In a country with more than three million orphans, more than 3500 babies being abandoned and dwindling adoption rates, Tiny Owls Baby Home is a ray of light in a dark world.
Based in Cape Town, the organisation was founded after CEO Kim Allen and her husband, Wayne, adopted three children. Soon, they converted their garage into a nursery as they realised the urgent need of temporary shelter for abandoned and relinquished babies.
“My husband and I have four biological children and we went on to adopt three children,” she said. “At that point, with a family of seven, we realised that that was what we were limited to. We also realised the desperate need for safety care which is where babies are awaiting placements in a permanent home.”
Since inception in September 2018, the Cape Town couple has had 40 babies placed in their care, four have been reunited and 29 adopted. Most of the babies placed in their care, she said, were born in hospital and relinquished for various reasons.
Allen said there were instances where desperate mothers approached them to take care of their babies. However, she said they would refer the mothers to social workers for due legal processes to be followed. The children who end up in their care are granted temporary shelter until such a time when they can be placed in a permanent home.
“[During] that period of time where the court is still trying to do research with the biological family and ensure that there isn’t somebody who can take the baby and also look for a prospective adoptive family, that takes time and those babies need a safe place to stay in the interim,” she said. “When we became aware of that need, we decided to convert a triple garage in our home to make space for a nursery and that’s how it started.”
Abandoned babies in South Africa
Tiny Owls Baby Home is one of a number of non-profit organisations trying to address the growing number of abandoned and relinquished parents in South Africa. Poverty and crisis pregnancies are the most common reasons for parents to either abandon babies or relinquish them.
Indicating a worrying trend, the number of adoptions halved between 2004 and 2014 (1448 to 2840). This has added pressure on the country’s buckling social welfare system. It also meant that from the millions of children requiring adoption, only a fraction found caring homes.
Having to take care of seven biological and adoptive children, Allen said she enjoyed parenthood but cautioned against “romanticising” adoption. She explained how it was at times difficult to integrate children into their new environment.
“We function entirely as a family unit; there is no difference in our home with our biological and adopted children. They all view each other as siblings and they’ve grown together. We did ensure that we created opportunities to spend a lot of time together,” said Allen.
Running Tiny Owls Baby Home is a rewarding effort, but comes with its challenges. Allen said one of the biggest difficulties was fundraising.
“We really do value our volunteers… we love it when people want to be part of the baby home and when they want to give up their time, but at the end of the day it costs a lot
of money to run an organisation – especially a staff heavy organisation. Probably our biggest challenge is to bring in enough finance to look after the babies on a monthly basis.”
She said this was one of the biggest challenges because their current costs stood at nearly R100 000. This included costs of hiring trained staff and purchasing essential baby products.