Adoption is a legal process that builds families – providing children with a permanent home and parents to care for them in the present and guide them in the future.
Adoption provides children who need permanent homes – from newborns to teenagers – with loving families. Without adoption, many children in this province would not have the stability, support, nurturing and attention that are so crucial to their physical, social and emotional development.
Adoption is a legal process that builds families – providing children with a permanent home and parents to care for them in the present and guide them in the future.
Adoption is also hugely beneficial for adults who want to make a lifelong commitment to a child by building what is often called a “forever family.” Adoption gives many Ontarians the opportunity to become parents or add to their families. In Ontario, there are a number of options for family building including adoption through the public, private domestic or intercountry services.
A strong adoption system is good for the government and taxpayers of Ontario. Regulated and trusted adoption services help build strong families. Public adoption is far less expensive and has far better outcomes for children than long-term foster care.1 Former Crown wards who age out of the system are less likely to finish high school, more likely to become parents themselves at a young age, more likely to be users of the mental health system, more likely to require social assistance, more likely to rely on homeless shelters, to experience poverty as adults and more likely to be in conflict with the law. The long-term costs to society when children do not have permanent homes are staggering. The human costs, in terms of personal suffering and unfulfilled potential, are heartbreaking.
To reflect the importance of diversity and inclusiveness to Ontarians, throughout this chapter “family” refers to heterosexual couples, same-sex couples and single adults, with or without children.
Over the past year, we studied the research and literature on adoption, and heard from a wide variety of child welfare and adoption professionals, families waiting to adopt and those who had already adopted, current and former Crown wards, foster parents and adults who had been adopted. It became clear to us that the most troubling issues and concerns related primarily and, in many instances exclusively, to public adoption.
For this reason, public adoption is our main focus in this chapter. However, we do address barriers and gaps relating to the private domestic and intercountry adoption services as well.
Some issues were raised repeatedly by many different stakeholders:
Many children in Ontario – from newborns to teens – are without permanent homes because the system is failing them.
Many families in Ontario who want to adopt children are prevented from adopting because access to information and timely entry to mandatory parental training and homestudy programs are highly variable across the province.
The current fragmented system of public, private domestic and intercountry adoption services is inefficient and ineffective – for families and children.
Public adoption services are decentralized, and as a result, processes vary widely across the province: for instance, some children’s aid societies (CASs) do not look for family matches outside their own local boundaries, while others do.
More transparency is needed: adoption processes are too often both subjective and inconsistent. Adoptive families, birth families and others are often left in the dark as to why and how decisions are made.
“ There are no guidelines posted, no rules posted … there is confusion
about timelines, homestudies, concurrent adoption … and it seems that social
workers are as confused as we are.”
Permanency is a fundamental goal for Crown wards and adoption should be viewed as the most important form of permanency.
Contact or communication with birth families should not be an insurmountable barrier to adoption – for many Crown wards, contact or communication with birth families continues to be a barrier to adoption.
Implementing and maintaining openness without support is challenging for adoptive families and birth families.
Adoption processes are not always timely, which creates emotional hardship for parents and children and delays bonding and attachment, which are crucial for healthy families.
Prospective and adoptive families feel they don’t have a voice or anyone to turn to when the system is not working.
Every year, many dedicated and experienced professionals working in the province’s three adoption services – public, private domestic and intercountry – help create or build about 1,600 families.3 In addition, families are also created through relative adoption or by step parent adoption.
"There are kids in Ontario who have no
permanent home, and that is 100% the
result of how difficult the system is."
Yet, many more children are still waiting to be adopted and many more Ontarians would like to build their families through adoption – but problems in the system are keeping them apart. This is particularly troubling with respect to public adoption: many children in the care of a CAS may have experienced neglect and/or abuse, or may have other risk factors such as prenatal exposure to drugs and/or alcohol. Children who live in foster care and group homes often experience multiple placements and numerous service workers.4 For many of these extremely vulnerable children, change is the only constant. Finding stable, loving families for them can make an enormous difference in their lives – and in their ability to fulfill their potential and become productive members of society.
CAS adoption service providers told us they don’t have the resources they need to do the job they would like to do.
In our view, the central systemic problem is that adoption is not the primary focus of CASs – nor should it be. Child protection is, understandably, their main focus. Only about 2% of CAS funding is devoted to adoption and CAS workers themselves told us that the resources dedicated to adoption vary greatly from one CAS to the next.5
Futhermore, there are significant policy and legal barriers that prevent the adoption of many Crown wards. The numbers speak for themselves. In the child welfare system in 2007-08:
Source: Ministry of Children and Youth Services
A court may make a child a Crown ward when reunification with the birth family has proven unsuccessful or inappropriate. When a child has Crown ward status, the Crown (Province) has the rights and responsibilities of a parent. On behalf of the Province, CASs exercise these parental rights and responsibilities for the child.
The price tag for growing up in care is too high, not just for the children themselves, but for all Ontarians. Foster care is designed to be a temporary solution for children in care, not an ultimate destination for thousands of Crown wards – the vast majority of whom will not be reunited with their birth families. For many children, foster care does not offer long-term permanency. In 2006, 35% of Crown wards who had been wards for more than two years had experienced three or more placements. Instability is emotionally costly for a child, and keeping a child in care is costly for all Ontarians. It is estimated that the provincial average annual cost to keep a Crown ward in public care is $32,000.7 As youth in care told us, they are without stability, consistent adult guidance or certainty – even the certainty of knowing where they will be next. We cannot afford to be complacent about the fact that this is how thousands of children in Ontario are growing up – particularly when another, far more positive and less financially costly option exists.
One of the main barriers to changing public adoption is the current culture around adoption – negative attitudes about Crown wards and skepticism about the availability of families to adopt them. There is a widely held belief that families exploring adoption “are only interested in healthy, white infants” and that most of the children in the care of CASs have special needs, are over the age of three and, therefore, are “not adoptable.” Adoption workers told us of tensions within agencies when child protection workers do not consider adoption as an option for the children whose cases they supervise, particularly if the children are older. Adoption workers also told us that, at times, courts appear to grant Crown wardship with court-ordered access (to birth families) – effectively preventing adoption – simply because they don’t believe that there are any families in Ontario who would be willing to adopt children other than infants or toddlers.
Yet programs created specifically to place older children and children with special needs are, in fact, highly successful. For instance, the AdoptOntario website and databank, operated by the Adoption Council of Ontario (ACO), has had good success matching children with adoptive families. Of the 260 children posted on the website since January 2006, 130 (50%) were removed from the site for adoption placement.8 The Adoption Resource Exchange (ARE), a public event where families interested in adoption can see video presentations and written profiles of waiting children and meet adoption workers from across the province, also has an impressive track record. The ACO told us that the approximate placement rate of children whose profiles are presented at the ARE is 75%.9It should be noted that most of the children listed on the AdoptOntario website and profiled at the ARE were older children and/or were children with special needs. We understand that virtually all were listed on the site because for a variety of reasons, their CASs had been unable to place them locally.
The success of programs in other jurisdictions also indicates that current biases about which children are adoptable, and which are not, are outdated and inaccurate. The “You Gotta Believe” campaign in New York state, the Homecoming Project in Minnesota and the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program right here in Ontario all prove that age and special needs are not insurmountable barriers to adoption.10,11
Innovative practices such as the “Adoption Register for England and Wales” demonstrate the potential of centralized, mandatory databanks. In 2007, the Adoption Register matched 199 children with families. Of the children matched, 49% were in a sibling group. The number of children placed through links made by the Adoption Register increased by 26% from the previous year, and at a time when the total number of children placed for adoption had fallen.12
Wendy’s Wonderful Kids – finding families for “hard
to place” children
Wendy’s Wonderful Kids (WWK) is funded by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. WWK programs have had demonstrated success finding permanent, loving adoptive homes for “hard to place” children in public care across the United States, in British Columbia and right here in Ontario.
We are deeply troubled by the fact that, despite proof of the effectiveness of programs and resources designed to match “hard to place” children with families, very few Crown wards are listed on the AdoptOntario website or profiled at the ARE.
The other significant barrier to improving public adoption is the complexity of child welfare processes. Ontario’s current legislation creates two classes of Crown wards: those with court-ordered access (to birth parents or other birth family members) and those without court-ordered access.13 Ontario’s legislation stipulates that Crown wards with court-ordered access may not be adopted. Currently, of the Crown wards who have been wards for more than two years, almost 75% have court-ordered access. Of the Crown ward files reviewed in 2007, 99% of Crown wards did not have permanency plans that included returning home to the care of their birth families.14 We believe court-ordered access has the effect of trapping Crown wards in the system rather than providing them with an opportunity for permanency in the form of adoption.
Accurate information does not exist on the number of families in Ontario who are waiting to adopt via any of the three adoption services. But we do know that last year, CASs completed more than 1,200 homestudies for families wanting to adopt, and many more families completed their homestudies and parental training privately.15
“ There is not one number you can call in the government and feel comfortable
to ask questions and talk to people who are not biased. You can’t ask these
questions of your social worker because they could hold it against you.”
Ironically, the current adoption system in Ontario is not family-friendly. Adoptive families and prospective adoptive families told us repeatedly that it is exceedingly difficult to get accurate information about the different services in the province and about what to expect when moving through the system. There is no central clearinghouse for current research, information about adoption or about the services provided in the province. Moreover, processes are not transparent – the rationale behind many adoption policies and practices isn’t clear, and at times the rules differ depending on which type of adoption is being pursued or which agency is providing the services. Prospective adoptive parents often feel “shut out” or become discouraged and sometimes give up on adoption altogether. However, the feedback we received from families was divergent and highlighted the variability and lack of standardization of adoption services across the province. Families’ experiences clearly depended on a variety of factors: which of the three adoption services they used, the workers they encountered, their social and cultural backgrounds, and their own expectations about the process of adopting a child.
Adoption service providers gave us considerable insight into the system, both in terms of what is working and what is not. Licensees and practitioners told us that access to flexible, creative and personalized services was the greatest strength of the private domestic and intercountry adoption services, while weaknesses included the costs to adoptive families and the lack of collaboration between and across services. Public adoption workers told us that the strengths of their services included the strong focus on meeting the needs of the child, while the greatest weakness was the lack of resources.
These sorts of weaknesses make the adoption process more complicated and costly than necessary. They delay – or even prevent altogether – the placement of highly vulnerable children who clearly could benefit from early placement.16,17
Given the numbers of waiting children and waiting families, it is clear that many more adoptions would occur in Ontario if adoption services worked better. In fact, we believe that with some significant adjustments to the system, Ontario could double the number of Crown wards adopted within five years.
In our view, the problem is not the people involved in adoption. The vast majority of adoption service providers, CASs, private practitioners and licensees want adoption services in Ontario to be the best they can be. They are trying to do what is right for the children waiting to be adopted, for the birth parents making adoption plans and for the prospective parents building their families through adoption. We also saw grassroots and community-based agencies – such as the ACO, the AdoptOntario program, the ARE committee, the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program, the London Coalition of Adoptive Families and the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) – working collaboratively with providers to improve adoption services in Ontario.
“ It is a broken system, but has some very good people working in it.”
The central problem is the current “patchwork quilt” nature of adoption services in Ontario. Services are not structured in a way that makes sense for children or families – or even service providers. In fact, there is really no “system” at all. Service providers tend to operate in relative isolation, often with few connections between them. Adoption policies, legislation, guidelines and standards are not based on current research or best practices, are inconsistent across services and, in many cases, do not reflect the current realities of adoption – or the diversity of this province. Furthermore, insufficient information is collected about services and outcomes for children and families. Without evidence-based research, it is difficult to plan a comprehensive range of adoption services that anticipate and fully respond to children’s, families’ and service providers’ needs.
