The case for adoption subsidies in Ontario
TheStar.com – Insight – Adopted children develop confidence
Published On Sun Nov 14 2010. Laurie Monsebraaten, Social Justice Reporter
The couple is amazed that after just three years of riding, Kacey is winning first-place ribbons at equestrian competitions. Last weekend, in addition to winning two “hunter” fence-jumping events, she was the top point-scorer of the day, beating out more than 40 riders from across the GTA.
“When I ride, I feel so free,” says Kacey, who became a Crown ward at age 4. “I feel it is my thing. It is something I can call my own.”
After seeing Kacey emerge from her shell through riding, Andrea and Mark are convinced every adopted child should have access to enrichment activities because of their history of neglect and abuse.
They believe Queen’s Park should offer subsidies to adoptive parents to ensure money is never a barrier.
Adoption subsidies were one of the key recommendations of the province’s 2009 Expert Panel on Infertility and Adoption.
Foster parents receive an average $18,000 a year, and all medical, dental and therapy costs are covered for a child in their care. But if they or anyone else wants to adopt, they get nothing. Only if the child has an identified disability can they receive a small subsidy.
The Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, which represents 51 of the province’s 53 local societies, and the Adoption Council of Ontario, which provides education, support and advocacy on the issue, are also pressing Queen’s Park to act.
Of Ontario’s 8,300 Crown wards, only 993 were adopted last year, meaning many will grow up in foster care and never experience the special love and guidance of a permanent or “forever family.” When they age out of the system, they are more likely to end up in homeless shelters, the criminal justice system and mental health programs, studies show.
To combat this suffering, the expert panel is challenging Ontario to overhaul its adoption bureaucracy with a goal of doubling the number of children adopted within five years.
The overhaul would include an annual $9,000 to $15,000 adoption subsidy per child — 50 to 80 per cent of what foster parents now get — and save Ontario taxpayers as much as $28 million within five years, the panel said.
After that, annual savings could amount to as much as $36 million — not including savings to the social service, criminal justice or health care systems.
The panel’s analysis is backed up by several recent American studies, one of which calculated public savings of $3 for every $1 spent supporting adoption.
“I’m sure no one would dispute the idea that children develop into more compassionate and confident adults when raised within a loving permanent family environment,” Andrea says.
“If a subsidy is the difference between a child being adopted into such a nurturing home or remaining in foster care indefinitely, then, as a community, we should want that subsidy to be available.”
Right now , some families in some parts of the province receive adoption subsidies for children with special needs from their local CAS. But the average annual payment is just $3,700. And all subsidies are time-limited meaning that prospective adoptive families cannot count on ongoing help, the panel found.
Since there is no provincial funding earmarked for subsidies, the money must come from a society’s general revenues on a case-by-case basis. And some societies can’t afford to offer them, says Marcelo Gomez-Wiuckstern of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies.
Annual costs to keep a child in foster care are about $44,000, which includes social work visits, medical expenses and the $18,000 in payments to foster parents, Gomez-Wiuckstern says.
At the very least, the association wants the province to provide dental, medical and educational support to adoptive parents.
In Alberta and 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,” the panel said in its Raising Expectations report.
When expert panel member William Falk and his wife, journalist Kate Fillion, adopted a 3-year-old boy in Philadelphia nine years ago, the state foster care payment of $12.50 per day was transferred to the family. The couple, now living in Toronto, still receives that money. But three years ago when they adopted a “high-risk” one-year-old from the Toronto CAS, the family received nothing.
While money isn’t an issue for the couple, they know that’s not the case for most adoptive parents. Many have to quit jobs and pay for assessments, tutoring and therapy to meet the needs of foster children with histories of abuse and neglect.
Falk says the panel met numerous foster parents who said they would love to adopt some of the children in their care, but couldn’t afford to lose the CAS funding. Between 15 and 20 per cent of foster parents would adopt if they could keep a portion of their fostering payments, he says.
Falk recalls one foster family that wanted to adopt two teenage brothers with developmental delays. But adoption would mean losing almost $25,000 a year — money that helped pay for special programs and therapies for the twins.
“What family do you know can afford to lose that kind of money overnight?” Falk says.
Provincial Children and Youth Services Minister Laurel Broten said she takes the commission’s recommendations “very seriously” and is “trying to figure out a pathway forward.”
The province increased adoption support to CASs by 8 per cent last year resulting in a 21 per cent increase in adoptions over 2008, she noted. She couldn’t say if any action will be taken on the subsidy issue.
Andrea and Mark Daniels aren’t waiting for government to act.
Andrea, a former film producer with Alliance Atlantis Communications and Mark, a real estate developer, are launching the Ignite the Spark Fund. The goal of the fund, which will be administered by the national Children’s Aid Foundation, is to make enrichment money available for children served by child welfare organizations across the country.
Although some money is available in some cities, the couple hopes to raise at least $2.6 million to create a national fund for all at-risk children, including those in agencies not receiving funding in Toronto.
According to the foundation, only 2 per cent of the 300,000 Canadian children receiving child welfare services have access to dance, music, visual arts, athletic and other enrichment programs that are so important to healthy child development.
“Surviving disruption, healing past traumas and worrying about what tomorrow will bring, are the extra curricular activities (foster) children are usually occupied with,” Andrea says.
“Our daughter was no exception. She knew nothing about the person she was inside. All she knew was that she was a foster child,” she says.
“It wasn’t until she discovered her passion, and I do mean passion, for horses, music and the visual arts, that her outlook on life, love, family and the future changed.”
Andrea Weissman-Daniels, who along with husband Mark adopted Kacey, above, in 2006
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