San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Government Seeks Homes For Orphans

Spitting through his half-toothless, 9-year-oldgums, a curly headed boy in the San Joséchildren’s home Hogarcito María sputtered ashopping list of the advantages of having parents.The excitement seemed to link his jaw tohis knees while he yapped and alternately stoodon the bench and flopped over the table.“Parents let you have things, let you stay up late,go to parks, go to school alone,” and they woulddouble his weekly allowance to ¢1,000 ($2.15), hesaid.He and his two brothers, ages 6 and 8, whose namesare withheld to protect their privacy, have lived for fiveyears in the home, waiting for a family to adopt them.Their mother is a prostitute who abandoned them totheir own luck, the streets around their house and theirneighbors before Child Welfare Office (PANI) officialsintervened. A court declared their mother unfit to carefor them, and they have lived in the home since then.THEIRS is just another tragic story of parentless childrenin San José. Hogarcito María’s administrator FiorelaMartín said most of the children’s mothers are prostitutes.Hogarcito María is semi-private, subsidized in part by the government through PANI and inpart by donations from businesses. It isperhaps the country’s best publicizedhome: Martín has gone on the record withCNN and BBC reporters, and said PANIconsiders it media friendly.It is home to 10 children, most of themdifficult to place with families, accordingto officials. By law, brothers and sisterscannot be separated, even at the expense ofpossible adoption by a family that wouldtake one but not all of them.Last year, PANI mounted a month-longadoption campaign urging couples and singlesto ask themselves “how many childrenfit in (their) hearts.”Its orphanages were full of about 100children who were ready for adoption, butsome had characteristics that were not onmost people’s wish lists for new little familymembers: they were children over age5, groups of brothers and sisters, and childrenwith severe mental retardation, diseasessuch as AIDS/HIV, and birth defects.MOST people wanting to adopt lookfor young, healthy children and newborns.About 25 children in the hard-to-placecategory are available for adoption now,according to Cristian Carvajal, chief ofPANI’s adoption office. More than 25 suchchildren are under government protection,but when PANI officials decide they haveexhausted national and international adoptionoptions, they place the children in permanentinstitutions managed by non-governmentalorganizations, Carvajal said.PANI’s campaign last year yieldedabout 500 phone calls. After follow-upcalls, a training workshop and paperwork,five families were set on the track towardnew parenthood. One was rejected after anunfavorable psychological evaluation,another adopted two brothers and themomentum is behind the other three familieswhile they tackle the remaining paperworkand legal requirements.SINCE 2000, 202 children in PANI’shomes have found families, 151 of whomwere 5 or younger at the time of adoption.Unfortunately for those who remain inhomes, “There’s no culture of adoption inCosta Rica,” Carvajal said.To cultivate an affinity for adoption inthe country, PANI plans to conduct a better-funded campaign in the coming monthsthat will try to instill concern even forthose hard-to-place children.Meanwhile, U.S. critics shake theirheads at such tactics. Costa Rica cut offadoptions to the United States in February2004, even though it is among those countriesmost likely to adopt hard-to-placechildren, according to PANI officials.The move was in response to an incidentwith an unregistered U.S.-based adoptionagency in San José that turned eyestoward the adoption pacts between the twocountries (TT, Sep. 26, 2003). When PANIrealized there is no such pact in place, itbarred international adoptions to theUnited States until the country either ratifiesthe Hague Convention on Protectionof Children and Cooperation in Respect ofInter-Country Adoption or negotiates anadoption agreement with Costa Rica (TT,Aug. 13, 2004). The unofficial word,according to Carvajal, is that the UnitedStates could ratify the agreement in 2008.U.S. citizens with residency in CostaRica can adopt children here as long asthey agree to remain in the country for atleast five years while PANI officials monitorthe children’s adjustment to their newfamilies and their general well-being.PANI has also been criticized forallegedly taking the adoption processhostage with delays and, in the worst cases,forcing adoptive parents to return their childrento their biological parents after monthsor even years of having lived with them.Carvajal, however, pointed out that nochildren have been taken from their newhomes since 2000. He said he does nothave statistics for previous years.The reason this can happen, Carvajalexplained, is that PANI allows families toadopt children before a court has issued adeclaration of abandonment that strips thebiological parents of their rights. While thecourt mulls over the decision, a process thattakes an average of 12-14 months, the childrencan live with the new families, and, invery few cases, Carvajal said, the courtdecides in favor of the biological parents.CHILD welfare officials have a longlist of requirements for prospective families,including that the parents must be atleast 15 years older than the children theywish to adopt. They must meet economicrequirements that include such factors ashome ownership and income level, butrenters are not excluded – it is just one factorin the equation. Adoptive families canalready have children before adoption, andthey can be single-parent households.For the three brothers in HogarcitoMaría, the legalities were completed yearsago. They, and dozens like them, are nowfree to live with new families.“When they come here they don’t wantto go back to their parents,” Martín said.“They break that bond. Here they experiencelove, faithfulness… It’s a slowprocess toward wanting new families, butit happens.”THEY arrive at the home with dirtsmudgedfaces and clothes, brittle hair andbad teeth, Martín said, “but within a weekthey are like flowers opening. The mind ofthe child is so unpredictable. In six months,they may already want new parents.”One boy, who has been at the home fora year and a half, said he didn’t want to beadopted; he liked staying at the home. Butafter some consideration, he conceded, “Itwould be good to have parents becausehere they don’t let you have doggies, butparents do.” Requirements for National AdoptionsTHOSE interested in adopting CostaRican children must fill out an officialform at the Child Welfare Office (PANI)and submit it along with two passportsizedphotos, their birth certificate, marriageor divorce certificate, a policereport (from the Judicial Branch), proofof income, official medical, social andpsychological evaluations, a copy oftheir official identification (a certifiedcopy of their cédula de residencia in thecase of foreigners) and proof of ownershipof any properties possessed (fromthe National Registry).Foreigners with permanent residencyin Costa Rica must also provide acriminal record check from the appropriatenational police or judicial authority inthe country of origin. In the case of U.S.citizens, it must be from the U.S. FederalBureau of Investigations. Foreign residentsalso must provide a certified copyof their marriage or divorce certificatefrom their country of origin, if applicable.After all the paperwork is submitted,potential parents must attend one of thespecial PANI workshops held in SanJosé every two months.For more information, contact thePANI adoption office at 233-0005, 222-0443 or 222-0539, or e-mail paniadop@racsa.*Requirements for international adoptionsdiffer; contact the PANI adoptionoffice.Source: Child Welfare Office (PANI).

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