Deborah and Kristoff married in their mid-30s and decided to build their family through adoption. At first, they had trouble finding information about the different options available in Ontario. Eventually they began to talk to other families who had adopted and found information on the Internet. They contacted their local CAS but found the first conversation – about how long they might have to wait and the kinds of needs a child might have – discouraging. However, they had become acquainted with other families who had adopted through the CAS so they asked to be considered as potential adoptive parents. They had to wait over a year to begin the required parental training and homestudy process. The delay surprised them because friends in a nearby community had applied to their local CAS to adopt at about the same time and had completed their homestudy and training within six months. To speed up the process, Deborah and Kristoff asked about completing their homestudy privately but were discouraged from doing so.
The year after Deborah and Kristoff were finally approved to adopt, the CAS called them about five year-old Kara, who was living with a foster family. She had been taken into care because of neglect. She was behind in her development. When she came into the care of the CAS at age four, she had not yet reached a number of key developmental milestones. For a year after she came into care, the CAS worked with Kara’s birth parents to try to make it possible for her to return home. When the CAS eventually determined that her birth parents were not able to care for her, they applied to the court for Crown wardship.
During her time in foster care, Kara made great gains and showed signs of being very bright but, because of the lack of order in her early life, it was determined that she needed a family who could provide extra structure and stability.
Deborah and Kristoff were very anxious to adopt Kara. While they were concerned that they might not have all the skills necessary to provide the support she needed, the adoption worker reassured them that a permanent home was what Kara needed most. Deborah and Kristoff accepted the placement. Kara is now 15 years old, a straight-A student and an accomplished musician.
Kara continues to need extra structure and order in her life, but she is thriving. When she was nine, Deborah and Kristoff adopted another child through the CAS: a four year-old boy, Ethan.
The status quo is not acceptable. We envision a province where children who need homes find them as quickly as possible, and where families who want to adopt are able to access both information and services in a timely manner. We are convinced that many more adoptions would occur if the system worked better. Ontario can and should construct a world class system in which:
“ Before I was adopted I didn’t belong. I yearned to belong! All I wanted
was a mother. I wanted to be loved.”
– Adopted adult
All children who need a safe, loving and permanent family have the best possible chance of finding one.
Age and special needs are not viewed as insurmountable barriers to adoption.
Choices made by families are respected – regardless of the adoption service they choose or their reasons for building their families through adoption.
We clearly heard from youth that it is important to keep the channels of communication open with birth families or extended families where these contacts exist, but that such contact should not preclude them from being adopted.
All prospective adoptive families are treated as valuable resources and receive clear, accurate information about all forms of adoption.
Adoption processes are streamlined and expedited, so that children and adoptive parents are united as quickly as possible.
Contact or communication with the birth family, when in the best interests of the child, is not a barrier to adoption.
Adoptive families – both parents and children – receive the supports they need even after an adoption is finalized.
Information on services and outcomes is collected and continuously studied to keep improving adoption for children and families.
To provide a world class adoption system, Ontario must act now. We urge the government to:
We fully recognize that any recommendations for First Nations, Métis, Inuit and urban Aboriginal children in Ontario must be a result of government working in partnership with First Nations, Métis, Inuit and urban Aboriginal leadership, organizations, communities and service providers.
We understand that it will be necessary for the government to work in partnership with these groups to determine whether and how our report has implications for child welfare for First Nations, Métis, Inuit and urban Aboriginal children.
Ontarians who want to build or add to their families through adoption have three options: public, private domestic and intercountry adoption. All three are regulated by the provincial government and, in all instances, the best interests of the child are deemed paramount.18
Patterns of adoption in Ontario have changed significantly over time and continue to change. Over the past decade, for instance, there has been a decrease in the number of private domestic adoptions and a slight increase in intercountry and public adoptions. In Ontario, as in many other jurisdictions, there are many fewer newborn babies available for adoption than there were several decades ago, and more families are choosing to adopt from countries like China and, more recently, Ethiopia.19
Each year for the past five years, approximately 1,600 children were adopted into families in Ontario through one of these three services. The largest number – more than 800 a year – are public adoptions, followed by about 650 intercountry adoptions and 150 private domestic adoptions.
Source: Adoptions and Crown Wards (ACW) Information System, Ontario Ministry
of Children and Youth Services and Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Facts and
Note: The ACW system is updated on an ongoing basis following receipt of final adoption orders from Provincial Courts. This data has been supplemented with intercountry adoption statistics from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
“ The fact that I was a lesbian was never something I considered to be a barrier
to wanting to have a child.”
Ontarians – heterosexual and same-sex couples, and single people, with and without children – choose to build or add to their families through adoption for many different reasons. Some want to help a child in need. Some try assisted reproduction services before trying to adopt. Others turn immediately to adoption. Some families adopt a child who is already biologically related to them. Some are foster parents who have been caring for a child they have come to view as a member of their forever family.
Regardless of why they want to adopt, families do not take the decision to adopt lightly. Families told us that they thought long and hard about adoption and that the decision was life-changing. In every instance, we heard that they wanted to be sure that adoption was in the best interests of the child – whether they were adopting from the public, private domestic or intercountry services.
Children adopted by Ontario families generally fall into one of four groups:
Ranging in age from newborns to teens, these children are generally available for adoption as a result of having been taken into the care of a CAS and have been made Crown wards by the court.
A smaller number of birth parents voluntarily place their children for adoption with CASs each year (approximately 5% of public adoptions).
Usually newborns or infants whose birth parents, for personal reasons, want to make an adoption plan for their child.
Children who, through a court procedure, are adopted by a parent’s partner.
|Usually toddlers or young children from outside Canada whose birth parents are not able to provide a safe, stable home. These children are usually in the care of an orphanage or are otherwise in the care of the state.||Ranging in age, these children live either in Ontario or outside the province and are adopted by biological relatives living in Ontario.|
Private domestic and intercountry adoption services are facilitated by about 38 individuals or agencies (licensees) licensed by the government under the Child and Family Services Act (CFSA) or the Intercountry Adoption Act (IAA). Intercountry licensees are required to be knowledgeable about country-specific adoption programs and must ensure that all legal requirements are met, both in Ontario and in the child’s home country.
Adoption Legislation in Ontario The rules for adoption by Ontario residents are set out in two pieces of legislation, the Child and Family Services Act (CFSA) and the Intercountry Adoption Act (IAA).
Ontario requires that all prospective adoptive families complete a parental training (PRIDE) and homestudy process (SAFE). In addition to CAS workers who have been approved to complete parental training and homestudies, there are 110 adoption practitioners in the province who have been approved to conduct parental training and homestudies privately. Approved adoption practitioners are social workers or other professionals with significant experience in adoption and/or child welfare.
Public adoption services are part of the broader child welfare service system. Each of the 53 CASs across the province has been mandated by the government to provide child welfare services, including child protection and adoption. CASs are not-for-profit agencies with locally elected boards of directors, are subject to regulation by the government and largely funded by the province. Six Ontario CASs are Aboriginal and three are faith-based agencies (two Catholic, one Jewish).
Many important decisions about how to deliver child welfare services are made independently, at the local level. Adoption is only one of the possible “permanency placements” for children in the care of CASs. Other options available include legal custody, kinship care, Customary care and foster care.20
A key difference between Ontario’s three adoption services is the cost to adoptive parents. Because the child welfare system is publicly funded, there are few if any costs for families adopting Crown wards – the primary costs would be for any independent legal advice families may seek.
“ There was probably about $60,000 that could have gone into the mortgage. But it was worth it for our children.” – Interviewee
Families adopting from the private domestic and intercountry adoption services are responsible for all the costs associated with adoption, including the parental training (PRIDE) and the homestudy process (SAFE), the services of the adoption licensee, legal fees and administrative costs. In private adoption, families also pay for the cost of counselling for the birth parent(s). In intercountry adoption, families pay fees charged by the licensee, as well as travel expenses to meet the child and bring the child home.
Adoptive familes told us that the cost of a private adoption can range between $20,000 and $30,000, while intercountry adoptions can cost up to $60,000.
To offset these costs, families can claim adoption expenses on their personal income tax, including fees paid to a licensed adoption agency, court costs, legal and administrative expenses, as well as reasonable travel and living expenses to complete an intercountry adoption. Both the federal and Ontario governments offer a non-refundable adoption tax credit.
In summary, the three adoption services in Ontario are:
Facilitated by CASs.
Most of the cost of public adoption services is paid for by the government.
Facilitated by licensees – government is responsible for approving all proposed adoptions.
The cost of these services is paid for by the adoptive families and ranges from $20,000 to $30,000, including the costs for mandatory parental training and homestudy processes.
Facilitated by licensees – government must approve applicants under the IAA before their application is forwarded to another country.
The cost of these services is paid for by the adoptive families and ranges from $30,000 to $60,000, including the costs for mandatory parental training and homestudy processes.
During our review of adoption services in Ontario, three consistent themes emerged: the system isn’t coordinated, service delivery isn’t consistent, and service delivery isn’t as sensitive as it could be to the needs of children and families. We are particularly concerned by the fact that there is so much variability in the adoption service delivery provided by CASs and we believe the main explanation is that adoption is not the primary focus of the CASs – nor should it be.
We do not believe that it is possible to fix or revamp public adoption services as they currently exist in Ontario. The measure of success of any public adoption service is the number of children available for adoption who find forever families – and, by that measure, the current system simply does not work. This is not surprising, given its decentralization and lack of standardization. Dispersing responsibility for the adoption of Crown wards to 53 separate CASs without clear, unifying standards or policy direction is neither effective nor efficient. The current decentralization of public adoption services in Ontario is illustrated by the regional and local divisions of the 53 CASs as noted below.
CASs are primarily responsible for delivering a range of prevention and child protection services. Understandably, assessing risk and preventing harm to children – truly life and death matters – are the main day-to-day focus of CASs. But the result, in a world of limited resources, is that adoption often gets lost amidst competing claims and is not always a high priority service. Adoption services represent only a small fraction of the child welfare services that CASs deliver on behalf of the province and in 2007-08, accounted for only about 2% of the more than $1.3 billion spent per year on child welfare services in Ontario.21
Child Welfare Services delivered by Ontario’s 53 mandated CASs include:
Prevention services designed to strengthen families, including crisis intervention, counselling and other services to prevent child abuse and neglect.
Child protection services, including investigating reports of neglect or abuse and taking children into care under court supervision.
Providing care programs for children, including foster care and providing support for birth parents to help them regain the care of their children.
Permanency planning for children who become wards of the province, including planning for adoption.
The child protection focus of CASs makes it difficult for prospective adoptive parents to get the information they need about adoption. Many told us they felt they were initially viewed as potential threats rather than valuable resources for children in need of loving families. Furthermore, CASs tend to look within their own borders when searching for families to adopt Crown wards in their care. Sometimes this works, but often it does not – and using geography as the most significant criterion in determining the suitability of an adoptive match is not in the best interests of the child.
Finally, there is clearly a fiscal component to adoption. Quite apart from the immeasurable benefits to children and families, it simply costs less in the long-term than keeping children in public care.Where it is possible and desirable to seek adoptive placements, it is cost-effective to do so as aggressively and as early as appropriate.
All of this will only be possible with a strong, central agency dedicated solely to adoption – and accountable for ensuring that children and families across the province have equal access to adoption services that are delivered in a timely manner. It is simply not acceptable to let children languish in care because of an outmoded, ineffective and decentralized way of delivering adoption services. Their lives are worth more and we owe it to them – and to the families who are eager to provide loving homes – to create a new path forward.
