How to start your Rainbow Family
Written by Philip Howell-Williams on October 14, 2016.
When I took over as director of Pink Season I recognised that there were not enough educational events in the calendar and focussed very hard on changing that. With this in mind, Pink Season 2016 hosted a first-of-its-kind panel discussion last week on the subject of surrogacy and adoption in Hong Kong.
We were very privileged to have a panel of experts which included Alia Ayres, CEO of Hong Kong charity Mother’s Choice, Louise Garnaut, Chair of Adoptive Families of Hong Kong, Michael Pantehis, a full time stay at home dad and the host, Marty Forth, a social worker who is father to an adopted son. Each panellist discussed their experience in Hong Kong and internationally and then took a variety of questions from the audience.
The core message of the evening which came through loud and clear was that adoption in Hong Kong is a very complicated, emotional and frustrating process however it is approached.
One quarter of the country’s children live in or near poverty. Of those living in state care, less than 10% will be put up for adoption even though 50% of them will never return to their birth families. And yet Hong Kong is not a city where adoption is commonplace and foster to adopt simply does not exist. The Social Welfare Department is the government body which deals with the process of application, care of the children and matching of children to adoptive families.
What many LGBTI families and single parents wanted to know was whether they could apply to this process. The answer is yes, but a positive outcome does not happen very often. The Hong Kong authorities give preference to married couples, especially those who are local and young.
For LGBTI people to stand any chance of being accepted they are advised to apply as a single parent. That said, the adoption assessment process is very intrusive and lying in any way would be extremely damaging.
Mother’s Choice works alongside the Social Welfare Department to help children in Hong Kong find permanent loving families. They are currently working on Project Bridge, connecting volunteer families with children in need of temporary foster care and assisting people with the process of adoption. Up to ten children a day are added to the Project Bridge foundation list to be rehomed but the sad truth is that there are not enough families wanting to adopt.
Adoptive Families Hong Kong is a unique organisation that supports families through the issues related to adoption. They concentrate on educating current and prospective adoptive parents during the adoption process as well as providing after-adoption support because the placement of a child is only the first stage of a lifelong process. Every child is different, their needs will be very diverse and many children that are adopted have been through trauma and neglect.
The process of international adoption is more complicated still. Firstly, the child has to be recognised by the country of domicile of the parents. If the adoptive parents are from two different countries this makes the process more complex still. Unfortunately, because same-sex civil partnerships and marriages are not recognised in Hong Kong, then a child brought into the country can only be registered to one parent. In this instance, it is vital for the security of the child that insurance and wills are correctly set up in case anything happens to the registered parent. If care is not taken in this regard then that child could end up in the state care system with the non-registered parent facing a legal battle to get them out again.
Surrogacy is illegal in Hong Kong unless you are in a recognised marriage and not respecting this could lead to very serious repercussions, including a jail sentence. Illegal surrogacy can also lead to problems down the line with applications to schools, the medical care system and even company benefits. For those unable to go through the surrogacy process in Hong Kong, the only option is to seek a surrogate abroad. India is a popular location to go through the process.
Having an adopted or surrogate child recognised as yours involves an arduous process wherever you are in the world. Every detail of your life will be closely examined including your finances, job, home, friends, social activities and much more. Hong Kong is no different. Then there is the cost, which can be very expensive. Before embarking on the process you need to make sure that you have the resources to see it through to the end without compromising your financial security.
Whichever route individuals choose to take, the process can take many years, as Michael Pantehis has personally experienced. He recommends those interested in adopting or surrogacy start the process as soon as possible. You can always withdraw an application if you suddenly find that you do not want to go down either route.
Getting help as early as possible in the process is very important and there are several organisations that exist to advise. I have already mentioned Mothers Choice and Adoptive Families HK. In addition, LGBTI couples will also find Rainbow Families a great support. They helped us put together this event and assist those thinking about going through the adoption process, those actually going through it and same-sex couples who already have their rainbow family. If you would like more information regarding any of these organisations then do reach out to Pink Season or the organisation directly.
I would like to personally thank Marty Forth and the other panellists. It was an honour to host this seminar in Pink Season, and we hope that we can offer some real support to the LGBTI community through this kind of event.