India can be a land of contrasts in almost everything and adoption is no different. At any point of time, thousands of prospective adoptive parents are in queue waiting for less than 200 babies and very young children who fall in the normal category. Simultaneously, more than 1500 children who are available for immediate adoption spend their days in shelters waiting for parents. There are children with special needs, or slightly older children, or children in sibling groups — categories that Indian parents avoid. Partly it has to do with insidious notions of what constitutes a perfect family, and partly it’s pure ignorance. If you believe every child deserves a home, here are some steps you can take to become more open to adopting children who fall in these categories.
1) Spend time with families who have adopted children with special needs, older children, or siblings.
Seeing is believing. When you meet families, who have chosen to adopt in these categories and realize they are not any different from the families who have seen your whole life, it helps you break down the mental fog of preconceived notions. You will meet happy families, crazy families, busy families — basically downright normal families. Ask them what their daily concerns are, and you will hear the usual five everyday things. Adoption in these categories doesn’t define a child or the family; it’s the least important part of who they are. What has always stood out for me is the happiness that comes from choosing your family and from knowing that you make each other’s life better.
If you can’t meet adoptive families, read about the families who have adopted children with special needs, older children, or siblings. There are plenty of personal stories on the internet. Not many of these stories are from Indian families and hopefully you will change that.
2) Spend time at children’s shelters
Once a prospective adoptive couple bemoaned to me that children these days get so smart so quickly (in a bad way) but due to the couple’s age they would have to adopt a slightly older child. I quietly wondered why they were adopting at all if they had such terrible opinion of children. Have you met children who are abandoned, who have to spend their childhood in institutions, who yearn for a family but don’t get one? You can find many children’s shelters in your city. Schedule a visit. When you look at 10, 12, 14 year olds who are there because fate has been cruel to them, who are trying their best to survive in these institutions, you will be rightly reminded that they are just children. When you visit shelters for special needs children ranging from babies to teenagers, you will see just how bright and motivated they are. All these children, like any other child, deserve to be adopted.
3) Stop listening to people who have not adopted children in any of these categories
Everyone has opinions. Unfortunately, most of the time these opinions are not based on knowledge, experience, or even compassion. Instead, these opinions are based on random fears and unknown sources. Don’t let others project their ignorance on you.
4) Pick a special need and learn about it. You will be surprised how many special needs are not that special or difficult.
Sometime back I read an article by the adoptive mother of a blind child. The mother mentioned how the child believes that he is perfectly fine because that’s who he is — lack of sight does not stop the child from living his life. This perspective helped me get a very different and very encouraging outlook on vision related special needs. Same with reading articles and medical information on cerebral palsy, where I learnt that CP is non-progressive and can be improved through therapies.
Knowledge is the best antidote to fear and hesitation. So read up. Learn about the special need that you are considering, read about adoptive or biological families who have managed that special need, and have faith in your capacity to support the child.
5) Stop seeing your future child through other people’s eyes
This will be your child. Not your neighbour’s child. Not your parent’s child. Not your society’s child. Your child. He or she needs you to see them through your own eyes and heart. If you put premium on other people’s opinion, you will never be able to adopt an older child, siblings, or a special needs child. If you haven’t needed to do this before, now is the time to completely break free from caring about others’ perceptions.
If you are a prospective adoptive parent in India, you have access to the “special needs list” and the “immediate placement list” in CARA’s system. Go through these lists to understand the profiles of children with special needs, siblings, and older children, and make your decision with an open mind.