Few children for adoption but demand has increased

Only 30 of the children at the Mitera Infants’ Home are in good health and available for adoption. There are even fewer at the three other state institutions – the Pendeli Children’s Hospital, Thessaloniki’s Aghios Stylianos Municipal Infants’ Home and the Aghios Andreas Children’s Town in Kalamaki, Athens. The remainder are either in temporary care until their parents are in a position to take them back, or have health problems. According to the Health Ministry, which is responsible for these institutions, 437 children were placed with adoptive parents in Greece in 2004, just 50 of those from one of these four institutions. The rest were private adoptions, resorted to because of the red tape at state foundations. Meanwhile, the small number of babies available for adoption has given rise to an illegal trade in infants. Kathimerini’s survey of changes in adoption in Greece found there is a need to upgrade the fostering system. It also examined why children are forced to spend long periods in institutions. The situation in Greece has changed drastically in recent decades, but somewhat later than in other European countries. «The lack of children being given up for adoption as well as increased demand have led to major changes in the work of social services, since now the priority has now shifted to finding the right parents,» said anthropologist Aigli Brouskou. «The lack of available children has also led social services to encourage the adoption of children who only a few years ago would have been considered ‘unsuitable’ (whether older, disabled or ‘difficult’ children).» This applies to state institutions, the refuge of neglected or abused children, or children whose parents are facing problems such as drug addiction and are unable to care for them, whether temporarily or permanently. «The institution’s main concern is to provide support for the children’s biological parents so that they are in a position to care for their children,» said Eleftheria Psarra, head of Mitera’s social services department. «Social workers also monitor prospective adoptive parents and choose the best candidates. Today we have 90 children here, from neonates to 4- and 5-year-olds. A quarter of them are the children of foreigners (usually single mothers without residence permits) who stay here until they are fostered or transferred to specialized institutions. (These are children whose natural parents have given them up.) That way places are made available for new babies from maternity hospitals.» About 10 healthy children are returned to their parents every year, leaving about 25-30 children available for adoption, a very small number considering that the demand is for about 150 annually. The waiting time for prospective parents is five to six years. Charges have often been made that these institutions delay procedures. «The institutions try to settle children as quickly as possible,» said Stelios Roufos, a lawyer who is the governor of the Pendeli Children’s Hospital (formerly PIKPA), which is home to 35-40 children a year, from neonates to the age of 6 years. «Last year, 12 of the children here were adopted. The waiting time for prospective parents is three years. Children under the age of 6 that cannot be adopted for legal reasons are transferred to other institutions, such as Aghios Andreas. Children can be adopted only if their natural parents agree in court to give their child up, or if a court rules that adoption is in the child’s interest. In the former case, the child is settled quickly, going to the couple at the top of the waiting list of approved prospective parents. In the latter case, the procedures are long (one to two years), until the court transfers custody of the child from its natural parents to the institution, when adoption procedures can begin.» Fostering also requires the written agreement of the children’s birth parents, who continue to retain legal custody. If they do not consent, the institution requires a judicial order for the child’s temporary removal to a foster family. «This applies to the 27 children aged 6-12 staying at Aghios Andreas,» said Chrysoula Daskalaki, head of the welfare department. «Fostering gives children the chance to get away from institutional life thanks to families who volunteer to take them on weekends, for an afternoon, or for a few days during the holidays. I think legal procedures for transferring custody to the institutions should be speeded up so that children don’t spend their lives in institutions but can be settled with a family, whether fostered or adopted. «Birth parents rarely take their children back and some of the children get very upset during visits from them,» she added. «We have a number of healthy but neglected or abused children.» Since 1990, when we started the fostering program, we have noticed that some of the birth parents have forgotten them. Moreover, some of the first children sent to us were only adopted last year.» The situation is a little different at the Aghios Stylianos home in Thessaloniki, where there are babies of up to 2 years of age (most in demand by adoptive parents) and in some cases up to 4. «The foundation is home to about 40 babies a year,» said social worker Ourania Georgiadou. «At present, we have 20 children, mostly from parents in crisis. Most take them back eventually. For example, at the moment we have two mothers serving time in prison but who want their children back when they are released. «We place children in foster care when we hope their natural parents will be able to take them back some day. We have about 15 foster families. Adoptions are few – there were 11 in 2003, seven in 2004 and 14 in 2005.»