We urge the government to create a new, centralized provincial adoption agency (PAA) with a local service presence to:
A PAA with a local service presence, answering to government, would serve as a clearinghouse for information on all three of Ontario’s adoption services and help families interested in adoption to access the services they need. The agency would also manage public adoption service delivery, including matching children available for adoption with potential adoptive families, placing children with families and supervising placements. The agency would be responsible for supporting adoptive families through the public adoption process – from entry point to post-adoption services – and for providing subsidies to families who adopt Crown wards with special needs.
Services in English and French
We recognize that to adequately provide services in Ontario, capacity in both English and French must be developed. Local service provision means responding to the needs of members of the community, and the agency would actively offer services in French in those parts of the province that require it.
CASs would continue to have responsibility for children in care. But locally-based PAA adoption workers would work together with CAS child protection workers on concurrent adoption planning for children in care, where appropriate, from early in the permanency planning process, particularly when the CAS is applying for Crown wardship of a child.
The PAA would also work with CASs to regularly review the plans of Crown wards in non-permanent situations, such as short-term foster care, to determine whether adoption might be an appropriate option for those children.
To facilitate system entry for prospective adoptive parents and timely adoptions of Crown wards, the PAA would establish both a central and local service presence in order to work efficiently with families, as well as CASs.
How and where local services would be provided is an implementation detail. In building its service delivery model, the agency would evaluate needs across the province and place services accordingly.
Private domestic and intercountry adoption services would continue to be offered by private practitioners and licensees and would continue to be licensed and monitored by government. Families who enter the system through the PAA, and who wish to adopt from the private domestic or intercountry services, would be referred to private practitioners and licensees in their area. A priority of the PAA would be to develop collaborative relationships with private practitioners and licensees in order to build a stronger, more integrated provincial system.
Given its provincial scope, and because its sole mandate would be to support adoption, the PAA would provide the time, resources and focus on adoption lacking in the current system. The agency would become a centre of excellence – a leader in the area of openness, including conducting research, educating professionals and developing supports – to help children, adoptive families and birth families understand, negotiate and maintain openness.
With its strong local presence, the agency could develop close working relationships and networks with community service providers to support families before, during and after adoption. We envision a system as illustrated below:
As we considered the role of the PAA, we identified nine key functions in the adoption process. Yellow chevrons describe family-related functions and blue chevrons describe child-related functions.
Families – including those who have successfully adopted, those who are waiting to be matched with a child and those who explored, but did not pursue adoption – told us that it is very difficult to get clear, detailed, objective information about Ontario’s three adoption services, the differences between the services, the children available for adoption from each, the cost of adoption, intercountry adoption options – such as information about the countries that Ontarians typically adopt from – and the time it takes to adopt. Some families reported that they chose one adoption service over another based on misperceptions, myths and word of mouth information. For example, some people chose intercountry over public adoption because they heard that public adoption is very complicated and can take many years. Finally, we consistently heard that where families lived in the province had a direct impact on their ability to access services.
Some families reported feeling that some private domestic and intercountry licensees were in competition with each other and, therefore, it was difficult to determine which direction to choose. Others told us that meeting with individual intercountry agencies to research options added fees to an already costly process.
And we repeatedly heard from families pursuing public adoption that, instead of being treated as a valued resource for waiting children, agencies worked to screen them out of – rather than into – the adoption process. Many families told us that they were not welcomed nor provided with the opportunity to explore whether or not public adoption was the right choice for them. This approach could be due to a lack of resources within CASs to embrace all prospective adoptive families and it could also be because many families initially inquire about adopting healthy infants. Some CASs told us that, at first contact with prospective adoptive families, they try to describe the realities of the needs of many of the children in their care.
This may well have the unintended result of “scaring off” families calling about healthy infants but who, with more complete information, might be more than willing to adopt a toddler, an older child or a child with special needs. The “screening out” approach might be a natural outcome of a child protection orientation: approaching adoption using a child protection lens is completely understandable given how much child protection work CASs are engaged in on a daily basis.
Families who choose adoption generally start the information gathering process with some trepidation, but also considerable energy and enthusiasm. They are excited about the prospect of building a family through adoption. We believe it is in the best interests of children to harness these families’ excitement by focusing resources to welcome potential adoptive families into the system, and by providing them with opportunities to gather important information to help them make informed choices.
Taking a more welcoming approach to prospective families does not mean putting children’s interests second. It simply means ensuring that all potential adoptive families get the information and support they need to explore adoption – regardless of the service they wish to use or the characteristics of the child they seek to adopt.24,25
The current reality of public adoption in Ontario is that there are more children legally free for adoption than families who have completed the mandatory requirements and are ready to adopt. We anticipate that if our recommendations are implemented, the number of children free for adoption will grow considerably and the need to welcome families into the system will become even more pressing.
A provincial agency would provide a “one-stop” entry point to all three services in Ontario’s adoption system (although families could continue to access private practitioners and licensees directly if they so desired). The faster and more easily families can get information and services, the more family-friendly adoption services will be.26
To be approved to adopt in Ontario, families must successfully complete a parental training program (PRIDE) and a homestudy assessment (SAFE), which are designed to be portable across all three adoption services. Training helps families understand the rewards, along with some of the challenges, when building a family through adoption, and homestudies provide adoption workers with a detailed picture of a family and its suitability for a particular child. Families adopting from the private domestic and intercountry services pay private practitioners to complete PRIDE and SAFE, but both are offered free of charge to families adopting from the public service.
In some areas of the province, families adopting from the public service wait up to two years before they can begin their parental training or homestudy process. In other areas, wait times are much shorter. In many parts of the province, fulfilling the homestudy requirements – particularly obtaining child welfare and criminal record checks – takes an inexplicably long time, regardless of the adoption service used.
Some families who completed parental training and homestudy assessments with private adoption practitioners told us that, upon subsequently contacting some CASs, they were asked to redo some or all of the processes – despite the fact that PRIDE and SAFE were specifically designed to be portable across all three services. Additionally, some CASs reported that their agencies have a policy not to provide a copy of a prospective adoptive family’s SAFE homestudy to them.
We believe the Province should establish standard wait times for entry into public PRIDE and SAFE programs, in the best interests of both children and families. It seems both desirable and reasonable to offer a province-wide guarantee that PRIDE be started no more than 60 days after parents register with the PAA, and that SAFE be started no more than 30 days after completing PRIDE. We further recommend that the government establish provincial guarantees that child welfare and criminal record checks required for SAFE would be completed within 30 days of receipt of the request.
Both PRIDE and SAFE were designed to be portable across all three services and we believe this would be easier to enforce with a PAA. While updating may be necessary in some instances, requiring prospective adoptive families to redo training and homestudies creates an unnecessary – and costly – barrier to adoption.
The PAA would coordinate and monitor access to PRIDE and SAFE provided for families wanting to adopt from the public service, which must continue to be free of charge to families. By pooling resources, planning for PRIDE and SAFE provincially and working collaboratively to find more efficient ways to deliver PRIDE, the PAA would ensure that families can complete both programs within the reasonable time limits set forth in provincial standards. For example, the PAA would work with the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, which owns the license for PRIDE in Canada, to look at how e-learning could make PRIDE more accessible and user-friendly for families.
Another crucial function of the PAA would be to create a provincial registry of families interested in public adoption. Once families complete SAFE and PRIDE, the PAA would enter their names in a registry listing all Ontario families qualified to adopt. Such a databank would help improve the speed of matching, as well as increase the pool of qualified families for any particular child who is legally free for adoption.
Whether children are to be adopted via the public, private or intercountry services, time is of the essence. The sooner a child can start to bond with and attach to a family, the more successful the adoption will be.27,28 The longer a child remains in foster care or in other non-permanent arrangements, the more often a child moves – or the older he or she gets – the harder it may be to adjust to a permanent family.29, 30, 31
We cannot overstate the importance of concurrent planning for children in care. While the overarching goal of the child welfare system is to strengthen families and keep children out of care, an equally important goal should be to find permanent homes for children who come into care when it is clear that reunification with birth parents is not in their best interests. Permanency is critical for children’s social and emotional development. The literature consistently demonstrates that timely adoption placements are vital for children by producing better chances of bonding quickly with their new family and better outcomes later in life.32, 33, 34
One of the roles of CASs is to develop permanency plans for children in care. However, as of March 31, 2008:35
To us, these statistics demonstrate an urgent need to focus more attention on adoption as a permanency option. We support the goal of returning a child to his or her birth parents when it is in the child’s best interests – but the reality is that the overwhelming majority of Crown wards who have been wards for two or more years are very unlikely to return to their birth families. The system should be reoriented to help more of them find adoptive families and provide them with a future out of provincial care.
Source: Ministry of Children and Youth Services, Crown Ward Review, 2008
It is critical to focus on the importance of early permanency planning for children in care – no matter the age or special needs of the child, nor how long the child has been in care. Concurrent permanency planning, including adoption, must be a key component of child welfare services from a point of early contact with a child.36, 37, 38 Planning from the moment a child comes into care helps to earlier identify the child’s needs.
We believe that working together, CASs and the PAA would facilitate more timely adoptions. This collaboration would start at an early stage and be formalized as part of the application for Crown wardship. At the point of Crown wardship, while guardianship of the child would stay with the CAS, the responsibility for adoption planning would shift to the PAA.
Concurrent permanency planning is equally important for older children and youth.39 While many families who first consider adoption often want to adopt newborns or toddlers, some decide they are willing to adopt older children and youth. We heard clearly from Crown wards themselves that, rather than giving up on adoption when a child turns 12 or 13, concurrent permanency planning for older children and youth, focusing on preparing them to “age out” of care, should still include planning for the potential for adoption.
With its sole focus on adoption and a mandate to deliver services locally, the PAA would work closely with CASs to help develop appropriate, timely adoption plans for children in care. While working with 53 different CASs would be complex, it is not impossible. The agency would build on collaboration practices already in place in some CASs. We recommend that CASs provide transparent concurrent permanency planning, including planning for adoption, from the point of early contact with a child. Further, to support collaboration and reduce variability in service delivery, government should also work with CASs to standardize practices related to permanency planning for children in care.
Source: Adoption Crown Ward Database,Ministry of Children and Youth Services
In Ontario, approximately two-thirds of all public adoptions involve children aged four or younger. However, almost nine of every 10 Crown wards in Ontario are over age six.40
Not all prospective adoptive parents want to adopt an older child, and some older children and youth do not want to be adopted. And while some CASs very consciously dedicate time and resources to finding families for older children, it is not a consistent focus across the province. Those children and youth who do want to be adopted should have that option and their chances should not depend on where they live in Ontario.
Programs in some jurisdictions (e.g., New York, Minnesota, California) have much more success in finding adoptive families for older children. Ontario can learn from them. For example, programs that do a good job of matching older children with families have workers dedicated to the task who actively recruit families.
Some jurisdictions find families who will provide foster care for children when they first come into care and will adopt them if they become Crown wards. This is an effective way to provide stability and permanency for children.41
“ You can love a child at any time, regardless of age.”
– Youth dialogue
We believe that the PAA should focus on proactively recruiting families who meet the needs of the full range of Crown wards waiting for families: older children, those with special needs, sibling groups and those of all races, cultures and religions. Having a registry of waiting families would increase the potential number and quality of matches available for waiting children.
The Homecoming Project
Five years ago, the Homecoming Project set out to increase the success of teen adoption in Minnesota. Partnering with adoption professionals and involving waiting teens, the project worked to counter myths, pilot new practices and encourage system change. The efforts seem to have paid off – more than 30 teens have found permanent homes over the five years, a much higher rate than the state average. And an additional 12 teens have made permanent connections with families.
