Looking Back — Adoption in BC. The Last Decade.


Harriet Fancott
Focus on Adoption magazine

by Harriet Fancott

As the millenium comes to a close, we thought a recap of the most important changes in adoption over that period would be fitting. For simplicity, however, we decided to stick to the last decade.

The Adoption Act: The biggest catalyst for change within the BC adoption community over the last decade came with the new Adoption Act, which was introduced in 1994 and came into force Nov 4, 1996. The 1994 Act replaced the 1957 Act and was hailed as one of the most progressive in North America.

Open Records: With the new act came the opening of adoption records, which gave individuals the right to their personal information. Adoptees could then apply for a copy of certain records including their identifying information. This also enabled adopted people and birth parents to seek each other out, providing neither party had placed a veto.

Fairness: The 1994 Act came in line with the charter of Rights and Freedoms and made applying to adopt open to any and all BC residents over the age of 19. This meant adoption was no longer the sole domain of the nuclear family, but an option for people representing a variety of family forms and ethnic backgrounds.

Equality: On the eve of the new millennium, adoptive parents still receive less consideration from the federal government than do biological parents. This is particularly true regarding Employment Insurance where adoptive parents are only eligible for 10 weeks of paid leave (plus five if a child has special needs) whereas biological mothers receive an automatic 15 weeks of maternity leave and either partner can take the 10-week parental leave.

Open Adoption: The trend toward open adoption continued as all members of the adoption circle recognized the damaging legacy of closed adoptions. 

First Nations Rights: The Act enshrined the right of Aboriginal bands to regain control over the placement of their children for adoption in an effort to redress historical imbalances. Communities were able to play a more active role in guiding the future of its children. The pitfall of this legislation was that many willing adopters were ineligible to adopt, and the majority of children in continuing custody, who were of Aboriginal heritage, spent their entire youth in the care of non-Aboriginal families. 

Foster Care: The number of children in care mushroomed over the last decade topping off at more than 10,000 . The level of special needs increased as many of the children suffered from sexual and physical abuse, fetal alcohol syndrome, neonatal abstinence syndrome, and attachment and trust issues. The foster care system in BC came under intense scrutiny and criticism from the media for failing to adequately care for BC’s most vulnerable children.

Special Needs Adoption: In the latter part of this decade the government moved out of intercountry and infant adoptions, focusing instead on finding homes for children in care of MCF, and children who have special needs. Despite wariness among social workers and the general public that children were considered tobe too damaged, people began to realize that the children available for adoption are as different as the pool of potential parents eager to form or expand their families. Children are no longer seen as unadoptable, and the AFABC saw an increase in calls from families interested in special needs adoption. That said, many people went outside BC to adopt because they saw the BC system as unwelcoming, unyielding, and slow.

Local Adoption: Local adoptions fell as pregnant women continued to parent their children despite being young or unmarried. In fact, local adoptions have been falling since the 70s. Adoptions peaked in the 60s due to societal shame around premarital pregnancy and the unavailability of options such as birth control, abortion, and government supports. 

Intercountry Adoption: Intercountry adoptions rose steadily over the past decade as local adoptions fell. Many chose this route for a variety of reasons:

Speed: The process was seen to be faster than adopting through the local Ministry in charge of adoption.
Age: Many wanted to adopt infants.
Altruism: The level of poverty and need was seen to be more intense in developing nations.
Issues: Children appeared to have fewer special needs than those available locally.
Institutionalization: Children adopted from institutions around the world, in particular at an older age, demonstrated similar challenges to those adopted through local foster care system. Challenges included attachment issues, emotional, behavioural, and developmental difficulties, and damage caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. 

Multiracial Adoptive Families: More families than ever adopted children of racial heritages different than their own. The AFABC produced a booklet titled Raising Healthy Multiracial Adoptive Families to address some of the challenges associated with this family form.

Costs: Adoption costs rose dramatically over the last decade as agencies took over the role previously held by government, private social workers, and lawyers. That said, BC adopters proved to be some of the most prepared in the world. BC agencies are licensed and accountable to the government, and must follow ethical and legal adoption practice. The fee for the adoption of waiting children are limited to a $208 court fee.

Preparation: Parents became better educated and prepared to face the lifelong issues of adoption and multiracial issues. By law, adoptive parents undergo a rigorous education component that covers adoption, institutionalization, openness, racial questions, and other pertinent issues.

Post-Adoption Support: While the AFABC focused much of its magazine content and support groups on post-adoption issues, many parents felt neglected and alone after adopting. And unlike some US states, MCF does not have the post-adoption supports and incentives that characterize many US public system adoptions.

Acceptance: More celebrities, and members of the elite adopted children, thus raising the profile of adoption in the general community, as well as that of different family forms.