by | Adoption

Do you want to adopt in South Africa?  Here is how to do it.

Are you thinking about adopting a child in South Africa but aren’t sure where to begin?  If so, this step by step guide is for you.  The content comes both from research, and our own experience (my husband and I adopted a little girl a few years ago).

Step 1: Decide to adopt

Sounds a little obvious doesn’t it, but you may be surprised at how many people embark on this process without being convinced about their decision or in agreement about if they want to go ahead.  And unfortunately, it is often clear that only one party is driving the process.  Social workers are both astute and busy—they know that it will not be worthwhile for anyone if they proceed when one or both of you is ambivalent.  So, if you are in a relationship, try not to set up your first meeting until you are both certain that you want to adopt.  If you do go ahead prematurely, don’t be surprised if the social worker asks you to go away and have a rethink.

Top tip

Dr Phil, the great relationship guru and life coach, says that in relationships important decisions (such as the decision to have or adopt a child) takes two “yeses” or one “no”.  This is a huge life choice and if you are in partnership, both of you need to be committed before you proceed.

Step 2: Choose a social worker / agency

In modern times, when we have access to so many other people through the internet and social media, people seem increasingly inclined to try to find their own babies / adoptive parents.  Films like Juno unfortunately feed the perception that you as an adoptive mum can simply advertise for a baby (or that you as a biological mom can ask for prospective parents).  It may work in other countries but recently a pregnant woman in South Africa risked arrest by advertising on Gumtree for parents for her baby, at a price.  Her mistake was requesting compensation and trying to bypass the systems that the Government has put place to prevent shocking acts like trafficking.

Like it or not, even if you have a prior relationship with the biological mom and the two of you have agreed that you can have her baby, you cannot adopt without the assistance of a social worker.  So, given that a social worker is integral to the process, it is essential that you choose the right one.

Be sure that you think about the following before you choose your social worker / agency:

  • Are you compatible with the social worker?  Is this someone that you can talk to, be honest with, and entrust your future to?  Remember that the social worker is going to help you to choose your child so please make sure that this is someone that you can trust.
  • Can you afford the costs (if any) associated with adopting through this agency?  Make sure that you know the fee structure and what the likely cost is going to be.
  • Can you comply with the agency’s policies?  The law in South Africa is very permissive regarding who can adopt.  There are no restrictions based on gender, marital status, finances, religion or sexual proclivity and although a minimum age is specified (you have to be over 18), there is no upper age limit.  But, despite this, most agencies have policies in place specifying which adoptive parents they are most happy to work with.

Over time I have encountered agencies that:

  • Set age limits for adoptive parents
  • Require married couples to have been married for a certain period of time before they adopt
  • Or (in the case of the agency we used) only handle the adoption of black South African children.

For the most part, these policies are only used as a way to manage the agency’s case load and resource allocation but they may be an indication that it is not the right agency for your family.  If so, remember that there are many others to choose from–it may be best to look for one that is more compatible.

Top tips

  • Contact the National Adoption Coalition for a list of reputable social workers and agencies.
  • Where possible, try to get a personal recommendation before you choose a social worker. But do remember that everyone is different and you may not gel with a particular social worker even though your sister / friend or colleague did.
  • Try not to agency hop.  Social workers will ask you if you have worked with any other agencies prior to coming to them and if so, why?  If this has happened often, it may raise red flags for the social workers.

Step 3: Complete the screening process

Note that the screening may seem quite daunting but please don’t be put off— although time consuming, these tasks are relatively easy to accomplish. The process may vary between agencies but the following are some of the key tasks that you will probably need to complete:

  • A qualifying interview with your social worker
  • A police clearance
  • A medical including blood tests and a chest x-ray
  • A psychological assessment
  • A summary of your finances
  • A clearance from the National Child Protection Register
  • A clearance from the National Register of Sexual Offenders
  • A marriage assessment (if you have a partner)
  • References  (usually three per partner)
  • A group session
  • A home visit from your social worker
  • A family profile detailing each member of the family (without including identifying features such as where you live).  This is given to biological mums who would like to choose their child’s adoptive family.  If the biological mom doesn’t want to choose a family or if the child is abandoned, the profile is used by social workers to match families to eligible children.

If everything is in order, your social worker will let you know that you are eligible for adoption and will list you on the national adoption database (RACAP) and start looking for a child for you.

