Family Helper > Adoption > Teacher's Guide Search this site: 
Custom Search

Guide to

2nd ed., 2005
By Robin Hilborn

A resource document prepared by Robin Hilborn, editor of
Family Helper, to promote the teaching of adoption in schools

What is adoption all about? When a student asks this, will you have an answer?

We present here some basic information on adoption for the elementary and secondary school teacher.

While the focus is on the adopted child, we have tried to include the perspective of children of other non-traditional families.

We hope you will find this guide useful in your classroom. Give a copy to your principal. Suggest the school board make it a resource for teachers. The students' questions are sure to come.

MODULE ONE --   Many ways to make a family
MODULE TWO --   Many ways to create a child
MODULE THREE -- Biased class assignments -- and how to fix them
MODULE FOUR -- Teaching the language of adoption
MODULE FIVE --   How to introduce adoption in elementary school
MODULE SIX   --   Answers for the pregnant student
MODULE SEVEN -- A suggested classroom presentation
MODULE EIGHT -- Research points the way
MODULE NINE  --  Adoption resources for teachers and students
MODULE TEN   --   Glossary: the ABCs of adoption


Many ways to make a family

Kids today grow up in all sorts of family situations. Which of these describes the children in your class?

* A child living with mom and dad (parents by birth) ... the traditional family.

* A child raised by grandparents.

* A child of a single parent.

* A child of separated or divorced parents, living with one parent. If the parent remarries or enters a new relationship, the child gains a stepmother or stepfather.

* A foster child, with both foster parents and biological parents. Foster children who are moved from one foster home to another (very common) have had a series of foster parents.

* An adopted child has two sets of parents: biological parents and adoptive parents. The child often knows her birth parents and has contact with them (but some may not). Children adopted from abroad know little of their roots. Some older adoptees (especially teens) who never knew their birth parents seek to find them and know more about themselves, their birth family and, in transcultural adoptions, their birth culture.

* A child of a same-sex couple has two mothers or two fathers. The child may call his parents by names which suit him, such as "dad" and "papa". One of the couple may be the biological parent -- the child may result from donor insemination or from a previous relationship with a biological parent, who may or may not be in the picture. Alternatively, one of the couple, or both, may have adopted the child. Thus a child may have, for example, three mothers: a birth mother and two co-parenting adoptive mothers.

The days of the traditional nuclear family are long gone. You can no longer rely on lesson plans based on mom-dad-and-two-kids. You need to allow for non-traditional families.

In fact, any class assignment which ignores the variety in families today does real harm to students who don't fit the traditional pattern and as a result feel out of place, even excluded, in class discussions.

Potentially biased assignments include family tree, family history and inherited traits. (See Module 3, Biased Class Assignments).

Luckily you can modify ill-thought-out assignments to make them more inclusive. They can be adapted and broadened to include children from non-traditional families. It's a road toward tolerance and understanding of all family forms.


Family unit now defined by function, not just form
Just four in 10 families fit the traditional mould

Book: Profiling Canada's Families III By JILL MAHONEY, The Globe and Mail, Toronto, Nov. 29, 2004

It's a seemingly simple question: "What is family?" A few decades ago, most Canadians would have answered something along the lines of: "A married man and woman with at least one child."

Today, with so many more visible forms of family -- from single-parent and blended to same-sex and even no-sex -- characterizing society's basic unit is a much thornier proposition at a time when just four in 10 families fit the traditional nuclear mould.

In a revealing new portrait of Canada's families, Profiling Canada's Families III, the Ottawa-based Vanier Institute of the Family says: "Families are so important, so vital and so varied, that it seems that no one definition can capture their true significance."

So what is family? Is it people related by blood or marriage? A man and woman who have at least one child? Those who share a roof? Adults who share a bed? What about two sisters who live together?

"If you feel like a family, you probably are a family," says the Vanier report, a compendium of information based largely on research and data from Statistics Canada and other agencies.

Even Statscan struggles with the issue and uses two definitions -- census families and economic families -- which have changed over time.

The Vanier report notes that Canadians' views have changed greatly on what constitutes family. A 1983 survey found 42% of respondents felt "the father must be master in his own house." By 1992, only 26% agreed with the statement. And in 2000, just 18% concurred.

The Vanier report finds families to be varied and ever-changing. Fewer couples -- especially young Canadians -- are walking down the aisle, both brides and grooms are older, many couples are breaking up, women are having children later, families are a stable average of 3.1 people, children are staying home longer, there are more stepfamilies, dual incomes are the norm and religious affiliation is declining.

What is a family?

The Vanier Institute of the Family takes a broad view of families. It defines a family as any combination of two or more people who are bound together over time by ties of mutual consent, birth and/or adoption or placement and who, together, assume responsibilities for combinations of some of the following:
    Physical maintenance and care of group members
    Addition of new members through procreation or adoption
    Socialization of children
    Social control of members
    Production, consumption, distribution of goods and services
    Affective nurturance -- love.

For the 2001 national census, Statistics Canada defined a family as referring to a married couple, with or without children; or a couple living common-law (either of the opposite or same sex), with or without children; or a lone parent living with one or more children.

