs were available in Cayman, Chief Executive Officer Lizzette Yearwood contacted the Wright family and helped arrange for the teen to be referred to a consultant visiting Grand Cayman this week who could carry out EEGs. Zachery had the EEG on Tuesday and will undergo further checks locally. It looks likely he will not to have to go overseas for treatment or diagnosis, after all, Mrs. Wright said.
But the issue of his delayed adoption and his lack of a passport still rankles for the youth.
He said the long wait to be adopted is always on his mind. “I’ve been waiting so long and it is stressing me out,” he said.
He has never been away from Grand Cayman and has had to pass up trips overseas with his classmates at John Gray High School and with his family over the years, due to his lack of a passport.
“I’ve had opportunities to travel in the past, but I had to turn them down because I cannot travel. It brings me down. I remember in school my year were going to a cruise to the Bahamas and they raised money for me to go but I could not go because of the situation,” said Zachery.
“I’ve been here on the island since I was born almost and it will be really ludicrous if I go to the court and they turn me down. I will get really upset because this is the only family I know … I may get turned down and that never leaves my mind. That is a constant fear,” he said.
Even without his health issues, the teen said he worries that if his adoption is not completed soon, he will have trouble getting into a university overseas or getting a scholarship.
“There are scholarships for schools and universities overseas. If I don’t get my passport, how am I going to be able to go? It will affect my future,” he said.
Mrs. Wright said Zachery was told he might be able to get a Jamaican passport, but the family opted not to do so because they feared it might jeopardise him being able to get a Caymanian passport later on.
Not the only one
Zachery’s case is not unique. Other families in Cayman have also been waiting several years to complete adoptions.
According to statistics released in 2010, following a parliamentary question in the Legislative Assembly, at that time there were 21 cases before the Adoption Board – two of those cases had first been presented to the board in 2003, one in 2004, one in 2005, eight in 2007, four in 2008, three in 2009 and two in 2010.
Requests to the Child and Family Service Department and the Ministry of Community Affairs, Gender Affairs and Housing for an update on those statistics were not met by press time.
Mike Adam, who heads the ministry, in his response to the parliamentary question in 2010, said adoption cases typically take about two years to complete, if everything in the initial application is complete.
He pointed out at the time that a number of factors can impact how long an adoption could take to complete. These included: incomplete applications; getting back references on the applicants; workload of social workers; the ability to get home studies or the three-month supervision reports completed on a timely basis; problems with consent of natural parents; family conflicts within the prospective adoptive family; the adoption board requiring additional information pertinent to the adoption process from the applicants; delays in the prospective adopter obtaining a child or the adoption involves a child from overseas; or by the secretary to the board not following through on matters in a timely fashion.
Speaking to the Caymanian Compass this week, Mr. Adam said he had seen recent cases take as little as 16 months to complete. “I am trying to get it down to one year. That’s what I am challenging them with,” said Mr. Adam.
Mr. Adam, who said he had no personal knowledge of the Wright case, said amendments to the Adoption Law had been drafted and would come before Cabinet “very soon”.