Consider singles


Siobhan Rowe
Focus on Adoption magazine

If we overlook single people as possible adoptive parents, we could be missing out on wonderful parents for our kids.

There’s little doubt about it, the chances of adopting if you are single are slimmer than for couples. This not only affects single people, it also means that children miss out on a loving, committed parent.

When choosing people to parent their children most birth mothers select couples -- usually heterosexual. Many countries restrict international adoptions to couples too, and, though single people do adopt from the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), according to statistics provided by MCFD, they are 50% less likely to be placed with a child. Focus on Adoption conducted a small survey of BC single parents and of the 25 that responded, 80% adopted internationally and 20% through MCFD.

The difficulties that single people face when adopting can not necessarily be put down to bias. There are all sorts of factors that have to be taken into account when choosing suitable families for children (type of child the applicant requests, special needs of the child, the need to place siblings together) and there are several people involved in the process, all of whom will have an opinion in terms of a suitable family.

There are other reasons two-parent families seem to be preferred by people who choose adoptive parents, and these include reservations that a child’s needs may be too onerous for a single parent to contend with, concerns about what would happen to a child should the single adoptive parent get seriously ill or pass away, single parents not having the financial resources to provide for a child, and that children need both male and female role models in their lives. In this article, we will address all these concerns.

Much of the research on single parents concentrates on single mothers, there is very little on single fathers, except that according to Statistics Canada, the number of men at the head of single parent families in Canada is growing more than twice as fast as the number of women.

Single adoptive fathers, though, are a rare species and represent a tiny proportion of applicants to adopt. As well as the barriers that single women applicants have to overcome, single male applicants have to contend with often deep-seated suspicions about why they might want to adopt a young boy or girl.

Family blueprint

There’s no doubt about it, single applicants to adopt are in competition with two-parent applicants--usually heterosexual--and they will be compared with them in terms of what they can offer a child and how they will cope with the challenges of being a parent. However, using the couple blueprint has its problems.

Canada’s families do not fit neatly into this model. There are 1.3 million one-parent families, 26% of families with dependent children in Canada. And, though the statistics are hard to untangle, many more children live in complex families including blended families, two parents and two homes, families headed by same-sex couples, and children living with relatives and grandparents. In other words, Canadian families are complicated and do not measure up to the yardstick single parents are often measured against.

Prepared for parenthood

Adopting solo—Improving your odds

  • Clearly demonstrate a robust support network--if you don't have one, develop one.
  • Actively engage with other families. Become a Big Sister or Big Brother, or volunteer at a school or group for kids wth special needs. Consider fostering a child, or doing respite for other families. Join adoption support groups before you adopt--meeting other parents and families is an invaluable source of information.
  • While being realistic, consider widening the type of child you would consider adopting.
  • Make contact with other single adoptive parents--they will provide invaluable advice and could become part of your support network.
  • Invite close friends or family members to attend your adoption education classes--if that is allowed.
  • Don’t wait for a referral, contact your social worker regularly and attend local Adoption Resource Exchange (events where social workers present information on particular waiting children to other social workers and approved parents).

While single parents are over-represented amongst Canadian families in poverty, this is not generally the case with single adoptive parents, or single parents who have children using donors. These are what are now called “intentional single parents,” and they do not fit the traditional profile of single parents.

According to a 2006 report by Professor Anne-Marie Ambert for the Ottawa based Vanier Institute for the Family, women who adopt or who have planned births are generally older, are financially secure, have a support group, and their children are at lower risk of developing problems than children of single-parent families where there is poverty, the parent is younger, or they are single as a result of a divorce or separation. In fact, Ambert quotes a 1995 study that found that single mothers who are in well paid occupations provide their children with a home environment equivalent to that available in similar two-parent families.

Ambert also suggests that an older single mother who has planned a birth or adoption encounters fewer family complications than couples because she doesn’t have to share the parenting role. She adds that families with older single mothers are also less likely to experience stressful changes such as a new partner or partners becoming involved with the family. Ambert also points out that the children of intentional single parents haven’t seen divorce and fighting that other children of single parents have. An adoptive parent in our survey agreed: “Nowadays, many couples do not last and find parenting on their own difficult after the breakup, whereas single adoptive parents go into the process equipped with the support (family and financial) already in place.”

All the adoptive parents Focus on Adoption interviewed were adamant that their child is their priority and that they are not necessarily seeking a partner but, if one came along, the relationship would primarily be evaluated in terms of how it would affect their child.

Sorting out support

One of the oft-cited concerns about single parents is that they may not have the support they need to parent--particularly if children are considered to have special needs. In our survey of single adoptive parents, 82% said that their biggest source of support was family and friends. Even when family and friends were not originally supportive of the adoption, most came around after the child was adopted and became positively involved. Other single adoptive parents were the best help for 38% of our group. Interestingly, other non-adoptive single parents were not seen as a particular source of support. Susan Tanco, a lawyer and single adoptive parent, explained to Focus on Adoption that she attended a single parent support group but found that the issues the group discussed did not really relate to her--poverty and money issues being prominent.