For more: Profiling Canada's Families III, Vanier Institute of the Family,

Child can have two mothers: California court
From AgapePress, Aug. 23, 2005

On Aug. 22, 2005 the California Supreme Court ruled in three same-sex parent cases that a child may legally have two mothers. In Elisa B. v. Superior Court, it held that a lesbian who had agreed to raise the children born to her partner, but who then split up with her partner, was required to pay child support as a parent. In K.M. v. E.G., the court said that a written waiver of rights did not prevent a lesbian woman who had donated eggs to her partner for in vitro fertilization from asserting rights as a parent. In Kristine H. v. Lisa R., it found that a stipulation signed by the birth mother conferred a legal right to her lesbian partner to exercise the role of parent.

Missouri city changes meaning of "family"
From AP, Aug. 16, 2006
Black Jack, Missouri is a suburb of St. Louis. The city council voted Aug. 15, 2006 to change the definition of "family". A city bylaw had prohibited over three people from living together unless related by "blood, marriage or adoption." Now the city will grant a housing permit to an unmarried couple with children so they can live in a house they bought there. Black Jack now includes unrelated people and their children, living together as a single housekeeping unit, in its definition of a family.

Ontario boy has three parents
From Family Helper, Jan. 9, 2007

An Ontario boy can have a legal father and two legal mothers, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled on Jan. 2, 2007. Canada's first official three-parent family includes a biological father, a biological mother and her lesbian partner.


Many ways to create a child

Quite apart from the various family situations a child may grow up in (Module 1), a child may be created in different ways, using new technologies.

A child in your classroom may have resulted from an IVF procedure (in vitro fertilization, in which eggs are fertilized by sperm in a laboratory dish, then placed in the uterus to grow). She may owe part of her genetic heritage to donated eggs or sperm.

Consider the people who may take part in creating and raising a child, and the terms used to describe them:

* A woman provides the egg and a man provides the sperm (genetic mother, genetic father).

* A woman carries and bears the child (gestational mother, surrogate mother). (If the child is later fostered or adopted: biological mother, birth mother).

* One or two people raise a child (legal parents, nurturing parents, social parents, stepparents, foster parents, adoptive parents).

Sometimes another man donates sperm or another woman donates eggs to the legal parents; these donors may be known or anonymous. Also a surrogate mother may give birth to the child on behalf of the legal mother. In instances of donated eggs and surrogacy, the other woman may be well known to the legal mother: she may be a sister, cousin or close friend.

Often it's the same man and woman at all three steps, that is, the legal parents conceive the child, the legal mother gives birth, and both raise the child. But you can't assume the traditional pattern is always followed. A mother may share her child's genes and yet not have given birth to her (surrogacy). A woman who gives birth may not parent the child (surrogacy, adoption).

You can see that a child may have a number of different mothers and fathers, depending on how the child was created and raised. And the child may not have information about her genetic background.

Classes in genetic origins and family history need to allow for children of new reproductive technology.

There's a wider lesson, too, about the importance (or unimportance) of genetic connections. What makes a family anyway? Not inherited traits: children can look very different from their genetic parents. There are many types of families and one type is no better than another. Families may look different on the outside, but inside they're all the same -- they're made of people who care for and love one another.


Biased class assignments - and how to fix them

Try this test. Put yourself in grade 2 ... how would you "draw your family tree" or "write down your family origins" or "relate shared memories of times spent with grandparents", if you were:
* A child of divorced parents, living with a parent and a step parent.
* A foster child, with biological parents and a series of foster parents.
* A child adopted from an orphanage in China.

Some children will find it tough to do class assignments because their families are a lot more complicated than mom-dad-and-two-kids. That's not the kids' fault -- it's the teaching system which is biased toward traditional views and insensitive to the complexity of family life (see Module 1, Many Ways to Make a Family).

Teachers who base assignments on the traditional family are harming students who don't fit the traditional mould -- those kids are going to feel out of place, even excluded.

Does your ministry of education trumpet the importance of an "inclusive curriculum"? Then the curriculum must include the experience of all children, not just those from traditional families.

You can make lessons inclusive without sacrificing the educational goal. The general solution is to broaden lesson plans to include everyone. But exactly how do you do that? Here are specific examples of how to fix the bias in class assignments.

"Draw your family tree"

The bias: The usual printed family tree has blanks for one mother and one father and their ancestors, but no space for foster, adoptive or step parents and their ancestors. How can a child leave out part of the family? This can be a real source of inner turmoil.

The fix: Since some children have grown on two or more trees, redraw the standard family tree diagram to accommodate the diversity in family structure. Try the Rooted Tree: birth ancestors are roots growing downward; branches show foster, adoptive or step parents and their ancestors. Other improvements are the Family Bush, Orchard, or Forest, with family members growing side by side. The Loving Tree has the child in the trunk and heart-shaped fruit representing all the family members the child knows of, without regard to time or place.

