Adoption across the Rockies
At any given time last year, there were about 5,300 children and youth in permanent government care in Alberta. In the same year, 449 of these children found a loving and permanent home. Alberta children are almost always placed with Alberta families in order to keep them connected to extended family, culture, community, and resources. However, as Alberta Human Services’ adoption manager Anne Scully explains, in some cases--if the family was a good match, resources were available, and moving was the right fit for the child--a child could be placed in another province. “We always look at the needs of the child,” she says.
Giving older children a chance at connection
You might be surprised to learn that 70% of children waiting to be adopted in Alberta are between the ages of seven and 12. These children couldn’t live with their birth parents for a range of reasons and are often living in alternative placements without a sense of permanency.
Most of the children waiting to be adopted in Alberta are between the ages of 7 and 12.
The older a child is the more difficult it can be to find the right adoptive family for them. However, according to Anne, adopting an older child means “knowing you have offered a home to a child who may otherwise never have had the opportunity.” Adoption allows the child to feel the connection of family and to get a new start in life, she adds.
That’s why Dale Chudyk, a longtime adoption caseworker based in Edmonton, says she takes extra care to listen to youth she spends time with during activities like long walks in the park. “I’m always aware that kids on my caseload are probably grieving the loss of not going back to their birth families. I really try to get to know them inside and out in order to place them in the right home.”
Supporting people who want to adopt
When meeting with a prospective adoptive family, Dale clearly explains that all children in care have special needs. This doesn’t necessarily mean a diagnosed physical or mental disability. It may mean emotional or physical trauma, or prenatal exposure to alcohol.”
Alberta also provides post-adoption supports. The Supports for Permanency Program helps adoptive families with needs such as respite, counselling, and payment for services that assist in addressing a child’s emotional or behavioural needs.
In Alberta, if a child has a disability, parents may also be eligible for a range of professional services offered through the Family Supports for Children with Disabilities program. They can also access one of 12 Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) networks for assessment, diagnosis, and support. What’s more, youth who were in permanent government care are eligible to have their post-secondary tuition and living expenses covered through the Advancing Futures Bursary program.
Working with First Nations and other Aboriginal communities
Whenever possible, workers like Dale try to find culturally appropriate caregivers for children because this may help them feel more at home. In Alberta, the overall number of children in care continues to decline: in the past three years there has been an 18% reduction of the number of Aboriginal children in care. This is due to collaborating closely with Aboriginal communities, involving extended family, and using strength-based approaches like the internationally-recognized Signs of Safety model.
Still, many children in care are Aboriginal (69%), and the government is actively seeking Aboriginal caregivers. An Aboriginal child will always benefit from a plan for maintaining cultural connections. This may include regularly attending a round dance or Pow Wow, meeting with an Elder, or regular community visits.
Non-Aboriginal people who indicate a willingness to adopt First Nations children are required to show a commitment to ensuring that the child has access to opportunities that will allow for cultural contact with the child’s band. Non-Aboriginal parents have to commit to a cultural plan that ensures the child remains connected to his/her culture and community. These become a part of the adoption finalization package that goes to court. Additional training for families adopting First Nations children is also provided.
In Alberta, private guardianship is another way to obtain permanency. This way, a child keeps his or her original birth certificate. First Nations communities often prefer this permanency option because it retains the link to their culture.
Recruiting adoptive families
A family can begin their adoption journey at any local Child and Family Services office, where each region uses recruiting agencies or programs that work for them, or through two key web-based tools.
The Adoption Profiles Lookup site has helped 413 children to find permanent homes since 2003. The site helps to identify Alberta residents willing to care for children who are older, have higher needs, or are part of a sibling group.
70% of children featured in the Wednesday's Child program have been placed into adoptive homes.
In addition, CTV broadcasts one-minute weekly television segments in a program called Wednesday’s Child. Like the profile site, Wednesday’s Child focuses on harder-to-place children. About 70% of the children featured since the program began have been placed successfully into adoptive homes.
Dale says families often come to her with interest in a child they’ve seen online or on Wednesday’s Child. Sometimes a match is made, but often, “I will give them more information about that child, but I also explain that there are many more children who aren’t featured – maybe because they’re lower needs or didn’t want to grant consent.”
Other adoption options
There are three other types of adoption in Alberta: licensed agency, private, and international. In 2014/15, there were 74 adoptions from the five licensed agencies in Alberta. In these situations, the birth parents generally select an adoptive home and the child is not in government care. “Families may be seeking a younger child and be willing to have involvement with the birth parents,” explains Anne, the adoption manager.
In the case of private adoption, a family may deal directly with biological parents or be involved as a step-parent or caring relative. In 2014/15, there were 191 step-parent, relative, and private direct adoptions. When a step-parent adopts a child, they can use an online adoption self-help kit.
Sometimes, an Alberta resident will seek to adopt a child outside of Canada. The Alberta government can help families through this process and also provides oversight, since international adoption involves many challenges and complexities. In 2014/15, there were 84 international adoptions in Alberta. From 2009 to 2014, the top three countries for international adoption in Alberta were China, Ethiopia, and the United States.
Loving families, loving homes
Regardless of how they are matched, in successful adoptions, parents have done their research, participated in training and readied themselves as best as possible for whatever unknowns their new life may bring. They are accepting, patient, and have realistic expectations of themselves and the child they hope to adopt. Both Anne and Dale speak passionately about their work helping adoptive families in Alberta.
Dale says she’s seen both children and parents transform for the better, and sees more positive behaviours in youth because they feel safe and loved. Anne’s office is decorated with photographs of families she’s helped to unite. “I love knowing they’re doing well,” she says.
In our “Perspectives” series, we examine adoption in other places, other cultures, and other times. By widening our lens, we hope to open our minds and develop a deeper understanding of ourselves, each other, and our roles in the world of adoption. Would you like to write about adoption from a historical or cultural perspective? Contact us at email@example.com.
Want to read more? Subscribe to Focus on Adoption magazine!