Myths about public adoption persist. Many people in Ontario believe “it’s very difficult to adopt” because “there are no kids available.” Others, who are aware of public adoption services, discount them because they believe that “the kids have been irreparably damaged by their experiences.” Still others are scared off by the concept of openness – which often means no more than a yearly letter and pictures sent to a birth family via an adoption worker – because they worry that “birth parents could turn up on the doorstep at any time.”
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to counter these misperceptions and vigorously promote children available for adoption without a unified, province-wide effort.
Adoption Resource Exchange – Bringing Families to Children
Twice a year, families interested in adoption can attend the Adoption Resource Exchange (ARE) where they can see video presentations of many children waiting for adoption in Ontario.
Promoting waiting children via newspapers, magazines, web-based and interactive information forums can help recruit adoptive families that match their individual needs. Websites have been used to find more families and complete more adoptions in many jurisdictions including Alberta and across the United States.42,43
One of the roles of the PAA should be to fund and manage a central web-based databank, and to support the expansion of the ARE so that it is held four times a year rather than two in different areas of the province. We believe that when it is in their best interests and does not compromise their safety, all children waiting for adoption in Ontario should be promoted in as many creative ways possible. We hope that with its province-wide focus and mandate to plan adoption for Crown wards, the PAA would ensure that waiting children from all parts of Ontario benefit from being promoted through these tools.
Lisa was a single woman in her early 40s. She was very successful in her career in human resources and just assumed she would never have children. One day, she read an article about older children in Ontario waiting to be adopted. She thought she would make a good parent for an older child and she was particularly interested in Bryan, a 14-year-old featured in the article. Her attraction to him was his interest in art, which she shared. However, upon contacting the CAS, the worker she spoke with told her that he was the responsibility of a different CAS so she would not be able to adopt him. But Lisa was a good advocate for herself. After privately completing her parental training and homestudy, she contacted the other CAS.
The adoption worker she spoke with was skeptical about her ability to parent Bryan on her own. Because he was 14, he would also have a say in choosing his adoptive family. To get to know Bryan and to convince the CAS that she was serious, Lisa visited him every weekend. Over a period of about eight months, they developed a good relationship and Bryan became convinced that he wanted to be adopted by Lisa. His worker agreed that their similar interests had helped strengthen their bond. Once Bryan moved into his new home, Lisa took adoption leave to help him settle into the community, and she was then able to work flexible hours for several months so she could be there when he came home from school each day.
There is an adoptive home for all children waiting for adoption in Ontario. The right family just needs to be found.” – AdoptOntario program staff
It is the job of all adoption workers, private practitioners and licensees to find the family that best matches each individual child. The best match is important for the child and for the family.
However, during our consultations we heard that many CASs are hesitant to consider families outside of their local area when trying to match waiting children. This practice may be due, in part, to the way CASs are funded and to a desire to keep children closer to significant people in their lives. It may also be due to the fact that CAS workers feel they know more about prospective adoptive families in their own regions. Regardless of the reasons, however, both families and CAS service providers report that this practice results in children, particularly older children, remaining in care for longer periods of time – even when there is a family waiting for them. In addition, policies about placing children in families with a similar cultural background are applied differently across the province, thereby delaying adoptions.
Having fewer choices results in fewer matches and increases the likelihood of not making the best possible match. Clearly, this is not in the best interests of any child.
A major barrier we identified in the public adoption system was the lack of inter-agency matching of children and families. We intuitively believed that many more appropriate matches between children and families could be made by moving to a provincial matching system and we set out to find out whether statistics confirmed this belief.
Limiting the number of possible options for children waiting for families seriously hinders the ability to match children with families who may appropriately share their interests and meet their needs. In fact, according to the statistical model constructed for the panel, moving toward a province-wide matching system could result in an overall match increase of at least 25% – or 200 adoptions – for all current Crown wards without court-ordered access.
This model, which used a hypothetical collection of data – assigning unique “scores” for each family and child to reflect the probability of a match – showed significant match improvements for older Crown wards. Specifically, we could expect the number of matches to almost double for Crown wards between the ages of 6-12 and 13-18.
It is important to match children and families based on interests, needs and compatibility. The net must be cast as widely as possible or children will remain in care for longer periods of time and, inevitably, many will never be adopted. Similarly, prospective adoptive families who are living in areas with few waiting children may also wait much longer to be matched and/or may eventually be lost to the system when no matches are proposed.
We understand that it can be important for waiting children to remain physically close to important people in their lives, and we wholeheartedly support efforts to place children with adoptive families who have similar cultural backgrounds when it is in the child’s best interests. However, we believe these factors should not prevent children from being matched with families who otherwise would meet their needs and are ready to provide permanent homes.
Because of its wider mandate and focus, the PAA would take a broad view and consider families from across Ontario when matching children. It would also work to ensure that policies about matching children with families with similar cultural backgrounds are applied consistently across the province. More choices would mean better matches.
When contact or communication with birth parents or birth family members is safe for the child, openness can be positive for children – particularly older children.
In “open” adoptions, when it is in the best interests of the child, adoptive families – including adopted children – may continue to have some form of direct or indirect communication with birth families, such as letters, e-mails, phone calls or visits.
In some cases, openness can give adoptive families ongoing access to important family medical information.44 In many cases, openness promotes a sense of identity, increases self-esteem, and allows children to feel a greater sense of security about themselves and their role within the adopted family.45
For older children, openness often preserves attachment to birth parents and/or family members and, in some cases, helps to lessen feelings of loss for the child associated with severing significant relationships, as well as feelings of disconnection from racial, cultural and biological roots.46, 47
Openness can also be important for some birth families. Some birth parents want to be reassured that their child is growing, developing and prospering in their adoptive home.48
Private domestic adoption practitioners and licensees have promoted openness for many years. More recently, public adoption services, both in Ontario and in other jurisdictions, have come to recognize that secrecy in adoption is a trend of the past and that, in many cases, when contact or communication is safe for the child, openness can be positive for children – particularly older children.49 Adoption policy and legislation in a number of Canadian jurisdictions and in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom, all now support openness in adoption – both openness in terms of unsealing records from past adoptions for adopted adults and birth parents, and promoting openness in adoptions moving forward.
Despite this trend, we learned that openness and how it may be implemented is not yet widely understood by some adoption workers and many adoptive families. We have heard that many CASs find the current tools, including openness orders and agreements, to be very complex – so complex, in fact, that some have established a policy not to use them. The complicated tools, coupled with concern about safety for children and fears about how openness may infringe on the “right to parent,” make some CASs and adoptive families reluctant to consider openness in public adoptions.
A second issue related to placement success in many public adoptions concerns adoption subsidies. As the child welfare system is currently structured, most children with special needs receive substantial additional financial support to address those needs while they are in care. This support may be cut off, however, if the child is adopted. We heard from some very dedicated foster parents who said they would like to adopt children currently living in their homes, but primarily due to the significant needs of the children, simply could not afford to do so. Others worried that adoption was not in the best interests of a child if it resulted in a loss of critical services and supports. Perversely, as the system is currently structured, a child with special needs has a better chance of having those needs met by remaining in care – a “solution” that overlooks their basic human need for permanency and emotional attachment, and the Province’s own need for fiscal responsibility. Simply put, it costs more to keep children with special needs in care than it does to provide adoption subsidies for these children.50, 51
Currently, adoption subsidies for children with special needs are provided to some families by some CASs. However, the practice varies greatly across the province. Primarily due to the way public adoption services are funded, CASs are limited in their ability to provide subsidies for all children who require them and to provide them on an ongoing basis. The current time-limited subsidy agreements in Ontario mean that prospective adoptive families cannot count on ongoing financial assistance to help support a child’s special needs.
Education about Openness
“ I was scared when the CAS talked about openness, until I learned it meant
sending a letter and photo every year to my child’s birth family. I’m
now happy to do that because I’m so grateful to them for my son, and proud
to let them know how he’s doing. I think it will also be easier for him as
he grows up to know that I haven’t slammed the door on his birth family.”
We recognize that openness is complex, that openness plans change over time, and that negotiating and maintaining openness is particularly complicated for many public adoptions. We also understand that openness is not in the best interests of all children at all times, and we have heard the concerns about putting the children’s best interests in front of the needs of birth parents or adoptive families. We believe that openness is an important ingredient necessary for making adoption work for more children. A key role for the PAA would be to provide education about, and support for, openness. The PAA would become a “centre of excellence” and develop the expertise to facilitate support for adoptive and birth families to negotiate openness and manage the provision of ongoing support to maintain openness.
The government should remove the financial incentives keeping children in public care and, instead, create incentives to find permanent families for Crown wards. A provincial system of ongoing adoption subsidies should be created for children over the age of two, and children of any age who have special needs. Based on the experience of other jurisdictions that have introduced adoption subsidies, we believe that more Ontarians would adopt children with special needs if there was ongoing financial support to meet the identified special needs.52, 53 There would also be fewer breakdowns of adoptive placements if families adopting children with special needs received the services they needed to help them parent.54, 55 We recommend that the government create a provincial system of ongoing adoption subsidies to be administered by the PAA, in order to provide greater consistency and equity across the province. Additional detail about subsidies is provided later in this document.
The finalization of an adoption is a legal event. It does not necessarily mean that all families are perfectly equipped to attach to and grow with the children whom they adopt, nor are the children always fully equipped to adjust to life with an unfamiliar structure and a new set of rules. Sometimes, continued support is needed and adoptive families often look to their communities for help.56, 57, 58
“ When adopting an older child, we have to remember that there will inevitably
be unwanted habits and attitudes entrenched, and it takes a special person who has
a great deal of time and a lot of energy to break them down, start up and build
again… The adoptive parent or parents really need to have a support system.
This could be financial, emotional, etc…”
– Adopted adult
Many families told us that it is not uncommon for adopted children to come into contact with professionals – such as teachers, counsellors and mental health professionals – who are not fully aware of the needs or challenges faced by both adopted children and families. Families told us that they had trouble finding the services and supports they need, and that they feel they are “on their own” once an adoption has been finalized.
Families raising adopted children often find it particularly difficult to access Families raising adopted children often find it particularly difficult to access services and support that are sensitive to or knowledgeable about the needs and circumstances of their children.
Education and Training
More must be done to provide education and training for a wide spectrum of professionals – from teachers to community service providers to the court system, family doctors and others – about the experiences and needs of adoptive families, including parents and children.The PAA would be in a good position to work with government, provincial bodies and other organizations to raise awareness about the realities of adoption and of the needs of all adoptive families in policy development and service planning, and to work collaboratively to influence the education and training of professionals.For example, the PAA would work with the courts to provide education about adoption generally – and outcomes for older children specifically – and work with educators on adding adoption as a curriculum component to help teachers to incorporate and welcome adoption into the classroom at all grade levels.
At the local level, the agency would build relationships and create networks so that when adoptive families need help, they would be referred to services that are attuned to the needs of adopted children.
Building Support Networks and Developing Services
Community Networks – Mobilizing
to Develop Community Support
A number of grassroots networks have sprung up in Ontario, often with few financial resources. Many of these groups connect families – those who have adopted older children, children with special needs or children from the same birth country, to name a few.
Adoptive families told us they find it helpful to talk about their joys, experiences and challenges with other adoptive parents. Grassroots efforts facilitated by not-for-profit organizations like the ACO and the NACAC provide opportunities for support and mentorship. The PAA would promote dialogue and manage the creation of a registry of organizations and support networks that could easily be accessed by adoptive families seeking support.
