COURT ROW OVER FOSTER BABY
By NALINEE SEELAL Sunday, March 9 2014
A Carapichaima foster mother who was given the responsibility of taking care of a three-month old abandoned baby girl one year and three months ago, is now fighting tooth and nail to get legal guardianship of the infant child on the grounds of compassion.
Cindy Rakhal and her husband Donald, are waging a legal battle with the Adoption Board of Trinidad and Tobago, as well as the Foster Care Unit, in a bid to keep the baby who now refers to them as “Mummy” and “Daddy”.
The Rakhals, seeking to adopt, became foster parents in 2010, satisfying all the necessary criteria .
Three years ago they could not contain their joy when they were asked to take care of a seven- month-old baby girl. The couple subsequently applied for legal guardianship and were successful. Their life became complete with the arrival of this baby girl.
One year later, in March last year, they were elated when the Foster Care Unit approached them asking if they were interested in taking care of another abandoned baby girl.
The Rakhals, who are devout Christians, seized the opportunity to take on the responsibility of caring for another infant. And as with any newborn , they spent many sleepless nights caring for this new baby girl, soon developing a bond with the child.
Members of Cindy’s extended family helped the couple take care of their two foster children .
The Rakhals could not be happier. But all that changed last Thursday when Cindy, a bank employee, received a telephone call from the director of the Foster Care Unit, Vidya Pooransingh, informing her that the Adoption Board had decided to place the baby (her second foster daughter) up for adoption and that a couple who was first on the list of people waiting to adopt, will get the baby.
“I was shattered, it was as if my whole world had come tumbling down. I immediately alerted my husband as to what was said to me.”
She said that she told the director of the Foster Care Unit that she was at work and there was no way she could make the arrangements to hand over the child, and that she wanted the Adoption Board to hold their hands until she had time to seek legal advice on the matter.
She said she was informed by neighbours that police officers had gone to her home asking about her whereabouts. This, she said, caused her a lot of embarrassment.
Cindy said she contacted attorney Kent Samlal who sought further advice from attorneys Gerald Ramdeen and Abdel Mohammed and others.
She said when the lawyers heard of her predicament, they became so involved that she felt a sense of relief because of their understanding.
An injunction was filed in the High Court to prevent the Adoption Board from proceeding with the decision to take away the baby from Cindy and her husband. The injunction was not granted. The devastated couple filed an immediate appeal to another High Court judge at exactly 5 pm last Thursday. The second injunction was granted; the couple’s prayers were answered.
Cindy and her husband Donald returned to their Carapichaima home and hugged the baby girl whom they have grown to love as their own.
But now they must wait, not knowing if, they will get to keep their second foster daughter.
Cindy told Sunday Newsday:
“I feel hurt because of the way we were treated. The Adoption Board together with the Foster Care Agency should take time off to accept the application of foster parents for legal guardianship of children in cases where they have developed a close bond with children who have been placed in their care.”
Cindy told Sunday Newsday that the baby is the light of her life and that she was upset when she was told by an official of the Adoption Agency that one of the reasons why the baby was being taken away from her was because she was of a different race. Cindy said she was asked the question, “How do you think the child will feel when she grows up and realises that she does not look like you all?” The baby is Afro-Trinidadian while Cindy and her husband are Indo-Trinidadians.
Cindy said there is no race where love is concerned and this should not be used as an excuse to snatch her baby away from her.
She said she did sign a document with the Foster Care Unit to keep the child temporarily but said love knows no boundaries and she is now fighting to keep the baby on grounds of compassion. She said when she took on the responsibility of caring for the child, she did enquire subsequently whether anyone had come forward to claim her and that in September of last year, she was contacted by the Foster Care Unit with the information that the child would be placed for adoption.
“I wrote to the Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development Clifton De Coteau requesting that he intervene on the grounds of compassion. He said that according to the Adoption Act he could not respond but that there was a provision in that Act which says we could appeal to the High Court.
“We applied to the Adoption Board requesting that, seeing we are already on an approved list and asked that as we had formed a bond with the child, they give us first priority. The Board will not agree for us to keep the baby because we are not number one on the list...
“I then requested a meeting with the director of the Foster Care Unit and she was adamant that the child will be removed from our care and placed for adoption.
“It is unfair that we took the child (as foster parents) and now they are treating us like this. I am very disappointed at the way we were treated and continue to be treated,” said Cindy.
“I cannot bear the thought of her being taken away from me, I hug and cuddle her every day thinking about her being taken away from us,” said Cindy, her voice choking with emotion.
“It is also very difficult for my husband because she calls him Daddy, and I will do everything within my power to keep this child, I believe in God.”
The case comes up for hearing on Tuesday March 11.