The headline above captures the vision and priority of the National Strategy for the Adoption of Children. The raison d’être of this document is to have measures that are in the best interest of children in vulnerable situations, giving them a second chance of being nurtured in a family where security and permanent relationships are the norm.

It is a fundamental right of every child to live in a stable, enabling and loving family. This will provide the best possible opportunity for them to develop to their full potential and realise their life’s dreams.

Our responsibility as a caring nation is to keep such values high on the national agenda. As minister responsible for social well-being it is my job to ensure the creation of an environment that would bring about the desired results.

While this strategy affects a relatively small number of children, it echoes the government’s wider vision of a just society, not limited by the size of the minority group in question.

This vision was originally launched more than six years ago but remains as fresh as ever, because the call for a just society, “Soċjetà ġusta”, was always about making a difference in the people’s quality of life.

This ministry looks out for those who, for one reason or another, find themselves in vulnerable situations. It then develops policies and service mechanisms that change the situation and ensure that no one is excluded.

As the realities around us change, we need to keep evolving and keeping abreast of the relevant issues. The National Strategy for Adoption is the result of such changes.

It is a fundamental right of every child to live in a stable, enabling and loving family

The Adoption Administration Act (2008) served to establish the Central Authority for Adoptions as mandated by the 1993 Hague Convention, as well as creating the legal framework within which the adoption agencies operate. The enactment of The Minor Protection (Alternative Care) Act 2019 shall further create a path to adoption for children who are deemed adoptable, who have been in foster care for a period of time and who have bonded with their foster carers. This Bill and the Adoption Strategy have been carefully crafted to ensure the best outcome for the child.

It is also based on other principles such as the right of every child to express his or her opinion and to be heard. This is easier said than done, especially when the child’s opinion is being sought about fundamental needs, but it must be done. 

We are taking care to ensure that the consultation process will highlight the opinions of children while being managed in a manner that protects and supports the children in question.

Another sore issue is privacy. The mere fact that children are up for adoption does not mean their life story is an open book for those who are party to the adoption process. The information collected shall be limited to what is necessary to complete the process and will be retained, in strict confidentiality, only if it is in the best interests of the child.

The strategy gives impetus to the concept of permanency in cases of children who, after years in foster care, have natural families who will probably never be in a position to take them back. We are proposing to reduce the waiting time for permanency to kick in from 10 years to five. The courts will also be empowered to rule in favour of adoptions even before the statutory limit of five years has passed if this is deemed in the best interest of the child.

This concept took up many hours of intense discussion as the rights of many parties are involved. At the end of the day, however, we were guided by the dictum “do what is the best interest of the child”.

Another important principle of this strategy is equality, coupled with individuality and the respect for diversity. The mere fact that children are minors does not make them half human or invisible. Children, especially those in vulnerable situations, have a right to live free of discrimination, irrespective of their background and status.

We shall therefore ensure that no matter their background, colour, race, religion, ability or the lack of it, gender and other differences, the child is accorded the best opportunity to succeed in life. That is why the government granted €10,000 in assistance to families who adopt from a foreign country. We want to assist these families in realising their dream of becoming parents while giving the child a second chance, irrespective of origins. The fact that last year we exceeded the allocated budget for this assistance was not a cause for concern at all. On the contrary, it was received with satisfaction.

The Adoption Strategy being proposed acknowledges the complexity and sensitivity of the issues involved. I am pleased to note the high degree of collaboration between the stakeholders. This synergy brought us to the point where the strategy is now open for public consultation.

We look forward to feedback from all those interested and hope to conclude soon because, as stated by the first Commissioner for Children, children cannot wait.

Michael Falzon is the Minister for the Family, Children’s Rights and Social Solidarity.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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