“[This] is a second chance to feel what being loved by a family truly meant,”, Matthew said.

Matthew is an adopted child who was originally born in Zamboanga City. He could not remember anything about his biological family except that his father lived with them sometime in 2010. Time came when he was a toddler that his parents gave him to an American couple who promised to raise and send him to school.

Matthew lived with the couple and their six biological children. Even though the couple had to look after more children as they started to build an orphanage, he remembered them taking him in as if he was their own child.

Later on, the Department of Social Welfare and Development Field Office (DSWD FO) IX learned of the situation of Matthew and he was pulled out from the couple. Matthew was then returned to his birth parents but after a month, they decided to bring Matthew back to the custody of the American couple.

Due to the armed conflict in Zamboanga, the couple transferred to Tacloban City bringing with them Matthew and other children under their custody only with the verbal permission of the children’s parents.

Under Republic Act 10165 or the Foster Care Act, children who had been victims of abuse, neglect, abandonment, or any other difficult circumstance or whose family members are unable or unwilling to provide the child with adequate care can be placed under the Alternative Parental Care Program of the Department. Although the children were willingly entrusted by their parents to the American couple, these children should have still been included in the Foster Care Program of the DSWD since the law mandates children should be under the custody of their biological parents.

Through the said Program, the DSWD and its partner institutions will look into the circumstances of the foster parents ensuring that the best interest of the child will be prioritized. After a series of matching conferences, home visits and social case study, the DSWD shall grant parental authority to the foster parents. Foster parents will have the rights, duties and liabilities of persons exercising substitute parental authority, as provided under the Family Code over the children under their foster care.

Failing to undergo the proper process, the American couple together with the children fled to Baguio. Shortly, a concerned citizen reported the American couple thus the DSWD Field Office Cordillera Administrative Region intervened with the situation.

Holding the hands for love

Matthew was already 13 years old when DSWD FO CAR pulled him out and brought him to Helping Hands, Healing Hearts Ministries Philippines Inc (Helping Hands). which is a non-government organization based in Baguio City. Guided by the love of God committed to serve Filipino children in various crisis situations who need an intervention, the institution serves indigent children by providing temporary residential care and medical assistance.

Matthew did not show resistance or confusion when he was brought to Helping Hands. Later on, it was discovered that he already got used to being transferred from one place to another.

Helping Hands’ social workers reported that he settled in quickly. He was respectful and did his homework and chores without assistance. Because he was already a teenager, the social workers had to let him know his options. Adoption was discussed with him.

Kahit ano po, basta makapagtapos ako ng pag-aaral. Ayoko pong bumalik sa Zamboanga dahil alam ko po na hindi ako makakapagtapos dun.”, Matthew emphasized his strong desire to finish his studies.

Young as he was, he already understood what was happening around him.

Helping Hands processed his papers immediately, however due to the lack of necessary documents, Matthew was not immediately declared legally available for adoption. He was under Intercountry Adoption Board’s (ICAB) Special Home for a while before a family signified their intent to adopt him- the ROMERO family.

After undergoing the usual process of adoption, on May 16, 2017, Matthew finally moved in with his new family.  His Filipino-American father and his American wife already have four children but desired to add one more through adoption. Matthew became their firstborn. Matthew and his father look so much alike- talk about flying chromosomes.

Sweeter love the second time around

In June to July 2019, Matthew came back to the Philippines. With his family, he came to visit Helping Hands and did some volunteering work there for a month.

As part of family search and reunion for intercountry adoption cases, Matthew, his adoptive father, and former social worker went to Zamboanga City in July 2019. He met with his biological parents, siblings, and some relatives. Matthew heard from  his birth mother why he was given to the American couple and that his birth mother never entertained the advice to abort Matthew but asked a couple to care for her child instead. Matthew did not show bitterness towards his family. He was grateful that finally the hollow part of his identity was answered.

Matthew is now 20. Just like any other American kid, he had his car at 16, been dating a girl since high school, goes to college while keeping a job or two, been emancipated and lives in a college dorm.

With the love and support from his family now, Matthew is slowly revealing the potentials that he always had.

This is a story of how one life can be changed by opening an opportunity for them. By providing them the right people whom they can call their own, you do not just keep them off the streets but give them better chances in life. Who knows? You may be that one who can give them the shot for a second chance at love. #DSWD-CAR, SOCIAL MARKETING UNIT, Nerizza Faye G. Villanueva-Trinidad with Jireh Lyn Altiyen

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