Ontario's adoption system needs fixing—expert panel calls for province-wide adoption agency

Expert panel on infertility and adoption Expert panel
(Aug. 26, 2009)   Ontario's Expert Panel on Infertility and Adoption today called on the province to overhaul its outdated adoption system. "Ontario's adoption and assisted reproduction systems are not working as well as they could," said David Johnston, Chair of the Expert Panel.

In its report to the government the panel criticized Ontario's adoption system as "fragmented, complex and time-consuming, failing to quickly connect waiting children with potential families".

In Ontario fewer than 1 in 10 children eligible for adoption get placed with families in a given year. In 2007-2008 there were 18,668 children in state care. Of these, about half (9,401) were "Crown wards" (a Children's Aid Society became the legal parent of the child). Only 9% (822) of the Crown wards found permanent homes.

Some families wait years to adopt. In 2008 Children's Aid Societies (CAS) completed over 1,200 homestudies for families wanting to adopt, and many more families completed their homestudies privately.

Ontario families adopt about 1,600 children a year: roughly 800 through public adoption, 650 through intercountry adoption and 150 through private domestic adoption. International adoption accounted for 645 adoptions in 2007. (In addition, families are created through relative adoption or step-parent adoption.)

The cost per year to keep a Crown ward in foster care ($32,000) greatly exceeds the cost to provide supports and subsidies to help adoptive families parent children. Many other provinces use subsidies to help children with special needs move out of long-term foster care and into permanent families.

Only 2% of CAS funding is devoted to adoption. "We believe that modest 2% can be placed in a central agency and do a much more co-ordinated job of placing more children in permanent homes," said David Johnston.

The panel recommended creating just one provincial adoption agency to handle all public adoption services. It would replace the current patchwork of 53 CASs, each with its own funding for adoption services.

The panel also recommended an overhaul of adoption legislation. Many children are stuck in Ontario's child welfare system. They have court-ordered access to their birth families which prevents them from being adopted. The expert panel called on the province to make Crown wards with access orders legally free for adoption, and to provide subsidies for former Crown wards with special needs. The government should support adoption with openness, that is, offer birth families some form of contact with the child.

In an Aug. 26, 2009 news release Paula Schuck, cofounder of the London Coalition of Adoptive Families, said, "Many of these recommendations, if followed through, will go a long way towards strengthening Ontario's adoptive families and children." She said she was particularly encouraged to see the report identify the need for a provincial strategy on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

An Aug. 27, 2009 statement from the Adoption Council of Canada (ACC) welcomed the Expert Panel's insight into the barriers to finding permanent homes for the thousands of children waiting for a family. ACC supported the recommendations to create a provincial adoption agency, to develop tools to manage the adoption system, and to provide adequate funding. ACC President Sandra Scarth noted, "I am particularly pleased that the panel has recognized the critical need for post-adoption assistance for families that adopt children with special needs, specifically those with FASD."

Ontario appointed the 11-member panel in July 2008 to find ways to make fertility treatment and adoption more accessible and affordable. See Ontario convenes expert panel on infertility and adoption (July 11, 2008).

In August 2009 the panel issued its report "Raising Expectations" (PDF) with recommendations for the provincial government to consider, including recommendations on assisted reproduction services in Ontario.

On the panel were reproductive endocrinologists, specialists in counselling, family medicine, complementary therapies and adoption; lawyers and business executives; people who have experienced infertility or used assisted reproduction; and adoptive parents. Their study included an online survey, in-person or telephone interviews, a literature review, comparison of programs in other jurisdictions, and review of presentations from experts.

News Release - Expert Panel Releases Report on Infertility and Adoption in Ontario

Canadian Press - Panel recommends Ontario pay for in-vitro treatments, overhaul adoption system

Globe and Mail - Report calls on Ontario to foot fertility bill

Toronto Star - Panel recommends Ontario pay for in vitro treatments
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