Making exceptions


Anne Clayton
Focus on Adoption magazine

The history of Aboriginal adoption

The history of the colonization of Aboriginal peoples in Canada can be a difficult and complex topic. The term Aboriginal is used in BC legislation to encompass First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples. Aboriginal people were subject to laws, policies, and programs designed to assimilate them into Euro-centric mainstream culture. In the area of child welfare, this culminated in the “60’s scoop,” where many Aboriginal children were removed from their families and placed for adoption with families of European descent. Many of these children became estranged from their adoptive families but also didn’t fit in with their Aboriginal community because they had no contact with, or exposure to, that culture.

In December of 1992, under pressure from Aboriginal communities, the ministry imposed a moratorium on placing Aboriginal children in non-Aboriginal homes for adoption. This resulted in many Aboriginal children being left in long-term foster placements, often with non-Aboriginal people.

The Aboriginal Exceptions Committee was formed in 1996 when the new Adoption Act and the Child, Family and Community Services Act were implemented. These pieces of legislation recognized the priority of placement for Aboriginal children. This priority was with extended family, community members, other Aboriginal families, or lastly, with non-Aboriginal families. The Exceptions Committee was established to ensure that the ministry was following these legislated priorities.

The Exceptions Committee

The Exceptions Committee is a provincial body that reviews a submission from a Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) or Delegated Aboriginal Agency (DAA) social worker requesting an exception to the standards to place an Aboriginal child in a non-Aboriginal adoptive, or transfer-of-guardianship, home. The committee is chaired by the Deputy Director of Aboriginal Services. Aboriginal community members and an Executive Director from one of the Delegated Aboriginal Agencies all sit on the committee. In addition, the Provincial Director of Adoption and the Executive Director of Service responsible for the specific child being reviewed all participate on the committee.


The exceptions committee meets every third Wednesday of the month. The social worker for the child completes a submission seeking approval to place the child in a non-Aboriginal home once such a home has been identified.

The worker is required to provide the following:

  • a brief history of the child
  • the nature and extent of the Aboriginal community’s involvement in the proposed plan to place an Aboriginal child in a non-Aboriginal adoptive home, and the community’s views on the plan
  • the attempts to involve the extended family in identifying an appropriate Aboriginal home, and the attempts to explore placements with the child’s Aboriginal community
  • the attempts to explore placement with other Aboriginal communities if the child’s community is unwilling or unable to find an appropriate Aboriginal placement
  • other placements explored
  • an outline of the child’s needs and how the prospective non-Aboriginal adoptive home meets the needs of the child
  • the child’s view on the adoption plan

In addition to the exceptions submission, the worker, in conjunction with the child’s family and/or community, and the prospective adoptive family need to negotiate an appropriate cultural safety agreement. This agreement establishes that the child’s cultural identity will be preserved, including the aspects of the plan which will maintain cultural and/or kinship relationships. This agreement is signed by the child’s family or community representative and the prospective adoptive family, as it is an agreement between them that they will abide by the provisions in the agreement for the child’s best interests.


Approximately 70% of Aboriginal children are placed with Aboriginal adoptive families. That means 30% of the adoption plans for Aboriginal children go through the exception process. For fiscal year 2013/2014 there were 26 submissions to the exceptions committee. This number included 18 new submissions and 8 that came back to committee with changes or as resubmissions.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development is committed to ensuring that Aboriginal children’s cultural identities are preserved. This does not negate any other cultural heritage that a child may have. However, given the difficult and often traumatic history of Aboriginal peoples and the child welfare system, it is important to ensure that Aboriginal children are not further assimilated. We must ensure these children have the ability to retain the cultural identity of their Aboriginal family while also embracing the culture of their adoptive families.

Anne Clayton is the Executive of Guardianship, Adoption and Permanency for the Ministry of Child and Family Development.

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