Faster, more flexible procedures needed

Let’s call her Elpida. She was born in 1996 and at the age of 4 months she was taken to the hospital with pneumonia. Eventually her mother took her home but often left her alone. One day, in response to her cries, neighbors called the authorities who removed the child to an institution. She was just 7 months old. Three months later, she was placed with a foster family, with whom she is still living. In accordance with the law, her foster parents take her to the institution regularly for three-hour visits with her biological mother. «She first reached out her arms to hug me when she was two-and-a-half,» said her foster mother. «We called her a wildcat – she would never seek affection. She was late in learning to walk and talk. At their every meeting, her birth mother would tell her that she was her mother and that we were not her real family. The child would get very upset. She grew up with the help of a child psychologist. Recently the court gave us custody of her and we are ready for the adoption process. In accordance with the law, Elpida will have to give testimony.» There are no family courts in Greece, said Eleni Glegle, legal adviser to the Pendeli Children’s Hospital. «Many birth parents who neglect or abuse their children strongly object to their children being adopted, and take recourse to any legal means at their disposal to prevent it. If the children are to avoid being institutionalized, the procedures for removing custody from their natural parents need to be made more flexible and of briefer duration.» Sonia, a victim of thalidomide, was born with one arm that ended at her elbow. «She was brought to the Aghios Stylianos home in 1974 but no one wanted to adopt her,» said staff member Ourania Georgiadou. «We applied to international adoption services and and a family was found in Sweden. Last year Sonia visited us with her parents and her partner. Her artificial arm looked quite natural. She was lovely. Today, she would have found a home in Greece. As a society, we are now more open to children with disabilities. Recently a woman with two grown children of her own adopted a child with Down’s syndrome.» According to a pediatrician at Pendeli, gone are the days when prospective parents would even «measure the length of a baby’s penis.» The lack of babies available for adoption is also a factor, but young couples are more open to the idea of children with treatable health problems or the children of foreigners, even when their origins are obvious, such as with African or Asian children. However, a child with a serious health problem still cannot easily find a home.