In Canada, biological parents are entitled to a longer parental leave than adoptive parents, kin caregivers, and customary caregivers. But research shows adopted children need more time to attach. Time to Attach is a research and advocacy campaign lobbying for 15 more weeks of attachment leave for families formed through adoption, kinship, or customary care arrangements. In this article, two researchers explain the basis for the campaign and how we can bring about change together.
Strong support for attachment leave
A team of researchers from Western University and their community partner, Adopt4Life: Ontario’s Adoptive Parents Association, are advocating for a new class of employment insurance (EI) benefits for adoptive parents, kin caregivers, and customary caregivers.
They have been building an argument to offer adoptive parents an additional 15-week leave. This “attachment leave” would address the unique needs of adoptive families by allowing more time for children to attach to their parents or caregivers.
As part of this research, the team at Western surveyed almost 1000 adoptive parents, kin caregivers, and customary caregivers across Canada. Survey participants included mostly adoptive and waiting parents, although kin and customary caregivers were also represented.
Approximately three quarters of survey participants felt that the current employment insurance benefits, which only offer 35 weeks of parental leave to adoptive parents, did not give them or their children enough time to adjust to their new family. The survey asked about the complex challenges that their children experienced, such as navigating an openness agreement with birth parents, mental health challenges, or a physical disability. 84% of respondents reported two or more significant challenges, and an astounding 40% of respondents reported five or more.
The results confirm that strong support for an attachment leave exists: almost everyone (94%) agreed that it would benefit parents and children.
The team argues that these survey results support the need for an attachment leave, as do various political, legal, and economic considerations.
The team points out that although the current EI parental leave benefit system acknowledges the unique challenges faced by biological parents, it does not acknowledge the unique challenges faced by adoptive parents. One reason for this oversight may be that there is a general misunderstanding about the realities of adoption.
Taking it to Parliament
“The face of adoption is different than what most people picture”, says Cathy Murphy, executive director of the Adoption Council of Canada. “The reality is that most children or youth awaiting adoption in Canada are older, many over the age of 10. Many have experienced trauma and have complex needs. A 15-week attachment leave is long overdue to help support these children or youth and their parents.”
This past fall, the team went to Ottawa to meet with several MPs and policy advisors to advocate for this new class of employment insurance benefits. They were accompanied by the executive of Adopt4life and members of the Adoption Council of Canada, including Murphy. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with support from MPs across the political spectrum.
Karen Vecchio, MP for Elgin-Middlesex-London, tweeted, “One of the best meetings I have had as a MP. I learned so much and was so grateful to hear how your organization helps families. Truly amazing!”
The team plans on returning to Ottawa this spring to release their report and solidify support from MPs.