The Self Wheel Or abandon the tree metaphor and try the Self Wheel (child at the centre, relatives surround in nested circles), or My Home (house frame with people inside), or a genealogical chart with symbols for people and lines showing relationships. Children could brainstorm a list of different family types. Offer them a variety of "trees", or let them invent their own diagram.

In a creative art project, students could portray their family and what it means to them, in drawing, painting, colouring or sculpture, then use the finished art to discuss the different ways families are formed. Point out that, worldwide, few children grow up in nuclear families. Cover extended, foster, adoptive, step and single-parent families.

You don't need to avoid the family tree assignment -- it's an opportunity for a lesson in the varieties of family structure (see Module 1, Many Ways to Make a Family).

"Bring in your baby picture"

The bias: Asking for baby photos excludes those who may not have any -- for example, some foster, adopted or immigrant children. They are going to feel left out. If the object is to match the photo with the child today, children who are a visible minority are eliminated early from the fun.

The fix: Reach the same educational goal, for everyone in the class, by broadening the assignment. To illustrate growth and change, bring a picture when the child was younger or smaller, or follow the growth of a baby chick after hatching. To describe a child, bring in something else which tells us more about her -- a book, a trophy, a pet. To test reasoning ability (guess who this is?), bring a picture of someone we all know; or, describe someone with three clues, adding one at a time until someone guesses correctly.

"Write the story of your life"

The bias: Writing a life story or family history is possible only for children who know their family roots. Children adopted from abroad may know nothing of their previous life. A child of a bitter divorce, or a child abused in a series of foster homes, faces a conflict: screen out painful memories, or be honest?

The fix: Exercise those writing skills with less painful alternatives: write a biography of a historical figure in the first person; write about an event in your life; recount a favourite experience in school.

"Tell the story of your family"

The bias: The goal may be to build self-esteem. This could backfire for a foster or adopted child who feels more and more different from the others as she hears her classmates' family stories.

The fix: Let students tell their story by bringing in pets, sports uniforms, hobbies.

"Celebrate your mother or father"

The bias: A Mother's Day or Father's Day project could be difficult for children with single, divorced or widowed parents, or two sets of parents.

The fix: Broaden the project to honour any woman or man the child knows. Celebrate Family Day to honour people who take care of you. Celebrate Caring Day with themes like "thanking someone who cares for us" or "expressing concern for others". Make gifts or cards for someone the child cares about.

"Trace the genetic origins of your eye colour"

The bias: This assumes children are genetically related to their parents or know the genetic facts of their birth parents. Children who don't have this information can't do an assignment on inherited traits, and are made to feel different. It stresses biological connections, when some children might not have any connections with their birth parents.

The fix: Teach genetics with less personal examples.

With input from Adoption and the Schools: Resources for Parents and Teachers, by FAIR, Families Adopting in Response, Box 51436, Palo Alto CA 94303, 650-856-3513,,


Teaching the language of adoption

As a teacher, you need to get comfortable with the language of adoption. You have to be ready for children (and adults) who use inappropriate language ... the ones who ask questions like "Why did her mother give her away?" or "Who is her real mother?"

The joyful side of adoption is tempered by the fact that adoption involves loss. Adoptees live with the painful fact that their birthparents could not (or would not) care for them. It is hard to speak of these things to very young children. Yet, as significant adults in a child's life, teachers must at times enter the child's world to help her cope with difficult feelings and to feel positive about who she is.

The language we use is important, since the way we speak of sensitive topics models confidence and courage on the one hand, or shame and fear on the other ...

It's not a disability

You can join a family by way of birth or by adoption. The fact of adoption says nothing about an adopted child herself ... adoption is a way of arriving in a family, not a medical condition or a disability. It's a one-time event, so you would say "Maria was adopted", not "Maria is adopted."

Birth or adoption: either way of joining a family is perfectly acceptable. Adoption builds healthy, happy families -- parent and child are linked by law and by love.

Sometimes it's not relevant

In the world at large it's usually not relevant to refer to a child as an "adopted child". A news report, for example, should use "adopted" ("Sean's adopted child ... ") only to distinguish from a child by birth, if that is relevant to the story. Mentioning the fact of a child's adoption when it is irrelevant implies there is something wrong with the lack of a blood connection.

In the school setting -- talking about family, for example -- the topic of adoption naturally arises, and fits right into classroom discussion.

It's no secret

Terms with a negative connotation often stem from the secrecy that used to surround adoption, but no longer does. When people use the emotion-laden and negative words of the past ("give away" a child, "unwed mother") they create conflict and diminish self-esteem in adopted children.

Avoid terms like "real" or "natural" mother, which imply the existence of an "unreal" or "unnatural" mother. Similarly, prefer "birth father", not "natural father". However, usage does vary; some advocates promote the terms "natural mother" (Canadian Council of Natural Mothers) and "first mother".

Here are some terms people will unthinkingly use, and the preferred term.



