Kimberly Dort-Brown, Head of the CoG, and Meredith Concincion, Foster Care Coordinator of SJIS, share the ins and outs about fostering and adoption on Sint Maarten:
The Court of Guardianship (CoG) and the Foundation Judicial Institutes St. Maarten (SJIS) work closely to ensure the well-being of children placed under a protective measure, in cases of neglect or child abuse. SJIS takes the lead in providing guidance and support to these children as well as their families. SJIS is responsible for the screening of prospective foster parents, matching, placement, and monitoring of foster placements, both short and long-term. When an adoption request is made, the CoG is tasked with independently researching whether adoption is in the child’s best interest.
What is the difference between fostering and adopting a child?
Fostering provides temporary care for vulnerable children who are unable to live with their birth parents, typically because the parents are unable to care for them at that time. Adoption, on the other hand, is a permanent commitment that creates a legally binding relationship between the adoptive parents and the child. An adopted child has all the same rights and privileges as a biological child.
Why would children need fostering or adoption?
When we look at fostering, there is often a developmental threat and safety issues, such as neglect or abuse, that warrant the child being removed from his/her home. That child is temporarily placed with a foster-qualified parent while dealing with these threats. Fostering is more common than adoption on Sint Maarten because our initial priority is working with the biological parents to create a safe environment and reunite them with their children.
“That child is temporarily placed with a foster-qualified parent while dealing with these threats.”
Adoption occurs if parents choose to give up their child for adoption or when foster parents request to adopt the child(ren) they have been fostering. The Civil Code of St Maarten outlines the conditions and requirements that are needed by law to adopt.
What are these requirements?
People who are interested in fostering must undergo a screening process. This includes intake sessions, Selection Training for Aspiring Foster Parents (STAP training), a psychological assessment, and home visits. Once approved to become a foster parent, you get matched with a child or children.
One of the conditions for adoption is that the biological parents agree with the adoption. However, if a parent is not in agreement, the Judge in First Instance on St Maarten can still rule on a legal adoption based on several requirements that prove adoption is in the child’s best interest. This can include proof that the foster family has been the primary caregiver for several years and that the biological parents have not played a significant role in their child’s life. Or that the birth parents are involved in criminal or dangerous activity. The Court of Guardianship does this assessment on a case-by-case basis as part of the home study assessment.
“This can include proof that the foster family has been the primary caregiver for several years and that the biological parents have not played a significant role in their child’s life.”
Why is fostering more common?
When a child is put under protective custody, we aim to reunite them with their biological parents or family members. We work together with the family to reach this goal when possible. In the meantime, ideally, the child is placed with a foster family. We have individuals and couples who foster children in various capacities, such as in crisis, on weekends, short-term or long-term placements.
When it comes to adoption, if a child doesn’t have any living relatives or hasn’t had much contact with their biological parents, it’s best for the prospective adoptive family to first foster the child. This allows them to evaluate if it’s a good fit and if the foster family can provide a safe home.
Do we have enough foster families in Sint Maarten?
There is currently a shortage of foster families in Sint Maarten. To address this issue, it’s important to raise awareness about the challenges that vulnerable families and children face on the island and the importance of providing a safe environment for children. Additionally, promoting the potential impact of foster parenting on family members and the family’s current lifestyle can encourage more individuals to consider becoming foster parents. Those who are interested in fostering children should ensure that they have a stable home and income, as well as the emotional and mental readiness to care for a child who may have experienced trauma in the past.
“it’s important to raise awareness about the challenges that vulnerable families and children face on the island and the importance of providing a safe environment for children. “
Children under protective custody have likely experienced some form of abuse or neglect. They will need time to heal and trust their new surroundings. They might act out in complex ways, testing their boundaries. It is essential to our child-protection system to have more foster families and, more specifically, foster parents that are interested in fostering teenagers. Foster families, even in the short term, can help children feel safe and provide the stability they need.
How can someone apply to become a foster parent?
Contact SJIS and fill out our intake form. After this, we will make an appointment for an intake session. May is ‘foster care month’, so the SJIS has various events to raise awareness and promote fostering.
You can contact SJIS at +1 721 5423449 and keep up to date with our activities on Facebook: @foundationjisxm. For inquiries about fostering, you can email [email protected] and call: +1 721 5264310.