Furthermore, we believe that the PAA should be an advocate for the creation of provincial programs and strategies that support adoptive families. For example, Ontario is the only province in Canada that does not have a provincial strategy for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). We heard that FASD touches a number of adoptive families, regardless of the service from which they have adopted. A provincial FASD strategy should be developed to provide improved and better coordinated supports, services and diagnoses for children with FASD, while raising public awareness and knowledge about the issue. As part of its role in supporting families post-adoption, the PAA could play a key role in contributing to the development of such a strategy.
Developing a detailed implementation plan for the creation of a provincial adoption agency (PAA) is beyond our mandate. However, we do suggest the following:
To help Ontario offer coordinated, consistent and sensitive service delivery, we recommend:
1.1 The Government of Ontario should create a provincial adoption agency with a local service presence to:
Centre of Excellence
1.2 The government should set service delivery timelines for public parental training (PRIDE), homestudies (SAFE) and child welfare and criminal record checks, as required by the SAFE process. Specifically, guarantees should be established that parental training will commence within 60 days of initial contact with the provincial adoption agency, that homestudies will begin within 30 days after the completion of parental training, and that child welfare and criminal record checks will take no longer than 30 days upon receiving the request.
Children’s Aid Societies
1.3 The government should standardize permanency planning practices for all children in care.
1.4 As part of their responsibility for child welfare services, children’s aid societies should collaborate closely with the provincial adoption agency and provide transparent concurrent permanency planning, including planning for adoption from the point of early contact with a child in care.
Obligations of the Provincial Adoption Agency
The provincial adoption agency should:
1.5 Operate in the best interests of the child.
1.6 Recognize prospective adoptive families as a valuable resource and support them to enter the adoption system where appropriate.
1.7 Closely collaborate with government, children’s aid societies, private practitioners, licensees, community-based service providers and other adoption stakeholders, so that the adoption of children from the public system can occur in the best interests of the child.
1.8 Work with the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies to develop a more flexible delivery model for PRIDE (e.g., develop some components that could be offered online).
1.9 Develop a focused program to find families for older Crown wards and Crown wards with special needs.
1.10 Become formally responsible for adoption planning for Crown wards at the time of application for Crown wardship.
1.11 Provide adoptive families and birth families with support to negotiate openness and ongoing support to maintain openness.
1.12 Work with local community agencies to help increase the availability of post-adoption supports in communities across Ontario.
1.13 Advocate for the creation of provincial programs and strategies that support adoptive families (e.g., advocate for a provincial Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder strategy).
1.14 Work with provincial bodies and other organizations to raise awareness about the needs of all adoptive families in community and provincial service planning, specifically, work collaboratively to influence education and training of courts, educators and other professionals.
The current fragmented system of public, private domestic and intercountry adoption services is inefficient and ineffective – for families and children. An integrated, fully-functioning adoption system is needed.
Creating a PAA, a front door to all of Ontario’s adoption services, is a radical change. But simply establishing an agency to centrally and locally deliver services is not enough. No system functions well without clear policy and legislation, consistent rules and standards, and good information about the effectiveness of the services.
To create an integrated, fully functioning and world-class adoption system, the government must:
Ontario’s policies and legislation for the three adoption services appear, at times, to have been developed in silos and are not always evidence-based. The rationale for some policies is unclear, some are not clearly articulated, some are not applied consistently across the three services, and some do not reflect the realities of the changing world. Regular effort is needed to develop and update policy to support the public, private domestic and intercountry services.
Evidence-based policy and legislation are the foundation of a sound, ethical and fair adoption system that better serves children and families. Policies should be founded on the belief that all three types of adoption are valid choices and are supported by the Government of Ontario.
“ I am astonished that there is no public information in terms of laws for
adoption. This should be made publicly available and some explanation to those laws
should be given…”
All current adoption policies should be reviewed immediately with the purpose of developing a policy framework that underpins adoption from all three services – public, private domestic and intercountry. The framework and policies should then be reviewed on an ongoing basis (i.e., at least every five years) to ensure they remain evidence-based, current and consistent. The policy development process must be informed by the knowledge and experience of a cross-section of external stakeholders including, but not limited to, child welfare and adoption service providers, licensees and private practitioners, prospective and successful adoptive families, adopted youth and adults, birth parents, foster parents, and current and former Crown wards.
We have chosen to highlight some of the policies and legislative issues that we feel most clearly serve as barriers to the timely placement of children with families and require the government’s immediate attention. The list is not exhaustive.
Contact or Communication with Birth Families
Court-ordered access may be granted to ensure that a Crown ward can continue to have contact or communication with a member or members of his or her birth family – this may include birth parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts or uncles, or other people significant to the child.
A court order for Crown wardship terminates parental rights. Birth parent access to the child automatically terminates upon Crown wardship unless a further order for access is made by the court. A court cannot make a further order for access unless satisfied that there is a meaningful and beneficial relationship between the child and the person seeking access, and the access order would not impair the child’s opportunity to be adopted. A Crown ward cannot be placed for adoption if the subject of any court-ordered access.
Court-ordered access has long been viewed as having the effect of keeping many children trapped in the child welfare system. We note that approximately 75% of children who have been Crown wards for more than two years have court-ordered access, and the permanency plan for a large majority of them (65%) is foster or residential care.59
Despite well-intentioned efforts on the part of the government – including amendments to the CFSA in November 2006 – to make it clear that an order for Crown wardship automatically terminates any outstanding access orders, a significant obstacle to the adoption of Crown wards continues to be court-ordered access.
The chief obstacle to adoption for some 70% of children in long-term foster care is an access order which the court has awarded to birth relatives, allowing visits to the child.
Under Ontario law, no child who is a Crown ward who has an outstanding access order may be adopted…unless a court procedure is instituted to remove the access order.
Why can we not resolve the legal question of access orders, so that children being made Crown wards today will not live in limbo until the age of 18?
The Toronto Star – January 23, 1990
We understand that the intent of the 2006 changes was to make more Crown wards legally available for adoption. However, despite significant legislative changes, CAS adoption workers have told us that courts have been slow to adjust to the new policy direction – continuing to grant court-ordered access even if it is clear the child is not likely ever to return home to the birth parents, and would benefit from adoption. In a non-scientific call for information from CASs (see appendix B), since November 2006, the number of Crown wards with court-ordered access appears to have decreased slightly. However, we do not view this decrease as indicative of a complete culture change in the system.
Source: OACAS, “Ontario’s Children in Care: facts from Children’s Aid Societies,” (Oct. 2008)
Openness Orders and Agreements
At the same time that the November 2006 legislative changes regarding court-ordered access were made, openness orders and agreements were introduced. If a plan for adoption has been made for a Crown ward and no access order is in effect, at any time before the adoption is finalized the CAS may apply to the court for an openness order. For a court to make an order, all parties – the CAS, adoptive parents, birth parents and the child, if over the age of 12 – must consent. Openness agreements may be made by adoptive families with a birth family member or significant person in the child’s life. Openness agreements can be entered into at any time, before or after an adoption is finalized.
We understand that the intent behind openness orders is to provide some level of comfort that contact or communication between children and birth families will be protected when adoptions occur. However, we have heard that many CASs find openness orders to be very complex – so complex, in fact, that some have established a policy not to use them.
The Legislative Changes Are Not the “Right” Changes
The legislative changes regarding access and openness are not solving the problem they were intended to solve:
We support maintaining contact or communication with birth families, when safe and appropriate, because we recognize that it is vital for some children. However, we strongly believe that contact or communication does not need to be a barrier to adoption.
Lessons from Other Jurisdictions
We have learned from other jurisdictions that there are ways to prevent court-ordered access from becoming a barrier to adoption. The experience in British Columbia is that terminating court-ordered access upon adoption placement – and replacing the access with an openness agreement – is largely successful. In the 13 years of experience with these agreements, it is reported that there has been a high level of compliance and the agreements have worked well.
We recomend that the government look to these other jurisdictions in order to inform and to support the articulation of a clear policy statement in Ontario that contact or communication with birth families should not be a barrier to the adoption of Crown wards, and adoption can occur for children with court-ordered access.
We recognize this policy shift would require amendments to the CFSA so that, in the future, Crown wards would be legally free for adoption – whether there is court-ordered access or not.
Adoption in British Columbia
We learned of adoption practices in British Columbia that informed our recommendations. First, children with court-ordered access can be adopted.In British Columbia, at the time of adoption finalization, the order for access is either terminated by the court and, with the agreement of the parties, converted to an openness agreement, or the court-ordered access is built into the adoption order. Second, the Province has put into place a practice to develop openness that works. Birth and adoptive families can either negotiate a “semi-disclosed” openness agreement which the government registers and facilitates, or a “fully-disclosed” openness agreement which the families negotiate themselves.These practices mean that more children in care can be considered for adoption, while also maintaining important contact with birth families, when in the child’s best interests.
Additional Barriers to Consider
We recognize that making children with court-ordered access legally free to be adopted would address one problem for some children, but may have unintended consequences for others. We want to acknowledge that it may be more difficult to find adoptive families for Crown wards with contact or communication prescribed by the court, due to the additional complexities that any formalized order brings to adoption. We believe that the difficulties experienced by CASs when trying to understand and implement openness orders have already illustrated how any form of contact or communication ordered by a court can be a barrier to adoption.We believe that tools and mechanisms to better provide for openness when it is in the best interests of the child (e.g., openness agreements or some other form of court-ordered contact or communication specifically tailored to the adoption) should be developed.
The Way Forward
To immediately address the importance of maintaining contact or communication with birth parents and the current barriers still in place due to the large number of Crown wards with court-ordered access, the government should undertake an immediate provincial review of all existing court-ordered access for current Crown wards. We note that approximately 75% of children who have been Crown wards for more than two years have court-ordered access, and the permanency plan for 65% of those is foster or residential care.60 Where access is not being exercised and/or does not continue to be in the best interests of the child, the case should be returned to court for re-consideration as to whether access continues to be in the best interests of the child. Where some form of contact or communication with the birth family continues to be beneficial for the child, consideration should be given to exploring the possibility of replacing the access order with an openness agreement or order.
To support an overarching policy for openness, the government would also need to:
Child Welfare Transformation
The following comments relate only to adoption-related aspects of child welfare transformation. In 2005, the Government of Ontario introduced a series of changes to child welfare policy. To increase the use of adoption as a permanency option for children in care, the ministry supported four strategies:
The components of transformation relating to adoption have been implemented in different ways across the province. We believe that the fact that there are 53 CASs interpreting the government’s vision may, in part, explain the great variability in implementation.
We heard that the development of common parental training and homestudy processes was a significant step forward, but that the goal of full portability has not yet been achieved. Similarly, although a website and electronic database were created through the AdoptOntario program, too few profiles of children and families are being placed on either.
Permanency options, such as kinship care and legal custody, were introduced and we have heard that, in particular, kinship care has been embraced by some CASs. However, we are concerned that, while a range of options is important in order to best meet the diverse needs of children in care, adoption has become only one permanency option, lost among many, despite the inherent security, stability and legal certainty that only adoption can provide.
Monitoring and tracking processes related to adoption were not adequately thought through and implemented after the transformation reforms. As a result, it is unusually hard to track success. Clear goals and measures need to be established to determine if transformation is working. These goals and measures need to be transparent, independently validated and monitored, and reported publicly.
Finally, we are convinced that more needs to be done to ensure that contact with birth families is not a barrier to adoption. We do not believe that openness orders or agreements as they exist today can function as they were intended. We are also convinced that stable and secure funding for adoption subsidies and post-adoption supports is critical to making more adoptions happen. Currently, CASs scramble to find funding internally, with the predictable consequence of significant variability across the province. We believe that rolling out complex ideas across 53 autonomous agencies is a challenge to adoption success.