Watch your language

Avoid this Prefer this Why
Real parent Birthparent, biological parent (birthfather, birthmother, birthdad, birthmum) Are there "imaginary" parents? Adoptive parents are just as real as biological parents.
Natural parent Birthparent; biological mother; woman who gave birth Lack of a blood link does not make an adoptive parent less of a parent.
Natural child Birth child, biological child Ditto. And are there "artificial" children?
Your own child (vs. an adopted child) Birth child, biological child All your children are your own, adopted or not. Genetic relationships are not stronger than adoptive ones.
Illegitimate Born to unmarried parents Circumstances of birth should not stigmatize a child.
Unwed mother Birthmother, birthmum "Unwed" or "unmarried" is a moral judgment.
Give up, give away, surrender, relinquish, adopt out, put up for adoption Place for adoption, or (better) choose adoption, make an adoption plan Birthmothers love their children but can't raise them. They choose what is best for their child and stay in touch with them after the adoption ("open adoption").
Keep the baby Parent the baby "She decided to parent the baby rather than choose adoption."
Foreign adoption International, intercountry adoption Some say "foreign" has negative connotations.
Hard-to-place child Special needs child Less damaging to the child's self-esteem.
Adopt-a-road, adopt-a-park, etc. Sponsor-a-park, befriend-a-park "Adopt-a-" programs misuse "adopt" as a marketing ploy to raise money. They deform the meaning of adoption and diminish its worth.
Speaking Positively: An Information Sheet about Adoption Language and Adopt-a-Confusion, by Pat Johnston, Perspectives Press, Box 90318, Indianapolis IN 46290-0318, 317-872-3055,


How to introduce adoption in elementary school

As an elementary school teacher, you nurture your students' growth. Bringing adoption into the classroom and treating it as one of many possible life experiences will benefit both adopted children and their classmates.

It would be wise to assume you do have adopted children in your class and to prepare for adoption questions when they arise.

Here are some ways to include adoption in everyday teaching situations.


When you talk about babies and families, use the words adoption or adopted occasionally. Read stories which mention adoption. According to the interests of the children, you might start a role-play game about going to the airport to meet a brother or sister adopted from abroad, or preparing the house for the arrival of an adopted child.

Early elementary

In discussing types of families, don't forget non-traditional families (see Module 1, Many Ways to Make a Family), including adoptive families. If a student has a baby born into his family, mention that some children join their families through adoption. This may prompt a child to say, "I was adopted" and you can extend the discussion. Note that a child's adoption story is her personal story, for her to tell, or not, as she wishes.

Watch the language you use. There is no such thing as a "natural" mother (or an "unnatural" one!). You should say birth mother (or birth mum) and adoptive mother (see Module 4, Teaching the Language of Adoption).

If a student's family are adopting a child, it's a prime opportunity to talk about the process and the happiness involved in the child's arrival.

Another opportunity is November, National Adoption Month. Display artwork from a family tree project. Consider discussing adoption, reading an adoption story or inviting an adopted adult or adoptive parent to visit the class. Children at this age may feel comfortable sharing their adoption story with their parent present.

You will have to judge, if possible, how receptive the class might be to a child's adoption story. Guard against the child becoming the object of teasing and handle it as you would any teasing.

A variety of books for reading to the class are available (see Module 9, Adoption Resources). Some make adoption the main theme; others treat it simply in passing.

Later elementary

During these years, and in secondary school, students want to fit in, to be like everyone else. Adopted children are aware they are in the minority, that most kids are brought up by the parents who gave birth to them. They are unlikely to want to give adoption presentations or be singled out.

The family tree assignment (see Module 3, Biased Class Assignments) could offer the adopted child a chance to deepen her understanding of the place of adoption in her life.

With input from the FAIR Manual, Vol. 1


Answers for the pregnant student

Are you counselling students in high school? Or perhaps making a presentation covering pregnancy options?

For teenagers in secondary school new and sensitive issues rear their heads. A student who finds herself pregnant faces a tough decision on which way to go -- abortion, adoption, parenting -- and a lack of good information.

So get ready for questions about adoption. Below are some questions you may get, with suggested answers.

This is condensed from "Are You Thinking of Adoption for Your Child?",, by the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services. The ministry takes the point of view of the t student in explaining how domestic adoption works. For the ministries which handle adoption in other provinces, see Adoption Resource Central - Domestic Public Adoption,

Where can I get advice ?

It's your baby, and it's up to you to choose your baby's future. To help you decide, there are people you can talk to.

If you're thinking of adoption, talk it over with a social worker. You can find one at a Children's Aid (they're in the phone book, and at or you can call a private social worker. Their advice is free. If you decide for adoption, you can do it through a public agency (the Children's Aid) or a private agency.

Whatever you decide -- abortion; keep the baby; adoption, through either a public or a private agency -- your wishes will be respected.

What about a private agency?

Instead of using the Children's Aid, which is a public agency, you can choose a private adoption agency. They are licensed by the provincial ministry and any adoption they arrange must be approved by the ministry. To talk over this option with a private worker, call the ministry at 416-327-4742 for the names of agencies near you. There's no charge for their advice or for arranging a private adoption.

How does a baby get adopted?

There are two ways a baby gets adopted in Ontario:

-- You agree to the adoption, by signing a consent form any time after the baby is seven days old. If the baby's father is living with you, or has declared he is the father and has helped support you -- he should sign too.

