Join Angela, Axel, Abel and Asher as they welcome their new sibling home.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Serbia's system

Let me explain a bit, about Serbia's adoption system.

First, there are the levels of government involved. There is the Ministry, which is like the state level.
Then there is the Center for Social Welfare (aka "Social Center") which is like the county level. The Social Center is located in or near the child's city of birth.

In the US, the state oversees the county. In Serbia, in matters of social care for individual children, the county makes all the decisions.

When you submit your dossier to Serbia, it is first approved by the Ministry. They make sure you your family meets the general requirements and that you have all the appropriate documents. Then you are added to a registry of "Approved adoptive families".  You are given referrals for children who meet your criteria, and your dossier is then sent on to the Social Center responsible for the child you choose.

Once in the hands of the Social Center, it is up to the child's Social worker to determine if you are an appropriate family for that child. In theory, that social worker is supposed to know the child. In reality, the child could be located hundreds of miles away and it's possible the social worker hasn't seen the child since the day he or she was born.  And yet, this one person is responsible for making the final decision on approving an adoptive family.

When I adopted Axel, he was the second child with Down syndrome ever adopted through that particular social center. (since then there have been several more, and at this point I think they have done more international adoptions in general than any other social center in Serbia.) The staff was wonderful to work with and clearly invested in the care of the child. It helped that Axel was in a foster home very near their office so there was frequent contact. This Social Center is quick to get children placed in foster care when there is a bed available, and they have several children who have never seen the inside of an institution. In the year following Axel's adoption we remained in contact and I sent many updates.

When you are presented with a child who meets your criteria, you're not typically told what social center the child is from. When we chose Asher, it was without knowing that he was from the same Social Center where Axel was from. Exactly one year after completing Axel's adoption, I once again stood in their office for Asher's adoption ceremony. There are the formalities (there aren't many!) then they said it was the first time they'd had the opportunity to keep current with a child's progress. That while they had always been in support of adoption, they were finally able, for the first time, to see that a child wouldn't just thrive in a family, but make significant progress toward becoming a contributing member of society. This increased their level of commitment to the children. They jokingly asked if, since I was there in 2010 and 2011, would see me again in 2012?

Now we  have chosen B.

B is not from the same social center as Axel and Asher.

Though Serbia has been allowing adoptions to the US since 2008, not many people know about it. From 2008 to 2011 there have only been 24 Serbian children adopted into the US. Although Serbia does allow adoption to a couple other countries, it is easy to understand why some of the Social Centers in Serbia have never completed an international adoption.

Here is where I must back up a bit. If you have been reading here for awhile, you know that during Axel's adoption we ran into some problems with the facilitator we were working with. The Serbian ministry quickly rose to the challenge, addressing issues of adoption corruption to the best of their ability. There was a big investigation and some day .....who knows how long really....there will be a trial. Things calmed down and adoptions went back to the pleasant experience they were supposed to be. Word travels fast in Serbia, and Social Centers that had never completed adoptions became hesitant to get involved. They didn't want to be accused of child trafficking or profiting off the life of a child.

There are many people in Serbia who don't understand how it is possible to raise one child with special needs, much less three, four, or five. It is unusual for a family in Serbia to have more than two children. Three is rare. Four is almost unheard of. Then you look at a family like ours who has three kids with Down syndrome in the house. It is incomprehensible to most Serbians this could be something a family would be able to handle, much less WANT to do it.

The Ministry (remember they are the state level) gets it. They understand that things are different in the US. In Serbia most families don't have a car, instead walking or taking public transportation everywhere they go. Grocery stores are like our convenience stores, and because they're on foot they shop for a day or two at a time, not a week or more like we do in the U.S. Services for kids with disabilities are available and the ability to receive an education is the right of every child in the U.S regardless of disability.

If only those who are responsible to make the decisions for the life of each child understood that Down syndrome is nothing. Down syndrome is easy. It is dealing with the damage done by years of living behind the walls of an institution that is difficult. Teaching children who have been deprived of the most basic needs that people are safe. Family is safe. Food is safe and will always be available. That the survival skills he or she has spent years developing and depending on aren't needed anymore.

A Serbian friend of mine made a great statement the other day. He said, "Two years ago we dealt with the illegal activities of corruption. Now we must deal with something that is perfectly legal but no less dangerous - ignorance." 

1 comment:

  1. Our family is praying for the hearts of all involved.