The focus of the government must be to develop a system and a culture that supports adoption with openness and satisfies the needs of all parties – the court, service providers, adoptive families, birth families – and, most importantly, is in the best interests of the child.
We believe that tools to support openness developed in the context of a system that supports adoption (e.g., support from the PAA, concurrent permanency plans, earlier identification and matching of families with children), can be used to facilitate more timely adoption processes and result in better outcomes for children.
We are confident that these steps will help promote the adoption of more Crown wards – both those with court-ordered access and those without, and will make the adoption of Crown wards much less complex in the future.
Race, Culture and Family Structure
The public and intercountry services are supported by very different policies on racial-cultural adoption placements for children.61 Given the nature of intercountry adoption, many children are placed with families from a different race or culture. This differs starkly from public adoption services, where there is great variability in the emphasis CASs place on racial and cultural matching, and many different iterations of what factors matter when matching children with families (e.g., physical appearance, cultural practices).
A practice instituted in Ontario and in other provinces in Canada between the late 1950s and mid-1970s, “the ’60s scoop era,” to remove First Nations, Métis and Inuit children from their home communities and adopt them out to non-First Nations, Métis and Inuit families, is a subject of great concern for First Nations, Métis and Inuit leadership of today.
We understand that it will be necessary for the government to work in partnership with First Nations, Métis, Inuit and urban Aboriginal leadership, organizations, communities and service providers to determine whether and how our report has implications for child welfare care for First Nations, Métis, Inuit and urban Aboriginal children.
With some exceptions, primarily for First Nations, Métis, Inuit and urban Aboriginal children, we believe that when too much importance is placed on finding the “exact” racial or cultural match, without consideration for other equally important needs children may have, children remain in care for longer periods of time.
We support efforts to match children with families of the same race, culture and language if it is clearly in the best interests of the child. However, these policies should be informed by current evidence. In our view, placement should not be unduly delayed and no child should go without a stable, permanent home simply because an adoptive family who can meet a great majority of a child’s needs is not of the same race, cultural or linguistic background as the child.62 We also found variability across the province in attitudes about matching children with single and same-sex families (in the intercountry service, policy on this issue is determined in the child’s country of origin and, in private domestic adoption, the birth parent selects the adoptive parent). Again, we believe that policy supporting decisions about family structure should be informed by current evidence.
Based on our review of the literature, children’s adjustment to adoption depends on age and length of time in care. Children adopted into non-traditional families – that is, families of mixed race, different culture, language or family structure – had similar outcomes to those adopted into more traditional families.63, 64, 65
We believe that Ontario must develop consistent policies for racial, cultural and linguistic matching, and family structure placements, to reduce variability across the province.
“ We know we will become parents one way or another by applying to all three systems.”
Planning for Adoption
Rules that keep families from pursuing more than one type of adoption at the same time (e.g., obtaining approval to adopt from China, and concurrently exploring adoption through a CAS) or from exploring a second adoption while the first is in the process stage (e.g., while waiting to be matched with a child from China, exploring the possibility of adopting a second child) are barriers to adoption. We understand that these policies were originally designed to prevent families from having more than one placement within an 18 month period.
In part because of the uncertainty about the time required for adoption from all services, the ability for prospective adoptive families to concurrently explore all options, particularly when planning for more than one child is essential. We believe the system should be much more open to families exploring different adoption options at the same time – while still allowing enough time between adoptions for families and children to bond. Policies on planning for adoption should be clear, evidence-based and responsive to current service structures.
Assisted Reproduction Services and Adoption
“ We had to ask ourselves, how badly do we want to be parents? The day after
our first failed IVF we called an adoption agency.”
We heard often about the ”unwritten” policy that families may not explore assisted reproduction services and adoption at the same time. We understand how important it is for families to be physically and emotionally ready for adoption – particularly after unsuccessful assisted reproduction treatment. However, having an informal policy prohibiting exploring assisted reproduction services concurrently with exploring adoption is driving behaviour underground. Families have told us that with adequate support, they are more than capable of making good decisions about their ability to explore assisted reproduction services and adoption at the same time. In addition, we believe that as families are exploring the adoption process, the adoption service providers and practitioners trained to complete parental training and homestudies can help families identify what is right for them, along with what they need to be the best parents for children.
Employment Leave for Adoptive Parents
“ You need to create a bond that isn’t naturally there when you adopt
rather than give birth. There are so many companies that are willing to recognize
that, but the government doesn’t.
I think that the laws and regulation around adoption are created without empathy or knowledge of what it is really like to be in that situation.”
In several other provinces, employment standards legislation allows adoptive parents to take the same amount of protected employment leave as biological parents. This is not the case in Ontario. Here, the combination of pregnancy and parental leave for biological parents equals a 52 week entitlement of unpaid, job-protected leave, while adoptive parents are only entitled to 37 weeks of parental leave. Federal employment insurance benefits also make a distinction between adoptive and birth parents.
There is no justification for this differential treatment. We accept that included in the 52 weeks leave for birth parents is time for the birth mother to heal from physical impacts of birth. However, adoptive parents need consideration of the time it takes them to form bonds with their adopted children.
Ontario’s Employment Standards Act should Ontario’s Employment Standards Act should be amended to provide equal leave to adoptive and birth parents. We also recommend that the Government of Ontario advocate that the Government of Canada amend federal employment insurance rules to provide the same treatment for birth parents and adoptive parents.
Michael and Gwen were diagnosed with infertility problems in their late 30s. When their doctor advised them that their chance of conceiving through IVF was quite low, they looked into adoption. They read on the Internet that intercountry adoption would be faster than public adoption so – despite the cost – they contacted an adoption agency that specialized in intercountry adoptions from China.
They had completed their homestudy and training, and were in the process of applying to be matched with a child when China changed its adoption rules. They learned that it was now taking longer to adopt from China, and they were worried about meeting China’s age requirements. The adoption agency advised them to try adopting from Ethiopia, but if they chose to do so, they would have to withdraw their application for China. Michael and Gwen found the changing rules and requirements difficult. They were frustrated because they could not get clear information on how long it would take or how much it would cost. And there always seemed to be more paperwork and more fees.
Almost three years after they first began to explore adoption, Gwen and Michael were both relieved and excited when they heard that they had been matched with siblings: two year-old Sunil and six month-old Crishantha. Michael and Gwen traveled to Ethiopia to complete the adoption and pick up their children.
When they returned home, Michael took parental leave. Gwen and Michael have developed deep bonds with their children and have no regrets. Still, the experience has taken its toll. They estimate that they have spent approximately $40,000 to complete the adoptions. While the process to complete the adoptions has at times been overwhelming, the couple has connected with a group of families who also adopted children from Ethiopia. They are finding that support very helpful.
Currently, for voluntary adoptions,the CFSA provides for the transfer of responsibilities for the child’s care and custody to the licensee or CAS placing the child, once all consents required under the legislation have been obtained and the period during which consents could be revoked has expired. There is a barrier to private domestic and intercountry adoption because the CFSA does not clearly address situations where consents have been dispensed with. Policy and related legislative work is needed: to clarify guardianship issues where foreign consent is executed; where parental rights have been terminated and guardianship has been granted to an entity or to the adoptive family in the child’s country of residence; or where a child is a permanent ward of an authority outside of Ontario (i.e., extra-provincial or foreign).
We understand that the policy intent underpinning allowable expenses related to private domestic and intercountry adoption is to provide a mechanism for adoptive families to pay for all the costs of the adoption both domestically and where necessary, in the child’s country of origin. However, today’s reality is that the regulation prescribing expenses is too restrictive and does not reflect true intercountry adoption processes.
To better support the current reality of intercountry adoption, the legislation should respect expenses that can be lawfully paid for in another country. There should be a requirement of full disclosure of the costs incurred to complete the adoption.
In addition, the category of lawful expenses should be expanded to include those expenses which are incurred in third party assisted reproduction where adoption by the intended parents is necessary. These would include the cost of medical procedures and testing and other expenses permitted by legislation and regulation. Further, consistent with rules in some other provinces, consideration should be given to expanding the category of lawful expenses in private domestic adoption to include certain pregnancy and birth-related medical expenses where no other source of coverage exists, and provided that any such payment is unconditional.
Of importance to intercountry adoption in Ontario is the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Convention). The Hague Convention is an international agreement designed to protect the interests of adopted children, standardize adoption processes between countries and prevent the trafficking of children. The convention provides a framework to Ontario’s regulation of intercountry adoption.
Intercountry adoption is complex and made more difficult in Ontario by the fact that the policy underpinning the service is unclear and the process to complete an adoption is governed by one of two pieces of legislation, the CFSA or the IAA. It is further impacted by whether the adoption is from a country that is a signatory of the Hague Convention.
The safeguarding of children and families in the process, and the timeliness of intercountry placements are goals that should inform policy. We recommend that the government should review and overhaul intercountry adoption policy and legislation with the purpose of addressing barriers and gaps, as well as creating harmony between the CFSA, the IAA and the Hague Convention and, additionally, with the realities of non-Hague countries.
The following discussion highlights some of the policies and legislative issues that serve as barriers to intercountry adoption.
The New Reality of Intercountry Adoption
Like in public adoption, older children adopted intercountry can also adjust to a new permanent home. For reasons in part due to systemic changes to intercountry adoption in recent years, more and more children adopted intercountry are not newborns or infants. In fact, it is becoming more common that, by the time all the processes have been followed to ensure the children are free to be adopted, they are in fact closer to age three. However, we heard from licensees and families adopting intercountry that the government is reluctant to approve homestudies stating a family is willing to adopt a child or matches for children over the age of three. It is important that the government review its policies for intercountry adoption and consider that, as in public adoption, age should be only one of a number of factors that is considered when determining suitability of a family and/or a proposal for intercountry adoption.
The Hague Convention
The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Convention) was implemented to address unethical adoption practices and that effort is lauded and supported. However, it should be noted that in some cases, the requirements put in place have had the unintended consequences of creating additional barriers and delays to the early placement of children resulting in many staying in institutional care longer.
While we want to ensure that ethical practices in intercountry adoption continue, we want the policies of the provincial government to recognize current intercountry adoption realities, including the reality that children are increasingly older and that relative adoption is complex.
There is significant variation in policy about relative adoption in Ontario. On one hand, in public adoption, recent policy direction confirmed within the government’s 2005 transformation agenda clearly supports the placement of children in care with relatives. In practice, CASs look to kin first as a permanency and/or adoptive placement for a child. On the other hand, support for relative intercountry adoption varies depending on the legislative framework (e.g., CFSA or IAA) that covers it, and there is no clear policy support for it. Many intercountry adoptions involve Ontarians hoping to adopt a young relative living in another country whose parents are unable or unavailable to provide care for the child. However, often the very relatives who would be treated as distinct in public or private domestic adoption actually experience additional challenges when attempting an intercountry adoption.
The CFSA exempts certain relatives – grandparents, aunts, uncles, great-aunts, and great-uncles – from a number of regulatory requirements in relation to adoption placement (e.g., no requirement to complete the parental training and homestudy process). The IAA on the other hand, treats all potential adoptive families the same, whether related or unrelated to the child.
We recognize there are a number of issues to address when considering relative adoption intercountry, including the consideration of relative adoption by other bodies (e.g., Hague Convention, federal government) and the inconsistencies resulting from implementing two different pieces of legislation in Ontario to govern intercountry adoption. However, we also recognize that Ontario has a diverse population and that there are Ontarians who, for personal reasons, wish to build or add to their families by adopting a relative child from their country of origin.