After signing, you have 21 days to change your mind (and some people do). You can decide to keep the baby after all, by cancelling your consent (in writing). If the adoptive parents already have the baby, they must return her to you.

You'll want good legal advice before signing the consent to adoption, and the worker arranging the adoption must give you the chance for this. You must sign this form in front of a lawyer who has given you advice. If you're under 18 the Office of the Children's Lawyer must have one of their staff explain your rights so you understand what you are signing. The Children's Aid or private adoption person will make an appointment for you with that office.

-- The second way is through Crown wardship. You explain the facts to a family court judge, and the judge decides what is best for the baby. If the judge makes the baby a Crown ward, then she is eligible to be adopted. The Children's Aid Society (CAS) has the job of planning for the baby, and the CAS worker will explain how Crown wardship works. Sometimes the judge makes the baby a Society ward, who can't be adopted because you keep your parental rights. Then you can visit your baby in a foster home, and take the time to make a permanent plan for her.

What's a homestudy?

To make sure your baby will have a good home, a social worker visits the proposed parents and does a "homestudy" -- she interviews them to assess their strengths and skills in parenting, their health and their emotional and financial stability. The social worker must send the homestudy to the ministry for approval.

You will need to give a "medical and social history" -- your health, way of life and family background. This will tell your child something about her background and why you planned adoption. Adopted children need to have their questions about their birth answered as they grow up. It will mean a lot to your child in later years to read your own thoughts, and maybe see some photos. It would be helpful too if some information about the baby's father were on file.

The medical history also tells the adoptive parents about possible health problems your baby may have inherited from you. Your history is given to the adoptive parents, without names, to pass on to your child when she is older. Your child can also consult the copy kept at the ministry.

By the way, a disability doesn't stop a child from being adopted. Many parents have adopted children with various disabilities, and have provided them with loving, happy homes.

Can I choose the family for my child?

Yes. Whether it's a public or a private adoption, you can discuss with the person handling the adoption the kind of family you would like for your child. You choose the adoptive parents from a selection of profiles -- these profiles contain no identifying information. You and the adoptive family will not know each other's name and address unless you both agree in writing to exchange this information, and many do.

The tendency nowadays is for adoptions to be much more "open" than before -- the birthmother and the adoptive family get to know each other and keep in touch to the extent that suits them. They may exchange cards, letters and pictures, or make phone calls, or visit each other. You will want to talk to your social worker right from the start about how open an arrangement you want to have.

What you can't do is just give your baby to a family you like (unless they are your relatives, like aunts, uncles or grandparents). Legally, only a children's aid society or a licensed private agency or person can place a child for adoption. It's also against the law for you to be paid for placing your child.

Does adoption mean I'll never see my child again?

In Ontario a child 18 or over can register with the ministry's Adoption Disclosure Register. You can also register after your child is 18, and so can the birth father. If you and the child are both registered, you will be able to meet, after you have had counselling. Adoptive families are told that their adopted children might look for their birth family when they are old enough.


A suggested classroom presentation

Many adoption organizations and parents, and some teachers, are preparing classroom presentations on adoption. Some are aimed at elementary school, to present adoption in a positive light, as another way to build a family. Some focus on high school to present adoption as an option for pregnant teenagers.

A curriculum including sex education and pregnancy options (abortion, parenting, adoption) offers an opportunity to explain the adoption option. Here is a suggested outline for a presentation to high school students.

"The adoption option for the pregnant student"

1. Making a choice. Every child needs to be cared for, to have a family. Deciding to parent or to adopt. Is adoption right for your baby? Only you can decide. Good reasons for considering adoption. Where to go for support in making your decision. Resources.

2. The words we use. Adoption is another way to build a family; it has its own language. You become a "birthmother". Appropriate language to use for non-traditional families.

3. How adoption works. Adoptions are regulated by the provinces. The process: a legal procedure under provincial law. Public adoption agencies. Private adoption agencies. Which is right for you: public or private adoption?

4. The people who adopt. Why people adopt; infertility. Why they can't find infants. Will they be good parents? How adoptive families are approved; homestudy.

5. Your first step. Getting advice. Contacting an agency. Counselling you should expect.

7. Legal things. What are your rights? Birthfather's rights? What if you are under 16?

7. Choosing the family to adopt your baby. You have at least three families to choose from. How to choose.

8. Do you want confidentiality, or do you want to keep in touch with your baby after adoption (closed or open adoption)? What kind of ongoing contact is right for you?

9. Living with your decision. What do you tell friends and family? Where can you go for support? Long-term consequences of placing for adoption. How will your child deal with questions about origins?


Michigan: sex-ed classes must teach abstinence, adoption

It's the law in Michigan, as of June 2004, that schools offering sex education classes, in addition to teaching abstinence from sex, must also teach adoption as an option for unintended pregnancies. Sex-ed classes must discuss the benefit of abstaining from sex until marriage as an effective way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Courses must advise students of the laws regarding their responsibility as parents to children born in and out of wedlock, and tell them about adoption services.

