Researchers from Queens University have produced a report that sheds light on who is most likely to adopt a child with special needs. The study, called “Making Choices: Adoption Seekers’ Preferences and Available Children with Special Needs” was published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Public Child Welfare.
The study examined 5380 prospective Ontario-based parents who had registered with the province-wide adoption agency. It found that between 43 per cent and 60 per cent said they would be willing to adopt children with physical disabilities, emotional behavioral disorders, or learning disabilities, though their willingness decreased as the disability was assessed as “mild”, “moderate”, to “severe”.
The study also found the prospective adopters showed a preference for children who had past abuse exposures versus those with diagnosed disabilities or enduring conditions.
“Finding adoptive parents for child wards with special needs has long been a challenge. Notwithstanding some recent minor improvements in government policy, serious challenges still remain in placing thousands of child wards with special needs in permanent adoptive homes or guardianship arrangements,” says Dr. Philip Burge, Associate Professor. Department of Psychiatry at Queens and co-author of the study.
The Queens study suggest that an increase in familiarity between adoptive families and children with special needs would help increase adoption rates because some may be overestimating the functional impacts of certain disabilities.
“Matching our child wards with prepared and committed families gives these children a sense of permanency and security”, says Burge.
About 2500 children are adopted each year within Canada, with another 2100 or so adopted internationally.
The Adoption Council of Canada says there are a number of barriers that are bringing rates of adoption below what they could be. These include barriers to inter-provincial adoption, citizenship issues for those adopted from outside Canada, and the fact that adoptive parents do not enjoy the same parental leave benefits through the EI program.
“If parents knew they could get a full year off work to bond with their new child, more might be willing to adopt,” says the agency.
But many parents who are looking to adopt internationally are often frustrated by even harsher restrictions and long wait times.
“If you’re over 40 you’re not eligible to adopt from, I think, 80 per cent of the countries, which I found very disappointing,” said a woman named Mary who talked to the Huffington Post about she and her husband’s experience with international adoption. “Because I see it as many people in their 40s are established financially, emotionally and are ready to start a family, and I felt it was just held against us.”
Last year, Canada’s Governor General David Johnston declared an “adoption crisis” in Canada because nearly 30,000 children were waiting for permanent homes.
But one Ontario woman, Lori Niles, says at least part of the crisis can be blamed on a system that seems dangerously ineffienct. Niles, who with her husband spent years looking to adopt and explored options both internationally and in her home province, discovered staggering gaps in the files of the The Children’s Aid Society, including one child who had multiple families interested in adopting.
“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,” she said.
Niles points to a similar crisis in England, where the adoption process was bogged down but was ultimately addressed by government. Today, she says, it takes just six months on average to adopt a child there.
“The Governor General’s plea for more adoptive parents is well-intentioned and idealistic,” says Niles. “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.”