Solving Canada’s adoption crisis

Posted on November 26, 2013 in Child & Family Delivery System – Full Comment
26/11/13.   Rita Soronen

November is a poignant month for 30,000 Canadian children in foster or institutional care. November is National Adoption Month, holding out hope that they will be placed with a loving family.

There are a couple of things about children in care that most Canadians don’t know. If they “age out” of care at age 16 or 17, without becoming part of a family, the odds rise dramatically that they will fall prey to many social ills. Criminal activity, homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse, teen pregnancy — all become more likely. Ironically, this is likely to lead to another generation of children living out their lives in foster or institutional care, as their parents won’t be able to provide for them.

The other thing most Canadians don’t know about this problem is that unlike so many of the social dilemmas we see every day, this one is solvable. If just 0.04% cent of the Canadians who have considered adoption from foster care followed through, every child now in care would have a permanent home. It’s a simple equation. There are children who need permanent homes, and there are families willing to provide them. We just have to enable those connections.

Children are in foster care for as many reasons as there are families. Critically important is the recognition that these children are in care through no fault of their own. They are there because they have been abused, abandoned or neglected. Many need only temporary care until they can be returned to their parents or a family member. But for thousands, there are no paths back to their birth families. When that happens and a child becomes available for adoption, the wait begins. Foster care provides a loving temporary home, and the foster parents and child services workers who give their hearts to these children are phenomenal. But the fact is youth do much better with the support of permanent families throughout their development and into young adulthood. That permanence and lifelong connection makes a profound difference in a child’s happiness and ability to succeed in life.

This summer the first-ever Canadian Foster Care Adoption Attitudes Survey was conducted, surveying more than 1,000 adults. It found that Canadians’ view foster care adoption more favourably than private adoption (79% vs. 74%), or international adoption (68%).

Fewer than 4% of the 830 children adopted in Ontario between 2011 and 2012 were in in their teens

Of Canadians who have considered adoption, one in four said they would adopt a teenager. The majority of the children in need of families are age 13 or older, but in Ontario, for example, fewer than 4% of the 830 children adopted between 2011 and 2012 were in in their teens.

In Canada, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption focuses its work on those children who have been waiting the longest. Working with organizations across the country, child-focused recruitment programs employ dedicated recruiters to work on caseloads of children who have languished, ensuring the time and resources are dedicated until a child in need is placed. These recruiters employ proven tactics focused on finding the best home for a child through the starting points of familiar circles of family, friends and neighbours, and then reaching out to the communities in which they live. In Canada, the program has touched 482 children, with 312 children matched to families, 41 children placed in pre-adoptive homes and 149 children permanently adopted as of October this year.

The cost to society of leaving children without the support of a family unit is difficult to measure, but in 2011 the government of Ontario held hearings to try to assess the impact of foster care ending for children at age 18, and provincial support ending at age 21. Many who participated expressed stories of feeling vulnerable, isolated, unsupported and generally ill-equipped for adulthood in an unpredictable world. Less than half of children coming through foster care complete high school. It is no surprise that many live in poverty and face challenges with mental health issues and homelessness. As a society, the loss of human potential can be added to concerns about the well-being of those least able to fend for themselves as they come of age.

Dave Thomas once said, “These children are not someone else’s responsibility. They are our responsibility.” All Canadians should reflect on that, and consider the ways in which they can help tackle this pressing, but solvable, social crisis.

National Post

Rita Soronen is president and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption in Canada and the U.S.

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