Sex education is optional in Michigan, but school districts choosing to teach it must:
* Notify parents of the course content and of their right to excuse their child from the class without penalty.
* Have a sex education advisory board, composed of parents, students, teachers and community members, to review the sex education curriculum.
* Get approval in advance of curriculum, materials and methods, from two public hearings and the school board.

For more, see Michigan Dept. of Education, "HIV/STD and Sexuality Education",,1607,7-140-28753_29233_29803---,00.html.

The Hillsdale [MI] Daily News reported Aug. 28, 2006 that Camden-Frontier Schools will teach sex ed to middle school and high school students. The school district used student and parent focus groups and surveys to determine what policies to teach. "Our parents thought it was important that we teach the students here that they should abstain from sex," said principal Reed Kimball. The class will also teach students that adoption is a viable alternative to abortion in the case of an unwanted pregnancy, and the way to get involved in the adoption process in Michigan. Students who opt out of the class will have an alternative health program during the sex ed portion of the class.


Research points the way

Are schools doing enough to portray adoption as a viable option for the pregnant student? The prime Canadian researchers in the field, Daly and Sobol, concluded that schools are doing nothing of the sort -- they don't teach about adoption and consequently single mothers choose parenting or abortion.

1,377 students surveyed

In September 1990 the federal Department of Health and Welfare chose Kerry J. Daly, PhD and Michael P. Sobol, PhD (now Michael Grand), of the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario to study adoption in Canada. Their mandate: examine key adoption trends; review legislation and policy; analyze how adoption services are delivered; and explore the factors in pregnancy decision-making.

Daly and Sobol surveyed 355 public and private service providers, 1,377 high school students, 373 of their parents, and 603 doctors and counsellors. Their 167-page report -- the National Adoption Study -- was published in May 1993. There has been no research since then which paints such a detailed picture of adoption in Canada.

The Daly/Sobol study gave these reasons for the drop in the number of infants available for domestic adoption:

* More support services for parenting and less stigma attached to single parenthood.

* Schools do not teach about adoption. Pregnant young women have little or no knowledge of placement procedures, legal rights and openness options.

* Parents of the students interviewed by Daly and Sobol thought adoption served the infant's best interest. However, they believed adoption to have immediate and long-term negative emotional consequences for the birthmother and tended not to advise it.

* Most single pregnant women (60%) now prefer to raise their child, despite the financial hardship and disruption of education and social life. They view adoption as having emotionally traumatic consequences. Abortion is also a declining choice -- students interviewed were very negative on abortion, judging it to be immoral, emotionally difficult and risky for the health. Here is how single women decided when they found they were pregnant:

Decision about pregnancy (single women under 25)

  1981 1989
Chose abortion 33,577 (49%) 29,246 (38%)
Chose to raise child 31,657 (46%) 46,234 (60%)
Chose adoption 3,521 (5%) 1,730 (2%)
Total 68,755 (100%) 77,210 (100%)

Who are the 2% who chose adoption? Typically they are: single; 15 to 19; caucasian; Protestant (46%) or Catholic (29%); not in school (43%) or in senior high (32%); and living with their parents. They say the main reason for placing the child for adoption is that they are too young or haven't enough money to raise the child. The birthfather is not in the picture: only 10% of the adoption facilitators interviewed said the birthfather was involved in the decision.

The Daly/Sobol study recommended enhanced public education about adoption as a pregnancy resolution alternative.

Teaching the choices

In September 1996 I asked Michael Sobol if he had any comments on the teacher's guide to adoption I was preparing.

I think his comments then are still relevant today. His reply touched on involving the birthparent, on private agencies and on why teens don't choose adoption:

"One issue that does come to mind is that of the various options that fall under the guise of an open adoption. It is not simply a matter of whether the birth parent meets the applicants. Other important choices are available such as continuing contact either directly or through an intermediary, exchange of identifying information, etc. All of these factors contribute to a sense of personal agency in the placement. There is also some evidence that the more involved the birth parent is in the placement and the ongoing life of the child, the more positive is her response to the placement decision. Some of these issues are addressed in a paper that Kerry and I wrote for the Journal of Social Issues in 1993.

"A second point is that birth parents ought to be aware that they have several sources to use to facilitate an adoption. Most think only of Children's Aid. Few are aware of the more liberal practices followed by private facilitators. The fact that more birth moms place through private facilitators, in spite of the lack of publicity about this option, provides some support for the conclusion that a larger proportion of pregnancies are carried through to placement using private than public facilitators.

"Finally, in planning a curriculum about adoption, it is important to note that, contrary to the common understanding, we found that teens were not opposed to adoption as a response to an unplanned pregnancy. In fact, most viewed it quite positively. The reasons they did not use it as an option for resolving the situation were primarily twofold. First, they had no idea how to go about bringing about an adoption -- abortion and especially parenting were much more evident. Second, they needed social support for the decision, especially from parents and partner. Without this support they were much more willing to choose one of the other options."