Top tips:

  • The screening process will move as quickly as you want it to.  It is unlikely that your overworked social worker will drive the process for you.  The agency will however do their best to make it move quickly if they see that you are committed.
  • Some of these tasks (such as the medical, the police clearance and the psychological assessment) involve expense.  Be sure to include these costs in your budget before you begin.
  • Social workers are open to you stating what if any preferences you have regarding your child (including age, gender, health, race and whether the child is abandoned or has been given up for adoption consensually).  Be specific but realistic (for example, if you are an older couple with existing children who want a white new-born baby,  you are unlikely to be successful). And, please note that some criteria will make it very hard for the social worker to find the right child for you so you will probably end up waiting longer for a match.
  • Be honest.  Social workers are hard to shock and genuinely committed to seeing you adopt if you are eligible.  However, lying or consistently giving the “correct” response may raise red flags about what you are trying to hide.  This may make them question your suitability as adoptive parents.
  • Don’t moan about how intensive and time consuming the process is—it’s both discouraging and an exercise in futility.  Social workers have a duty to protect the best interests of each child so they need to vet you thoroughly before they allow you to adopt (and they take that duty very seriously).  One day, when you look into your child’s eyes, you will be grateful that they didn’t allow him or her to be placed with just anyone.

Step 4: Wait for a child

This is often the hardest part of the process because after a period of heightened activity, everything goes quiet for a bit and it may appear that not much is happening.   Nothing could be further from the truth though.  While you are waiting, your social worker is busy looking for suitable candidates and your child’s social worker (they are usually not the same person) is ensuring that s/he is eligible for adoption when the match is finally made.  Please note that in some countries, social workers will present prospective candidates with a series of profiles and they will be allowed to select a child from the profiles.  However, this is not common in South Africa where social workers prefer to present you with only one child.  In cases where the biological mom wants to select the adoptive parents, she will be given a series of profiles of adoptive families, and will choose a profile.

Step 5:  Meet your child

This step usually begins with the social worker notifying you that they have a child for you.  You will meet with the social worker who will brief you about the child’s history and profile, and ask you to decide if you would like to proceed or not.  If you are happy to go ahead, the social worker will organise for you to meet your child.  Places of Safety vary in how they handle these meetings.  Ours required us to visit our daughter for three days before taking her home.  During our visitations, we were allowed to feed her, bath her, change her nappies and put her down for a nap.  While everyone is understandably anxious to take their child home as soon as possible, this “courtship time” is essential for effective attachment, and if the child is struggling to bond or is particularly anxious, homecoming may be delayed.   When we took our daughter home, the Place of Safety sent her home with clothes, a teddy and a couple of blankets to help with her transition to a new location.  When you take your child home, the Place of Safety will provide you the necessary paperwork to authorise you to keep the child in your home until such time as the legalities have been finalised.

Step 6: Complete the legalities

The final step is to complete the legalities through the Children’s Court.  This involves the following:

  • The social workers submit all of the documentation to the court.
  • Adoptive parents sign papers to effect the child’s change of name.
  • The court grants the adoption order and changes the child’s surname to that of the adoptive parents.
  • The order is sent to the National Adoption register to be registered.
  • The child becomes the legal child of the adoptive parents (as if s/he were born to them) and has all of the same rights as a biological child.

Once all of the above legalities are complete, the adoptive parents can apply for a new birth certificate (using the child’s new surname and if required, new first name).

In conclusion

Stated like this, the process may seem long and intimidating for those about to embark on it.  But take it from one who has been there, when I walk into my daughter’s room and see her asleep in her bed, I can honestly say that the sacrifice of time, effort, money and stress was incredibly small in comparison to the joy of having her in our lives.

A footnote: three important clarifications:

  1. Some agencies may apply this process in different ways – contact a social worker specialising in adoption if you need clarification or more information.
  2. This process applies to South African citizens or permanent residents. If you are a foreigner wanting to adopt a South African child, please refer to the South African Government Services website for the correct process and to see if your country has a treaty with South Africa for you to adopt a South African child.
  3. South Africa is predominantly a sending nation.  In other words, while people from other countries can (under some circumstances) adopt South African children, as a South African citizen living in this country you cannot adopt a child from outside of South Africa.

First published in Becoming a Mom in 2014

To cite please use the author’s name, the year of publication, the title of the article

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