The government is looking into a system that will make it easier for people to adopt children living in institutions by allowing their natural parents to remain in touch, Family Minister Chris Said has said.

We were afraid we would not see her again. That was when we decided to adopt her...

The Gozitan minister, who is himself an adoptive parent, has made it his mission to free more Maltese children in care for adoption.

The government is in the process of establishing what is keeping more Maltese children from being put up for adoption.

It will also consider introducing a so-called open adoption system, which would encourage natural parents to allow their children to be adopted while adoptive parents take legal responsibility. He said this system could be ideal for a small country like Malta.

“When the Prime Minister said I was to be responsible for social policy my thoughts went straight to adoption and how I could improve the system,” he said.

His eyes shimmered as he spoke about his family and recounted the journey that led him to become a father of three.

He and his wife Linda have two daughters – 13-year-old Anastasia and Andrea, six – whom they adopted from Russia. They also have a two-year-old son, Benjamin.

“We used to discuss adoption even if we had our children. For us it happened in reverse,” he smiled.

Dr Said has three goals that would help more children find a home. First, he wants to improve the local process by, for example, reducing the waiting time to attend the adoption course at Appoġġ – the government agency that handles adoptions.

Second, he is looking into changing policies and laws to free more Maltese children for adoption. Of the 175 children adopted since 2008, only 20 were Maltese.

“The law does not allow a child to be put up for adoption if the natural parents object. Natural parents have rights over their children, but they also have obligations. If they abdicate from them for a set number of years, perhaps the child should be adopted,” he said.

He is also working on reaching cross-country adoption agreements with other countries that are members of the Hague Convention that ensures there is no trafficking.

Overseas adoptions currently can take place from Albania, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Colombia, Ethiopia and Russia. Negotiations with the Philippines are ongoing.

Foreign adoptions became the centre of debate a few weeks ago when a Maltese Church-run orphanage in Ethiopia decided to limit adoptions to married couples. This was interpreted as a move to prevent gay couples from adopting.

Dr Said said Maltese law allowed both single people and married couples to adopt, and he believes the process should be open to anyone who is eligible.

The minister and his wife started discussing adoption when they had been married for several years but had no children. The couple had not actually made up their mind until a little Russian girl picked them as her new family.

Six years ago Dr Said was visiting an institute in Russia on official duty when a seven-year-old girl clung to him. The director of the institute suggested he take her home for the summer as part of a summer programme. He called his wife and Dr Said was soon on his way home with the girl, Anastasia.

“At the time I was Nadur mayor and she became loved by the whole village... When September arrived, we were afraid we would not see her again. That was when we decided to adopt her...

“But first we had to take her back... We learnt that for the first month she refused to speak in Russian but only Maltese she had picked up over the summer. It was a difficult time... We’d try to phone regularly but sometimes we did not manage to speak to her for a week,” he said.

Three months later the couple adopted Anastasia and the following year they adopted Andrea, who was 10 months old.

They had to undergo the process in the Russian courts twice, a process which included more than a two-hour grilling by a Russian judge.

“The adoption process was not easy. It’s very delicate and there are times when you start giving up... But when the process is over, the satisfaction is great...

“Sometimes we look at our daughters and wonder where they’d be.

“True, they might be better off. They might have a father who spends more time with them,” he said, as his expression softened from that of hands-on minister to concerned-father.

“I feel guilty. On the weekend I try to be present. On Thursdays I meet my constituents at home so the children can be around.

But on other days they are asleep when I leave home and when I return at night...

“The other day, Andrea’s teacher told me how someone at school asked her what her father does.

“She said I work in Malta and do shows on TV – which is where she sees me,” he smiled.

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