Children with special needs are as special, and deserving as all children, and raising them is not any different than raising a biological child.
More than 50 percent of children awaiting adoption in India fall into the ‘special needs’ category, but it is also the category with the least number of adoptions within India. One of the reasons for this gap is a lack of understanding of special needs and the adoption process. Slowly though, more people are becoming aware that children with special needs grow beautifully and thrive in a loving and supportive home environment. If you are considering or just curious about adopting a child with special needs, here is everything you need to know.
The adoption process in India puts children into two categories — normal needs and special needs — where special needs are the catch-all for all children except those who have perfect health. Even children with minor health issues, correctable health issues, health conditions that can be easily managed or have no bearing on the quality of life also get categorised as special needs children.
Many of the children in the special needs category just need the necessary medical diagnosis and support to become healthy and active, but this support is not available to them unless they get adopted into a family.
There is a separate category for children with special needs, because of the expectations of some prospective adoptive parents. Adoption agencies need to categorise the children carefully. If prospective parents want a ‘normal’ child but get the referral of a child who may have ‘special needs’, they can reject the child and file a complaint with the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA). This means that the child loses valuable time during which another loving family could have adopted him/her.
The adoption process is the same for all children irrespective of their category —
- Prospective parents register with the centralised authority in India and indicate their preference about child’s gender, age, location, and health. Parents who are willing to adopt children with special needs can make the appropriate selection under ‘health’.
- After a social worker completes the home study process, which evaluates parents’ willingness and capacity to adopt, the parents wait for a child to be referred to them. There is no waiting period for parents who want a child with special needs because the number of children available is higher than the number of prospective parents.
- There is an additional helpful feature for children with special needs. Even if potential parents select ‘normal’ health as their preference, they can see the list of children with needs who are awaiting adoption. This means that people who were initially unaware of special needs can potentially change their mind and accept a special needs child. (Similarly, there is a list of children available for immediate placement. These are children who have been awaiting adoption for a long time).
- After accepting a child, the parents’ bring their child home under a foster care agreement. The adoption agency responsible for the child requests a hearing and the final court order completes the process.
As an adoptive mother of a child with special needs, my most significant discovery has been that all types of special needs get stereotyped as problematic. However, it is more about understanding what the child exactly needs and providing the right support. It’s not any different than raising a child who doesn’t have special needs, whether biological or adopted.
Children respond very positively to a family environment, thus significantly and quickly improving on whichever condition they may have, once they come home.
Whenever I talk to social workers who work in the adoption space, they seem resigned to the idea that children with special needs will either never get adopted or only get adopted by foreigners. This does not reflect kindly on us. Special needs include a wide range of children and many people in India can support most of the requirements in this range. Being open to special needs allows us to accept the love of a child who is as brilliant, unique, and deserving as all children.
(Written by Smriti Gupta)