Adoption resources for teachers and students

Key web sites about adoption


Adoption Agencies,
Adoption Council of Canada,
Adoption Council of Ontario,
Adoption Resource Central,
Adoption Support Centre of Saskatchewan,
Adoption Support Groups,
Adoptive Families Assn. of B.C.,
Canada's Waiting Kids,
Family Helper,
International Adoption Families Assn.,
Québec Adoption,
Society of Special Needs Adoptive Parents,

U.S. SITES - Guide to Adoption, - Internet Adoption Resources,,
Adoptive Families Magazine,
Child Welfare Information Gateway - Adoption,
Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption,
Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute,
National Adoption Center, See NAC's Adoption Clubhouse,, for adopted children 8-12: help in tackling tough school projects, like the "family tree"; kids' stories and poems; message board; reviews of books and movies about adopted kids.
North American Council on Adoptable Children,


Adoption Resource Central, Books listed for 28 topics. Family Helper.

Adult Adoption Books, Book lists for many topics. Adoptive Families Assn. of B.C.

Children's Disability and Special Needs Books, Book lists. Comeunity.

Child Welfare Information Gateway Library, Search by keyword, title, subject, author and year to get full-text electronic versions and abstracts of over 48,000 publications on child welfare and adoption. Child Welfare Information Gateway, Washington DC.

Suggested Reading List, Adoption Council of Canada.

Organizations and Newsletters

Adoption Council of Canada, 211 Bronson Ave., #210, Ottawa K1R 6H5. 613-235-0344/235-1566, 1-888-542-3678,, Newsletter: Adoption Canada

Adoption Council of Ontario, 3216 Yonge St., 2nd floor, Toronto M4N 2L2, 416-482-0021,, Adoption Roundup

Adoption Support Centre of Saskatchewan, 305 - 506 25th St. E., Saskatoon S7K 4A7, 1-866-869-2727, 306-665-7272,, Adoption News

Adoptive Families Assn. of British Columbia, #200 - 7342 Winston St., Burnaby BC, V5A 2G1, 604-320-7330,, Focus on Adoption

Adoptive Parents' Assn. of Nova Scotia, Box 2511, Stn. M, Halifax, N.S. B3J 3N5, 902-422-2087,,

Families with Children from China Toronto, Box 808, Stn. F, Toronto M4Y 2N7, 905-453-8077,, Families with Children from China Toronto

Family Helper, Box 1203, Southampton ON N0H 2L0,, Family Helper

[Quebec Adoptive Parents Federation], 42 boul. du Seminaire, St-Jean-sur-Richelieu J3B 7M6. 514-990-5307,,

International Adoption Families Assn., #1016, 246 Stewart Green S.W., Calgary T3H 3C8, 403-270-2474,, IAFA Newsletter

International Adoptive Families of New Brunswick, John McAdam, 20 Sloat St., Fredericton E3C 1M4, 506-453-1866,

Learning Disabilities Assn. of Canada, 323 Chapel St., Ottawa, Ont. K1N 7Z2, 613-238-5721,, Branches across the country.

Society of Special Needs Adoptive Parents, 101 - 2780 East Broadway, Vancouver V5M 1Y8. 604-687-3114, toll-free (in BC) 1-800-663-7627,, Family Groundwork


Daly, Kerry J. and Michael P. Sobol [Grand]. Adoption in Canada: Final Report. Guelph, Ont.: National Adoption Study, May 1993. University of Guelph, Guelph N1G 2W1, 519-824-4120 ext. 8599. Final Report 167 p., Final Report Summary 20 p., Executive Summary 5 p. The definitive study of adoption in Canada. Summary at Family Helper,

For more Canadian adoption research, see "Adoption Council of Canada - Research",


Glossary: the ABCs of adoption

Adoption. The legal transfer of parental rights and obligations from birth parent(s) to adoptive parent(s). The adoptive parents become the legal parents of the child. It's a permanent, legally-binding arrangement by which a child or teenager becomes a member of a new family. Adoption falls under provincial or territorial jurisdiction.

Adoptive parent. A person who legally assumes the rights and obligations of parenting an adopted child. The adoptive parent becomes the permanent parent through adoption, with all the social and legal rights and responsibilities of any parent.

Birth mother. The birth (or biological) mother is the woman giving birth to a child who is subsequently placed for adoption. The birth family is composed of those sharing a child's genetic heritage.

Children's aid society (CAS). In Ontario, one of 52 public child welfare agencies funded by government and responsible for protecting Ontario children, finding foster homes, and finding permanent families for children in its care who are available for adoption.

Domestic adoption. Adoption of a child living in the same country as the adoptive parent(s).

Foster care. Temporary parental care by non-relatives, usually formalized through a public child welfare agency. The agency takes legal custody of children who are unable to live at home because their parents were deemed abusive, neglectful or otherwise unable to care for them. The agency screens, trains, licenses and pays foster parents who will provide a caring temporary home. The agency usually aims to reunify the child with her family, but otherwise will consider adoption for her.

Guardianship. A guardian is a person legally responsible for a child. In kinship care, guardianship may serve as an alternative to adoption, when the child's relative assumes a parental role but prefers not to adopt.

Identifying information. Information which reveals a person's identity, such as last name, address, phone number and detailed family history. When families are recruited for a child available for adoption, identifying information about the child is typically kept private. Families initially get non-identifying information of a general nature which does not reveal identity, such as physical descriptions and medical history.