We believe that the government should develop clear policy that demonstrates support for relative adoption – including for relatives adopting intercountry. Issues that must be addressed include:
Jasmine and Terrell are in their early 40s and have one son, Tyson, who is 12 years old. They have a combined income of $58,000. Terrell received a call from Child Protective Services in Ohio. His sister, in Ohio, has a daughter, Laila, who is five years old. The child’s father is unknown. Terrell’s sister has a history of drug use and is unemployed. Laila has been in and out of care with the Child Protective Service for two years.
The Service is planning to go to court to terminate Terrell’s sister’s parental rights. Before Laila, who is now in foster care, is placed into an adoptive home of unrelated people, under Ohio policy, the Service is bound to search out family members who may be willing to care for this child. Terrell’s sister will not oppose the court proceedings if Terrell and Jasmine are able to adopt Laila. Ohio’s Child Protective Service wants to know if Terrell is interested in taking his niece, when they can be ready to adopt and if they can come to court in a month. Jasmine and Terrell were not sure where to start. After a week of phone calls and Internet searches, they were told that they needed to hire a private adoption practitioner to complete a homestudy for them. The cost of the homestudy was about $2,500.
They also needed to complete parental training which cost an additional $1,400. They wondered how they would find the money to pay these unexpected costs. They also learned that it would take about three months to process these two requirements.
Because the United States and Canada are both signatories to the Hague Convention, and the adoption is one which will be finalized in the United States, Jasmine and Terrell need the services of an Ontario licensee, licensed under the IAA and accredited under the Hague Convention – an additional expense for them. They were also told that, on behalf of the Ontario government, the Ministry of Children and Youth Services must review their homestudy before a letter of approval can be issued, and that other steps must be taken to satisfy the Hague Convention rules, including obtaining approval of the Ontario government for the proposed adoption of this child. Finally, they were told there will be additional time required to complete the immigration sponsorship process to obtain a visa for Laila to come into Ontario. Talking to Child Protective Services in Ohio, Terrell and Jasmine were told that the court may not want to wait the six to eight months required to bring Laila to Ontario. The court in Ohio is impatient: Laila has been in foster care too long already and the court termination hearing has already been adjourned three times.
The Hague Convention rules govern adoptions from many countries around the world, but not all. The IAA is the legislation which implements the Hague Convention in Ontario. As the central authority for the Hague Convention in the Province, the government is required both to approve families as suitable to adopt and, later, to approve the proposed adoption.
The IAA provides procedures to follow in OThe IAA provides procedures to follow in Ontario when adoptions are to be finalized in the child’s country of origin – whether the adoption is from a country which is a signatory to the Hague Convention or not. Problems occur when the Hague Convention applies to adoptions which are to be finalized in Ontario. The CFSA does not contain any procedures to be followed to ensure that the requirements of the Hague Convention can be met. This legislative gap has resulted in confusion about the procedures to follow to finalize such adoptions.
The lack of harmonization between the IAA, the CFSA and the Hague Convention results in legislative gaps that create unnecessary complexity, expenses and delay for families and children.
Conflict of Laws
Adoption legislation in most other provinces and states has “conflict of laws” rules which recognize situations where legal requirements in one jurisdiction differ from those in another. While the CFSA clearly contemplates a child being brought to Ontario with a view to the adoption being finalized here, there are serious deficiencies in that it fails to address issues that arise when the rules in the child’s home jurisdiction do not match Ontario’s. For example, Ontario has specific rules about obtaining consents to adoption, when they become valid, whose consent is required, and what can be lawfully paid for in relation to adoption. In many cases, these rules differ from those in the child’s home country. The CFSA simply doesn’t take these differences into account, leaving Ontario families vulnerable when they go to court in Ontario seeking an adoption order with foreign documentation that may not satisfy provincial rules.
In some cases, a child may have been surrendered by a parent to an orphanage or found abandoned. The parental rights in respect of such a child have been transferred by a court or by the operation of the country’s laws to an orphanage or person with authority to consent to the child’s adoption. The CFSA does not automatically recognize such an order or accept the consent of the orphanage or authorized person as sufficient to allow the adoption to be finalized here, even though the foreign adoption authority and the ministry approved the adoption.
The laws of other provinces and states recognize foreign adoption consents and orders terminating parental rights as valid and sufficient if they are in compliance with the rules of the foreign jurisdiction. We recommend the government promptly amend the CFSA to include such “conflict of laws” provisions.
Ontarians Temporarily Living Outside of the Province
There is a policy gap for Ontarians who are living or working temporarily outside of Ontario and who wish to pursue an intercountry adoption. In the United States, the Secretary of State is authorized to play a role in assisting citizens involved in intercountry adoption and there are regulations and guidelines that address the adoption-related challenges faced by citizens living abroad. We believe that, included in its mandate to help more Ontarians build families through adoption, the government should develop policy informed by that mandate and include Ontarians temporarily living outside the province who want to adopt.
Recommendations in this report address some of the barriers and gaps encountered when adopting intercountry.
We share the belief that intercountry adoption is an important family building choice for Ontarians. We believe that clear government support for intercountry adoption should be demonstrated, particularly given that it comprises one-third of adoptions in Ontario each year. To better support families in their choice to adopt intercountry, we believe that increased and ongoing policy attention must be paid.
In addition, an effective and efficient intercountry adoption service that reflects present day realities of Ontarians requires that the government recognize the impact of other jurisdictions’ policies on Ontario and play an active role in supporting Ontarians to adopt intercountry.
For example, federal policy and legislation impacts intercountry adoption: Canadian immigration authorities in visa posts do not always give deference to the high level of screening which is required in Ontario prior to an intercountry adoption placement approval. They impose additional scrutiny on these adoptions, often resulting in children being separated from their adoptive families, or adoptive families themselves being separated while one parent stays in the child’s country of origin to care for the child pending approval to complete the adoption. Waiting for visa approval is an expensive and stressful experience for families. The delay compromises the bonding and attachment between the child and family.
The government must link with key decision makers within the purview of the provincial government, with other provinces, with the federal government, and with governments of other provinces and countries, and must advocate on behalf of Ontarians building their families through intercountry adoption both within and across governments (federal and other countries).
While we understand that the Ontario government cannot directly affect the policy and legislation of other jurisdictions, we believe that concerted inter-governmental linkages are important to inform policy within Ontario and with other levels of government, and to support Ontarians to adopt intercountry to best meet the needs of the child. We are asking that the barriers or delays in the intercountry adoption process, to the extent that these are within the control of Ontario, be minimized.
The government should put a concerted effort into developing current, relevant policy for intercountry adoption and develop mechanisms to address the intersections within and between jurisdictions to improve policy and legislation in Ontario and by the federal government.
In reviewing how the adoption system as a whole functions in Ontario, we learned that the government is much more directly involved in providing day-to-day direction and guidance to licensees that provide private domestic and intercountry adoption services than to the public adoption sector.
The government approves homestudies for families wishing to adopt intercountry, and placement plans for private domestic and intercountry adoption. In our view, in contrast, the government plays a more “hands off” role with public adoption services. As an example, we repeatedly heard from CASs that a clearer explanation of the intent of policy changes is needed. We also noted that many guidelines and standards that inform adoption practice are outdated. The last comprehensive set of guidelines for public adoption service providers dates back to 1985 and, for private domestic and intercountry licensees and private practitioners, to 2000.
We suggest that consistent direction and oversight of all adoption services is required to decrease variability in public adoption across the province, to ensure accountability of private domestic and intercountry adoption, and to ensure that adoption is provided in the best interests of the child.
Provincial Targets and Standards
To establish the target of doubling Crown ward adoptions within five years, we looked at the number of current Crown wards (minus the number of First Nations and Aboriginal Crown wards) by age and placement. We compared these numbers to the national American placement rates for the same age cohorts and predicted what similar placement rates would be for Ontario.
To truly improve service delivery, it is important to set a provincial target for the number of public adoptions that should be finalized each year. We believe that if the government commits to implementing the adoption-related recommendations in this report, it can expect that the number of Crown wards adopted would double within five years (i.e., current annual number of public adoptions is about 800 – by 2014, the annual number of adoptions would be 1,600). We suggest that this target is achievable based on the experience in the United States: the number of adoptions increased dramatically after the introduction of significant policy changes codified under President Clinton in the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act. In the United States, “Adoption 2002” reforms resulted in a doubling of the number of children adopted between 1995-2000. Policies to support these results included:
Service delivery standards should also be set. For example, when we discussed the provincial agency on page 48, we noted the important role that the government needs to play in setting standards for the availability of parental training and homestudies and for completing child welfare checks and police checks.
All targets and service standards should be re-evaluated and reviewed before the end of the five-year period and, when appropriate, new and ambitious targets should be set.
Timeliness of Court Processes
We repeatedly heard from child welfare workers that court processes can be very slow, time-consuming and costly, and they obviously have a direct impact on how quickly children become Crown wards. This in turn directly affects the ability to move them into permanent arrangements, including adoption.
Some broad steps have already been taken to try to address this problem. The government has supported the development of alternative dispute resolution processes, including mediation, to ease some of the burden on the courts. But there’s little information available about how these processes are actually working across the province.
We recommend that the government prioritize solutions to this problem and consider setting service standards in this area as well. In its broad system oversight role – both of the child welfare system and the court system – the government should explore how alternative dispute resolution processes can be used to move children through the Crown wardship process as efficiently as possible, while collecting data to see whether mechanisms like alternative dispute resolution are working.
As we mentioned, the government is responsible for licensing private domestic and intercountry adoption service providers. We fully support regulation and the process of licensing private adoption service providers, however, we question the current requirements to renew all licenses annually. Given the reality of the intercountry adoption process – where the processing of an adoption from start to finish often takes several years – and the significant responsibility of licensees – we believe that the government should make the best possible use of its resources and licensing should be on a graded basis similar to the hospital accreditation process. New agencies and agencies requiring more support would receive licences of a shorter duration. Those with a proven track record and consistently strong performance would receive longer term licences. Whatever the term of the licence, we envision that regulation of the agency would continue during the term by ongoing support and consultation, and by oversight and monitoring that could include the requirement of periodic reporting and inspection of records.
Throughout our review of adoption services in Ontario, we were continually frustrated by the lack of data on service provision. Even the limited information reported to the government is full of gaps. For example, the Crown Ward Review only provides information on children who have been Crown wards for two or more years. It tells us little about what is being done to facilitate adoptions for Crown wards waiting for a permanent home and nothing about Crown wards who have been wards for less than two years.
We were also surprised to find that information is not collected about how well children do after their adoptions are finalized. This means the field does not have information about the matches that work best for children or the types of supports families need after an adoption is finalized. Without this information, services cannot be continually improving.66
For data collection and reporting on children in care, Crown wards, adoptions and other permanency arrangements, Ontario could learn from practices in the United States where anonymized data is collected by each state and reported centrally.67Independent data collection is necessary in and of itself to promote transparency and confidence in the data collection process. The public has increased confidence in data collected by an independent third party with expertise in privacy, security and data collection across human services.
The government should identify the data required to evaluate Ontario’s adoption services and establish clear reporting processes. We recommend that the government contract with a trusted independent third party to collect and analyze longitudinal, anonymized data on outcomes for children who are adopted. Additional information should be collected about Crown wards who are not adopted – including children who are placed in kinship care and legal custody arrangements.