Susan adopted her son from MCFD when he was nine-months-old. Initially, her experience wasn’t positive. After one social worker told her, “We don’t need people like you,” she asked for the supervisor’s contact number. That, says Susan, was enough for the social worker to reconsider. Eventually, she was told that as she lived with her sister (a psychologist) and her brother-in-law (a physician), she would be given further consideration. This echoes the comment made by a BC social worker in a study of barriers to adoption by former University of British Columbia social work student Marg Harrington: “If you are anything but a heterosexual couple, you’ve got to have a trump card--there’s got to be something special about you.” Susan acknowledges her living situation was a bonus, but she explained that being rated partly because of her sister and brother-in-law’s characteristics rankled somewhat, and that even if she hadn’t lived with her family, she’d have built another support network.

Adoptive dad Ian Slaney wasn’t initially encouraged when he first looked into adoption. “I was told it would be difficult even to get into the parenting classes,” he explained. That proved incorrect. Ian took the classes and his homestudy was approved. He noted that he and his social worker had, “Some very frank and open discussions,” referring to his motivation to adopt a young boy. Unlike women, who are expected to have a maternal instinct, men have to explain why they want to become a parent if they don’t have a partner. “Most of my friends, family, and colleagues were skeptical about why I would want to adopt and take on the responsibility of a child.” Ian explains it simply: he wanted someone to share his life with, to care for, and to love.

Ian eventually adopted Nick, an eight-year-old boy. After a honeymoon period during their first summer together, Nick’s behaviour took a sharp downward slide when he went back to school--Nick was bullying other children. Ian worked with the school and other parents and eventually things improved. Nick was recently awarded a most-improved award at school, and he now has a good network of friends. Clearly, Ian was up to the challenge of older child adoption.

Like the other parents we spoke to and surveyed, Ian has a good support network. “It was a planned situation, so I put the support we need into place,” he explains. Ian has great neighbours and a sister and mother who care deeply for Nick and have indicated that should anything happen to Ian, they will take care of him because, as Ian proudly says, “He’s a Slaney now.”

Lucia Barbosa, who adopted six-year-old Daneilla from MCFD, says that when MCFD saw how much work she had done to prepare for a child, including having herself psychologically assessed, she was fully supported. “Don’t dismiss the Waiting Child program, or the idea of adopting an older child,” she urges.

Leah Elliott also adopted from MCFD and turned out to be a wonderful choice for her five kids. In a previous article in Focus on Adoption, Leah explained why she’s considering another adoption: “I have so much experience, tons of skills, and I know I can offer a stable, forever home. Parenting is my passion, especially for children who haven’t been cherished. I also strongly believe in keeping siblings together, and I’ve seen firsthand the benefits to the kids.” As far as any assumptions that sibling groups would not be a good match for single parents she says, “There’s a myth that single-parent families must be stressed and barely coping. I have five kids, and it’s very calm and structured in our home. I wish social workers could see our family in action.”

Speaking from experience

Anne Melcombe, a single adoptive parent and an adoption social worker for AFABC’s Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program, has supported the placement of several children with single women or men. “Single people can be great parents to older kids as well as babies,” she explains. “I don’t rule out any type of child just because the applicant is single. Who knows what life experience or qualities an individual single person might offer - I never assume that a single parent isn’t an option.

Anne explains that in some cases, if the parent has the determination, the education, and the support, single parents can actually be a better choice for some kids. “Placing a child with a single parent of a different sex to his or her sexual abuser, can work out really well--so can placing a child who has been victimized by a violent parent. I am currently working with a young boy who has huge issues with women--he is very angry with his mother, and placing this boy with a single dad is certainly a good option."

Anne insists that she asks every single applicant she does homestudies on to name people who will respond helpfully to a 2 am call for help, or who would be willing to look after the child for a day so both parent and child can have a break from each other (in couples, that is much easier to accomplish). However, Anne also echoes the words of Anne-Maire Ambert when she says that sometimes not having a partner can make parenting easier: there’s no one to argue with over day-to-day matters, and the child or children can benefit from having most of their parent’s attention. She also cautions that being a single parent does mean that you have all the responsibility and that you probably will get less help than if you had a partner. She urges single adoptive parents to make couples with healthy relationships part of their lives so that their children see what a positive couple relationship can look like.

All the single parents Focus on Adoption interviewed had close family or friends who had indicated a willingness to take care of their child should anything happen to them. Not only that, they had male and female people in their lives who could provide strong role models.

The single parents that responded to AFABC’s survey were thrilled to be parents and strongly encouraged other single people to push through the barriers and adopt. Though several of our respondents faced barriers and bias before they adopted, they stated that bias against their family was not their biggest challenge after adoption. Financial issues and parenting alone were their biggest concerns. However, without exception, all the respondents were positive about their decision to adopt (several had adopted more than one child) and encouraged other single people to push ahead and consider adoption.

If the trend continues, more single people without partners will decide to become parents either through donor insemination, surrogacy, or adoption. Given the barriers they face and the extra sacrifices they have to make, there’s no doubt about it, these are people who truly want to become parents. Not only that, overlooking this mature, financially stable, and well supported group, could be doing a disservice to many children who could benefit from joining a single parent family.