International (intercountry) adoption. Adoption of a child living in a different country from the adoptive parent(s).

Kinship adoption. Adoption of a child by a grandparent, aunt, uncle, other member of the extended family, godparent or someone considered kin.

Licensee. A person or agency to whom the provincial adoption ministry has granted a licence to place children for adoption in the province.

Openness in adoption. Birth parents and adoptive parents often agree to have an open adoption, with ongoing contact between their families. They agree on how much contact, perhaps exchanging letters and photos, either directly or through an agency, or scheduling phone calls and visits.
* In an open adoption, the families exchange names and addresses, and have a full and ongoing relationship.
* In a semi-open adoption, the families exchange non-identifying information, such as messages and photos, through an intermediary. They don't know each other's last names or addresses.
* In a closed adoption, confidentiality is the rule. The families do not share identifying information and have no contact. The adoptive family usually receives non-identifying information about the child and the birth family before placement in the home. After finalization, records are sealed and unavailable to the adoptee. The legacy of closed adoptions, which were common in the past, is that adoptees and birth parents are unable to locate each other later in life, to exchange medical information or to renew connections.

Practitioner, approved adoption. In Ontario, a professional, usually a social worker, with experience in adoption or child welfare, whom the provincial ministry responsible for adoption has approved to conduct home studies and supervise placements in prospective adoptive homes.

Private adoption. An adoption arranged by a privately-funded, licensed agency or licensee. Private agencies charge fees for their services. Private adoptions are regulated by the provincial ministry responsible for adoptions. Ministries license individuals and agencies to place children privately, approve the social workers to conduct home studies and monitor the performance of licensees and social workers.

Probation period. The time between placing a child in an adoptive home and finalization, when the adoption is legalized in court. It varies by province but is at least six months. During the probation (or probationary) period, the licensee visits the adoptive home to see if the child is adjusting well and to give advice and support.

Public adoption. An adoption arranged through a provincial ministry or agency funded by government, e.g. Children's Aid Society. Public agencies usually provide services at no cost and are responsible for placing with adoptive families those waiting children who are in their care.

Special needs. Conditions in a child which are particularly challenging to adoptive parents, such as physical, emotional and behavioural disorders, and a history of abuse or neglect. Common disorders and disabilities include attachment disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, developmental disabilities, fetal alcohol syndrome, learning disabilities and oppositional defiant disorder.

Waiting children. Children who are waiting to be adopted, that is, children who are legally free for adoption. They are in the care of the public child welfare system, cannot return to their birth homes and need permanent families. (Waiting parents are those seeking to adopt.) According to the May 2002 "Report Card on Adoption" by the Adoption Council of Canada, there are over 66,000 Canadian children in foster care. About 22,000 are permanent wards of the provincial governments and await adoption.
Adapted from the ACC Adoption Glossary,

"Teacher's Guide to Adoption" is a resource document prepared by the publisher of Family Helper magazine, Robin Hilborn, to promote the teaching of adoption in schools.

Send comments to: Box 1203, Southampton, Ont. N0H 2L0, e-mail: Don't miss our web site:

Copyright 2012 Robin R. Hilborn
Robin Hilborn is author of Family Helper,, and content specialist for the Adoption Council of Canada,



The ten-module second edition of "Teacher's Guide to Adoption" by Robin Hilborn has been published online since Jan. 5, 2005, at (Occasional updates have been made since then.) It was also published in print in Family Helper No. 45, "Adoption Goes to School", 2004,

The contents list of the second edition was featured at the home page of "Adoption", at About.Com, Feb. 9-28, 2005. See Adoption Blog Archives,


The first edition had eight modules and was published in English as "Adoption Helper's Teacher's Guide to Adoption". It appeared in print in Adoption Helper No. 22, Oct. 1996, and online at Family Helper web site from May 16, 1998 to Jan. 5, 2005, at

Versions of the first edition are archived at the Internet Archive,*/

Part of the first edition is published in English at this location:
RainbowKids - A Teacher's Guide to Adoption, [N.B.: module titles are missing; fourth module is truncated]

The first edition also appears in these languages, in abbreviated form (four modules):


Guide sur l'adoption à l'intention des enseignants, Posted Apr. 16, 2006. [thanks to Gilles Breton]
The French version is also available at:


Guida per l'insegnante all'adozione, Posted Oct. 1, 2003. [thanks to Daniela, Kiara and Stefy of Kantutita Group]
The Italian version is also available at:


Guía sobre la Adopción dirigida a educadores, Posted Apr. 16, 2006. [thanks to Beatriz San Román,]

Heart of Adoption  
Articles to inform and inspire

Fertility Adoption Adoption Resource Central Post-adoption Family Tree

Contact: Robin Hilborn,
Box 1203, Southampton, Ont. N0H 2L0 Canada
Copyright 2012 Robin R. Hilborn
Posted   Jan. 5, 2005
Updated   Jan. 23, 2009

Family Helper


About us    Copyright    Privacy    Disclaimer