Adoption advocate honoured

CHILD ADVOCATE: Wendy Hawke is made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to inter-country adoption.
CHILD ADVOCATE: Wendy Hawke is made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to inter-country adoption.

Wendy Hawke says choosing to adopt is a decision she'll never regret.

As well as expanding her family, it led to a rewarding career change.

Her work in assisting couples to adopt foreign children is the reason the executive director of Inter Country Adoption New Zealand (ICANZ) has been included in the New Zealand honours list.

Being made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit came as a huge surprise.

"I was stunned. It's really nice when something to do with children is recognised, especially children who are perhaps not usually recognised.

"In any situation like this you don't act alone, there has been support from many people over the years."

She and her husband David became the first New Zealand couple to adopt children from Russia in 1992.

When their son Jeffrey was 5 they decided they wanted more children and adoption seemed a natural choice.

Mrs Hawke's family already included an adopted uncle and cousins and her mother had run a childcare centre next to the family home while she was growing up.

The couple took on two girls: Svetlana, who was 6 at the time and Nashta, who was 2.

Mrs Hawke gave up her teaching position at St Cuthbert's College to raise the children and started volunteering at ICANZ.

They adopted two boys, Andrei, 10, and Alex, 2, shortly afterwards.

Helping the children adjust to New Zealand life took a lot of work. Svetlana had never been to school and didn't speak English. Alex arrived with an infection that needed treatment.

Once the children were settled in school Mrs Hawke completed a master's degree in social work and a diploma in non-profit management.

In 1995 the Remuera resident became the executive director of ICANZ.

Before families are able to adopt they must be approved by Child, Youth and Family.

Mrs Hawke and her two part-time staff members then prepare their applications to one of five countries, Russia, Lithuania, India, Thailand and the Philippines.

They are also responsible for keeping in contact with the family after the adoption process and reporting back to the overseas country on how the children are doing.

"Dealing with the different adoption legislation can be challenging and depends a lot on being flexible and accepting cultural differences. What we see as in the child's best interest, another country might not," the 57-year-old says.

Another hurdle is finding enough parents for the number of orphans.

Older children and those with mild medical needs are often overlooked but they are the ones most in need, she says.

The best part of the job is watching the children transform in New Zealand, Mrs Hawke says.

"When they first arrive some are very thin and poorly nourished.

"Many haven't had experiences we take for granted in life, they haven't been to the beach, the shops or been able to choose their own clothes.

"They've never had a parent who is always there for them. They are used to having a rotation of adults in their lives."

Adoption may seem complicated but there are lots of advantages, she says.

"Just like with a birth child, there are no guarantees.

"It's exciting getting children who have different personalities and talents to yourself. I have no sporting genes but I have some children who are quite good at sport. You get different personalities and different strengths and that's exciting."

East And Bays Courier