Want to adopt a child in Ontario? Good luck with the paperwork

Posted on in Child & Family Delivery System

NationalPost.com – Full Comment
September 17, 2014.   Lori Niles

The Honourable Governor General David Johnston has declared an “adoption crisis” in Canada, with nearly 30,000 children waiting for permanent homes, approximately 8,000 of those children being in Ontario.

I heartily applaud any efforts to encourage adoption as a method to grow families, but the crisis is not about recruiting more adoptive parents. AdoptOntario, the provincial database of waiting children and parents, boasts 20,000 registered families, yet only a fraction of these ever adopt. The real adoption crisis is that a bloated and broken system is preventing the timely match of waiting families with children in need.

My husband and I started our adoption journey more than two years ago. Our story began with a phone call to our local Children’s Aid Society (CAS). Despite our willingness to adopt an older child, I was told that due to our cultural background and lack of parenting experience, we would not likely meet the unique needs of any child at CAS.

We decided to pay for a private homestudy with a licensed social worker. The process took just over a year and included classroom courses, dozens of interviews, criminal record checks, and plenty of bureaucracy. In February 2014, the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services deemed us “AdoptReady” and our homestudy valid for two years.

While pursuing international adoption, we also continued the process in Ontario. In May, 2014 we went to the Adoption Resource Exchange (ARE), a biannual forum where profiles of children from across the province are made available for viewing by potential families. It is a way for families to apply for children outside of their CAS regions, as families are normally restricted to registering only with their local CAS.

After repeated follow-up calls, I uncovered that 14 families had expressed interest in this child, yet the file had not been touched for months
After reviewing many profiles, we sent an “Expression of Interest” form through AdoptOntario for two children we felt would be a good match. One was four years old and the other a young adolescent. After four months, we had not heard any news and I contacted each CAS.

My first inquiry about the younger child was passed from colleague to colleague, each claiming that the other was responsible for the file. After repeated follow-up calls, I uncovered that 14 families had expressed interest in this child, yet the file had not been touched for months. The longer a young child stays in foster care, the harder it is for healthy attachment to begin. Four months to a four-year-old is a long time.

My inquiry into the progress on the older child also came to a dead end. The Children’s Aid Society said they never received our Expression of Interest. I followed up with AdoptOntario, which verified that it indeed had been sent. I provided the email confirmation to the CAS workers, yet they insisted they had no record. Since there is no independent oversight of CAS, there was nothing further we could do. We hope this child was matched with a suitable family whose file didn’t fall down the rabbit hole.

Determined not to be discouraged, we approached our local CAS again, hoping our completed homestudy would help us. The homestudy was designed by the Ministry of Children and Youth services to be portable across public, private and international adoptions. Yet in my phone conversation with the CAS contact, I found out that our private homestudy would need to be updated with a series of CAS interviews, which could add another six months of waiting, and that intake meetings for parents happen only periodically.

How much of our time waiting for bureaucracy to catch up could have been spent caring for a waiting child?
We had just missed the May meeting, so now we are waiting for the October intake meeting. If all goes well, and we are accepted by our local CAS, it will be 15 months since we became AdoptReady. And that’s only when the potential matching process with children will start, which could take anything from months to years.

October will mark two years since our decision to pursue adoption. But adoption is not about us. It’s about putting children first. How much of our time waiting for bureaucracy to catch up could have been spent caring for a waiting child? How many thousands of other parents are in the same situation? How many of the 30,000 waiting children could have found families by now?

It would be nice to think that our anecdotal experience is an exception. But I write a blog chronicling our adoption journey, and hear from a lot of other frustrated waiting parents. It would be easy to lose faith just based on the number of people who have told me they have given up or are thinking about it.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Years ago, the adoption system in England was similarly inefficient and slow. Now the adoption approval process typically takes only six months. Likewise, there is oversight and accountability for adoption. Ontario is the only province in Canada where Children’s Aid Societies are not overseen by an ombudsman. This means no incentive to improve or answer for errors. New legislation, Bill 42, represents an attempt to grant this power, but it is stuck in the weeds at Queen’s Park.

It is time for Ontario to look across the pond for inspiration and best practices. In fact, Ontario identified many issues with the adoption system in a government report years ago but never acted on the recommendations.

The Governor General’s plea for more adoptive parents is well-intentioned and idealistic. In Ontario, though, success will not come from more prospective parents. Success will come only from a government that stops being afraid of changing the inefficient CAS system and starts acting on behalf of the waiting children. This would be truly putting children first.

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2 Responses to “Want to adopt a child in Ontario? Good luck with the paperwork”

  1. This story was very disheartening to read as from what I have heard this is a very common flaw within the system. It is a shame that The Society’s goals are to create the best quality of life for children yet children who are placed for adoption are being overlooked. Risk of emotional harm is part of The Children’s Aid Society’s eligibility spectrum and is enough to prove that a family may need ongoing support with The Society. Unfortunately due to whatever barriers CAS workers seem to be dealing with that limits their abilities for a timelier placement, the children seeking homes are in turn at risk of emotional harm.

    I believe that this is more of a structural issue than an issue with child protection workers. Child protection workers are given extreme caseloads and limited time to carry out child welfare cases. There is very limited funding for support that the protection workers can give to families. As most agencies are not unionized child protection workers are not always getting the support that they need given how stressful their jobs are which also in turn results in higher burnout rates, and staff turnover rates so families may have several different case managers throughout their time in CAS. This is a systemic issue that the government needs to address. Currently the government is not meeting the needs of The Children’s Aid Society therefore The Society has many complications meeting all of the needs of families.

    I do agree with you that there should be ombudsmen of some sort for the agency. Currently, there is no requirement for social workers at The Children’s Aid Society to register with the OCSWSSW, which can create a gray area or misinterpretation of ethics and practice which could be detrimental when working with such a vulnerable population.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your article, and I’m so saddened by your story. It just seems as though you and your husband fell through the cracks just to jump through more hoops to get to your goal. Which is consequently to love a child and I think that’s a pretty great goal, one in which should not be hindered by these terrible governance issues. I felt very ignorant whilst reading this because I had always thought that it was a long and lengthy process to adopt a child from overseas, but I had no idea that it was this difficult in Canada. With so many children waiting to be adopted you would think that our government would be doing something to get these kids into loving homes as fast as they can. But what you have had to do seems highly excessive. I understand making sure the home is suitable and safe for the child but what you have been through seems just ridiculous. It is highly unfair to you and the child you could have adopted in the time you’ve spent proving you’re AdoptReady.

    There needs to be more structure, because clearly there is not if paperwork is being lost and that is therefore resulting in the loss of a matched up family. We do have a new Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne and hopefully she has a plan set out for improving these issues. I was unable to find anything online stating her stance on adoption, but I was curious and looked up Andrea Horwath’s stance on adoption and from what I read she seems to want the to make it much easier for families to adopt and receive in vitro fertilization. I hope the next election will see the NDP take charge, and then hopefully changes will be made on this particular issue. Until then, maybe they can convince the Liberal party to take charge themselves and evoke change. These kids have a right to be loved and all these parents seeking adoption have a right to love a child of their own. It shouldn’t be this difficult.

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