The topic of adoption is undoubtedly a highly sensitive one as it directly affects people’s lives and their families. Efforts are being made regarding sensitive affairs like adoptions so that processes are always improved, which is in all the interested parties’ best interest. The latest efforts to improve these processes are reflected in the 2019 adoption law.
The Minor Protection (Alternative Care) Act has been recently enacted and it is expected to come into force by December 2019. This act shall substitute the Child Protection (Alternative Care) Act, it shall provide for the protection and alternative care of minors and shall deal with matters related with these issues. This act shall facilitate and speed up the process for children who are eligible for adoption, to offer adoption opportunities to their foster carers.
One of the changes made by this Act is that under the new adoption law, the social worker designated to monitor the foster carer during a placement, shall prepare a Review Report every year, instead of every two years, during the first three years of placement. This is done to determine whether foster carers are fulfilling their duties and to decide whether such carer should be entrusted to continue taking care of the minor in their custody.
One of the most notable changes contained in this Act is that involving foster care and adoption. This Act aims to reduce the time after which foster carers may adopt the child being fostered by them. In fact, article 54 sub-article 1 of the Minor Protection Act holds that when a minor has been under the care and custody of a fosterer for more than five years, the foster carer may adopt the minor by filing an application to the Court of Voluntary Jurisdiction requesting to adopt the minor.
As previously mentioned, under the new adoption law, home study reports during foster care placements shall be carried out every year during the first three years of placement. Having said this, if foster carers get three consecutive positive reports, they may, in some cases, be eligible to adopt the child being fostered after three years instead of five years. This shall help children eligible for adoption and who have a bond with their foster carers, to officially become part of the family by being adopted without having to wait for numerous years. On the other hand, it will facilitate the process for those who wish to adopt, while still keeping the best interest of the child in mind.
Adoption in accordance with article 54 of the Minor Protection Act shall be permitted, with the condition that the child’s biological parents and siblings by consanguinity shall have access to the minor, provided that this is in the minor’s best interest.
The Court may issue a decree by which a minor who is subject to a protection order may be given up for adoption in accordance with article 24 and upon an application by any interested party or the Agency being Agenzija Appogg. The biological parents of the minor shall be notified of such application and they shall have 20 days’ time to submit their reply. Following the reply, or failure to do so within the stipulated time, the parties shall be notified with the date of the hearing of the application.
As per article 24(5), of the 2019 adoption law there are some requirements that must be fulfilled before issuing a decree ordering that a minor be given up for adoption, which are:
- To hear and consider the minor’s wishes, if they are deemed to possess sufficient understanding;
- To hear every person in charge with any form of care and custody of the minor in question;
- To hear the Children’s advocate, the key social worker and any person the Court deems relevant;
- To hear the minor’s biological parents;
- To consider whether the adoption is in the minor’s best interest;
- To evaluate whether there are any reasonable reasons to believe that the parents may become capable of taking care of the minor;
- To consider the parent’s opinion on whether the minor should be put up for adoption or not.
Despite having discretion to decide whether a child is given up for adoption or not, the Court must give its reasons for its decision when issuing a decree ordering that a child be given up for adoption. One can say that this 2019 adoption law is a good step forward towards making it easier for couples who are looking for adoption opportunities in Malta, to do so locally, hence possibly less costly and less strenuous and that the said adoption, with minor protection as its focus, will be for the well-being of the child.