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Adoption system in Ontario riddled with red tape, needs overhaul: Children's advocate

Last Updated Sep 28, 2016 at 1:54 pm EDT

The process of adopting a child in Ontario is so lengthy and convoluted that many hopeful parents are instead adopting abroad, depriving scores of children from experiencing the joys of a happy family life.

Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, Irwin Elman, says one of the key problems is there’s no central body overseeing adoptions in the province.

Instead, 47 separate children’s aid societies service their respective regions.

Elman believes the system is badly outdated and needs a radical culture shift, with one centralized adoption process.

He’s hopeful new legislation would streamline the process, and hopefully, see more local children matched with parents.

Elman says currently, many children in the system are reaching adult age before they’re ever adopted – a situation that can cause immense pain.

“(The children) talk about leaving (the system) alone and isolated and it’s horrific really because it’s the biggest source of trauma…” Elman said. “That should be outrageous to the province.”

“I’m hopeful we will see significant changes that…address some of this,” he said.

The province told CityNews that there are currently approximately 6,000 children in the system waiting to be adopted and only about 1,500 families approved and waiting for a child to adopt.

It was not able to provide a number of children that have reached adult age before being adopted.

Tedious adoption process

Lori Niles-Hofmann and her husband tried to adopt domestically starting about four years ago and were shocked by the response they received from adoption agencies.

“Our first thought was to adopt in Ontario and when we called our local Children’s Aid, we were basically told not to bother, and they actually encouraged us to go to international adoption,” she said.

After more than two years of arduous paperwork and home studies, and still no timely prospect of a child, the family eventually gave up.

“It destroys you,” she said. “You feel so incredibly frustrated (because) there’s children waiting in care and you know that the longer they are in care, the more the stakes are against them and the less chance they have…to ever get matched with a family.

And that to me was the frustrating part. I don’t think there will ever be a day I won’t think ‘my child is somewhere out there.’ It always will be there and I feel sorry for that.”

Complete re-think necessary

Elman is not only calling for a complete overhaul of the province’s adoption system, but a fundamental shift in our concepts of family and adoption in general.

“Right now, adoption is about…the parents becoming parents but I think these days we should think about children in care in a different way,”

Elman says instead of focusing on taking a child and plopping them into a ready-made family somewhere, the goal should be for the adoptive family to become part of the child’s overall family, not the other way around.

“Some young people have told me that their social worker or their teachers become part of their family.”

The advocate told CityNews the change would require a cultural shift in the welfare services in charge of adoption.

Process ‘can be smoother’: Minister

In a statement to CityNews, Minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau admitted that there’s a lot of work to be done when it comes to the adoption system.

“We know that the process to adopt a child or youth in care can be smoother. The Ministry will be working closely with our child welfare and adoption partners to continually improve the adoption system for both families and children and youth…The Ministry will continue to take action and work with all of our partners to improve outcomes for children and youth to ensure they get the supports they need to be successful in life,” the emailed statement reads.

Elman told CityNews that a consultant is currently working on some of the issues in the system and he is expecting legislative changes in the next months, as soon as October.

The province did not confirm any upcoming changes.

Full statement – Minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau:

We want children and youth in care to benefit from a permanent home and a loving family, with all opportunities to thrive.

The Ministry of Children and Youth Services is continuously working to make the adoption process more efficient and effective for both families and children and youth in care.

To help more young people in the care of children’s aid societies find a permanent nurturing home, we have increased opportunities for more families to be matched with children and youth available for adoption by funding six to eight regional Adoption Resource Exchange (ARE) events each year. This is in addition to the two provincial ARE conferences held each year.

The Ministry has also expanded the Targeted Subsidies program from $950 per month to $1,035 per month, increasing the monthly subsidy amount and income threshold for families who adopt or take legal custody of two or more siblings and children and youth who are 8 years of age and older.

And, for adopted Crown wards between the ages of 18 to 24, Ontario has extended the Aftercare Benefits Initiative (ABI) for adoptions that took place after June 1, 2016. The ABI provides drug and dental benefits through employers, adoptive parents or a spouse’s plan. Extending the plan to adopted Crown wards will ensure greater access to critical resources for young people.

Initiatives like these provide important support to families and will make it easier for children and youth in the care of children’s aid societies to be placed in permanent homes

Approximately 6,000 children are currently eligible for adoption in Ontario.

We know that the process to adopt a child or youth in care can be smoother. The Ministry will be working closely with our child welfare and adoption partners to continually improve the adoption system for both families and children and youth.

According to reports to the Ministry from the Adoption Council of Ontario, at the end of 2015-16, there were approximately 1,500 families registered on the AdoptOntario website who are approved and waiting to adopt. The AdoptOntario website is used by adoption practitioners to match prospective adoptive parents with children eligible for adoption.

The Ministry will continue to take action and work with all of our partners to improve outcomes for children and youth to ensure they get the supports they need to be successful in life.

 

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