We believe that to increase accountability, all Ontarians should have clear, unbiased information on all adoption services regulated by the Province. This information should be clearly posted on the government’s website and include a brief description of the licensing requirements for private domestic and intercountry licensees, approval processes for private practitioners and service standards for the delivery of adoption services. In addition, there should be information from each of the three services about approximate costs and time to complete adoption. The likelihood of having a child placed should also be posted. Finally, information about complaint mechanisms and processes must be clearly identified.
Child and Family Services Review Board
The CFSA gives the Child and Family Services Review Board the mandate to hear an application from a foster parent or other person requesting a review of a CAS’s decision to refuse an application to adopt a particular child.
The Board also has the mandate to review a CAS’s or licensee’s decision to remove a child who has been placed with a person for adoption.
It is important to establish a counter-balance to the considerable power a PAA would have. We also conclude that as the government is responsible for regulating private domestic and intercountry services, more formal mechanisms are needed to establish service provider accountability.
We recognize that there currently are some mechanisms in place like the Child and Family Services Review Board that provide service recipients a voice, but they are not adequate.
The government should review and enhance formalized complaint mechanisms to be sure that all parties involved in adoption processes – adoptive and birth families – as well as children and youth who are dissatisfied with the service they received, can be heard.
To ensure that Ontario has a world class adoption system, we recommend:
Openness and Court-ordered Access
2.1 The Government of Ontario should remove barriers resulting from court-ordered access to birth families while addressing the importance of contact or communication with birth families:
2.2 The government should create overarching policy and processes to support adoption with openness:
Policy and Legislation
2.3 The government should immediately review all current adoption policies and move forward to develop a policy framework that will underpin public, private domestic and intercountry adoption.
2.4 The government should ensure that the policy development process is informed by the knowledge and experience of a cross-section of external stakeholders including, but not limited to, child welfare and adoption service providers, licensees and private practitioners, prospective and successful adoptive families, adopted youth and adults, birth parents, foster parents, current and former Crown wards.
2.5 The government should review the framework every five years to ensure the policies remain evidence-based, current and consistent.
2.6 The government should create consistency within and between the three adoption services and articulate provincial policy that:
2.7 The government should develop clear policy that demonstrates support for relative adoption including for relatives adopting intercountry.
Gaps and Barriers
2.8 The government should review intercountry adoption policy and overhaul legislation with the purpose of safeguarding children and families, facilitating timely placements, addressing barriers and legislative gaps, as well as creating harmony between the Child and Family Services Act, Intercountry Adoption Act, with the Hague Convention and additionally, with the realities of non-Hague countries.
2.9 The government should enact policy and/or legislative amendments to:
2.10 The government should advocate that the Government of Canada amend federal employment insurance rules to provide the same treatment for birth parents and adoptive parents.
2.11 To better support more timely intercountry adoption processes, the government should play an advocacy role:
Oversight and Monitoring
2.12 The government should provide clear oversight and monitoring of Ontario’s adoption system.
2.13 The government should set a provincial target to double the number of Crown wards adopted within five years and, within five years, review and establish new and ambitious targets.
2.14 The government should set service standards and ensure that they are re-evaluated and reviewed before the end of the five-year period.
2.15 The government should introduce a graded licensing process for intercountry adoption.
Data Collection and Reporting
2.16 The government should identify the data required to evaluate Ontario’s adoption services and establish clear reporting processes.
2.17 The government should contract with a trusted independent third party to collect and analyze longitudinal, anonymized data on outcomes for children who are adopted.
2.18 This third party should collect information about Crown wards who are not adopted, including outcomes for children who are placed in kinship care and legal custody arrangements.
2.19 The government should make accurate information about all adoption services available to all Ontarians, including reporting on average costs, wait times, placement success and service standards.
2.20 The government should review and enhance formalized complaint mechanisms to be sure that all parties involved in adoption processes – adoptive and birth families, as well as children and youth – who are dissatisfied with the service they received, are heard.
We must all recognize that public adoption is cost-effective, particularly relative to the cost of keeping Crown wards in care.
In addition, to support families who choose private domestic or intercountry adoption, the government should:
The way the government currently funds CASs does not necessarily support permanency planning. When children are moved out of care and into permanent homes, a portion of the base funding for the CAS responsible for those children is discontinued. Inadvertently, this funding formula may create disincentives for adoption and incentives for keeping children in care.
A funding formula is needed where both the PAA and CASs are supported to work collaboratively and see the rewards for doing so. We believe it’s crucial that incentives for pursuing permanency planning from an early stage and for working closely with the PAA be built into every CAS’s funding.
To perform all duties as outlined in this report, and to continue free access to public adoption, the PAA would require adequate funding. This includes sufficient resources for: establishing a central and local presence; staffing needed to provide the range of duties required throughout the adoption process; providing ongoing subsidies and facilitating community capacity to develop a range of post-adoption supports; funding parental training and homestudies for all families adopting from the public service; and expanding the ARE to occur four times a year in regional centres across the province.
Our preliminary analysis indicates that a PAA can be established within the existing resources that are currently designated for public adoption services, and that the establishment of the PAA would therefore be cost neutral for the Province.
While subsidies and other financial supports are provided to some families who adopt through a CAS, once again there is considerable variability regarding if, and for how long, subsidies are provided. And whether or not a subsidy can even be considered depends on where the child lives in the province and which CAS is responsible for that child. Consequently, the “system” of subsidies is more like the luck of the draw.
In the United States, in 1997, increased federal funding for adoption subsides resulted in a statistically significant increase in the number of finalized adoptions.
Evidence from other jurisdictions, both in Canada and across the United States, demonstrates that postadoption subsidies and other financial supports are very important tools to facilitate adoption placements for children over the age of two and children of any age who have special needs.68, 69 In some cases, when subsidies are available, children who have been in long-term placements with foster families are adopted. As described earlier in this report, we heard stories of foster families who adopted their foster children with special needs – at the expense of funded services and supports – in order to give them permanency and a forever family. But adoption should not be an “either/or” scenario. Children with special needs should not have to sacrifice services and supports in order to become members of permanent families.
In Alberta and in many U.S. states, all families who adopt a child from public care receive a monthly subsidy – regardless of the child’s needs. Ontario is out of step. It is urgent that we develop a provincial subsidy system.
“ There needs to be more support for foster parents who want to adopt the children they have bonded with.” – Interviewee
A costing analysis, completed to provide us with confidence that providing subsidies in Ontario would result in cost savings to government, illustrates that the “break even” on subsidies can be accomplished in less than three years. The cumulative savings over five years, assuming we reach our goal of doubling adoptions over that timeframe, would result in savings to the child welfare system of over $28 million. It should be noted that these savings are a conservative estimate, in that they do not take into consideration the money saved in cost avoidance measures related to long-term costs to society when children do not have permanent homes.
We believe that subsidies should be needs-adjusted and based on specific criteria to ensure equity. We recommend that they should correspond to 50% to 80% of the child’s current foster care rate. Furthermore, a funding pot should be set aside to provide for additional supports (e.g., significant medication costs) and future needs. Subsidies should be made available retroactively for adoptions taking place from the day our report is released. We believe that reliable, ongoing subsidies would result in significant cost savings for the child welfare system based on our analysis of current system costs.
Daniella and José became foster parents to Jason when he was six years old. Jason had been severely neglected, and FASD was suspected but not diagnosed. It took time for Jason to form a bond with Daniella and José and to overcome some of his developmental delays, but he made good progress. Jason lived with Daniella and José for most of the next three years – except for two brief periods when he moved back with his birth family.
When Jason became a Crown ward at the age of nine, Daniella and José wanted to adopt him. He was already part of their family – their other children loved him – and they wanted to make the relationship permanent. But when they talked to their CAS worker, they realized it might not be so easy. As long as Jason was a foster child, the family received approximately $1,200 a month to help with his care, along with an additional special subsidy to cover the costs of tutoring that Jason needed because of his learning disabilities. If they adopted him, they would lose the foster care subsidy. Other subsidies and supports might be available, but only on a year-by-year basis, and could be stopped at any time. While they wanted to adopt Jason, they weren’t sure they could give him the same level of care and support as they could as foster parents.
Private domestic and intercountry adoptions are expensive for families. A private domestic adoption can cost between $20,000 and $30,000, including the cost of PRIDE and SAFE. An intercountry adoption is reported to cost up to $60,000.
In 2008, Ontarians who adopted could claim up to $10,592 in eligible adoption-related expenses on their provincial income tax, in the form of a non-refundable tax credit that serves to reduce the amount of taxes owed to the government. Claimable expenses include fees paid to an adoption agency, court and legal costs, and travel and living expenses incurred when adopting from another country. This credit can reduce Ontarians’ provincial taxes by a maximum of about $640 (based on a tax rate of 6.05%). A similar federal non-refundable tax credit allows for a reduction in taxes of about $1,600 (based on a tax rate of 15%).
Given the current costs of private domestic and intercountry adoption, we believe that the provincial $10,592 ceiling is too low and recommend that the provincial government increase the ceiling for allowable adoption expenses to $30,000. This would allow for a reduction in provincial taxes owing of a maximum of $1,815.
The estimated cost to the province of increasing this ceiling is less than $1 million annually.
To ensure that Ontario better supports the realities of adoption, the adoption system must be adequately funded. We recommend:
3.1 The Government of Ontario should fund permanency planning to reward children’s aid societies and the provincial adoption agency when children are placed for adoption.
3.2 The government should provide adequate funding to support the provincial adoption agency to perform all identified duties, including establishing a central and local presence.
3.3 The government should fund special initiatives, including:
3.4 The government should provide funding for standardized and regular adoption subsidies for the adoption of Crown wards aged two and older, as well as Crown wards under two with special needs. We recommend the use of needs-based criteria for subsidies ranging from 50% to 80% of the current foster care rate, and further recommend that the government set aside an additional funding pot for additional supports and future needs.
3.5 The government should increase the ceiling of allowable adoption related expenses for income tax purposes to $30,000.
Adoption is a valuable form of family building in Ontario, providing children with stability and long-term family connections and support, and providing choices for families who want to parent.
Ontario has the capacity to be a leader in adoption. With vision and efforts by government and support from service providers and others dedicated to adoption, the current patchwork of adoption services – public, private domestic and intercountry – can be stitched together to create a world-class system of services that benefits all Ontarians.
We know conclusively that children in public care who do not return home and who age out of care have a much more difficult time later in life. Children who grow up in care without the stability, nurturing, acceptance and certainty that only a permanent family can provide, face extraordinary, ongoing challenges. It is tragic that thousands of children in this province are currently facing such a future – particularly considering that it is, in many cases, avoidable. For many of these children, adoption would provide a completely different kind of future. We heard repeatedly, both from interviewees and in the literature, that children, even those with significant challenges, thrive once they have forever families. It isn’t always easy, but as adoptive families recognize, it is absolutely worthwhile.
We encourage the government to demonstrate its support of the belief that the lives of Crown wards are as valuable as the lives of all other children in this province. Children in public care should have the same opportunities for permanency and family connections. The way forward is clear: to vigorously and aggressively improve their chances of finding permanency through adoption.
We encourage the government to help more children find permanent homes and more Ontarians build families through adoption. Our goal is to provide an adoption system that both anticipates and is more responsive to the needs of children and families – including adoptive and birth families. We believe that acting on our recommendations would:
We know that Ontario has the capacity to build a system that reflects our vision and exceeds our goals. We believe that within five years, the picture of adoption in this province could look entirely different and far more positive than it currently does. Radically changing the adoption system will result in more permanent homes – and better lives – for children in care. In our view, the future of extremely vulnerable children is a matter of utmost importance for any government, and we are grateful to this government for providing us the time, resources and scope to consider how best to help children needing “forever families” and help Ontarians seeking to build families through adoption.