What Canadians Think About Adoption


Siobhan Rowe
Focus on Adoption magazine
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Though we often hear that one-in-five people are touched in some way by adoption, the level of public discourse about the subject is but a whisper. There is also very little sense of a general public attitude toward adoption—until now.

Two Canadian sociologists, Charlene Miall from McMaster University and Karen March from Carleton University, were aware of this lack of knowledge and in the first Canadian in-depth report on this subject decided to find out what Canadians really think about adoption.

The results are positive in some areas; in others, less so. They highlight the progress that the adoption community has made in changing attitudes but also illustrate where there is still much work to do. Though you will see that the approval rate of gay and lesbian adoption may seem low (see below), compared to 20 or 30 years ago when it was almost inconceivable, we can argue that there has been a definite shift. The approval rates of single parent adoption (see below) may also disappoint some readers, but may also shed light on why such prospective parents have to wait longer to be chosen by birth parents or even why they may face barriers within the public system.

An interesting thread evident throughout the findings is that male respondents in almost all the subject areas held more conservative attitudes than the women. In some cases, the difference was as much as 20%.

The study had two phases. The first involved 82 respondents (41 male and 41 female) from two Ontario cities who were interviewed in their homes. The second took the form of telephone interviews with 706 people, 18 or older, randomly selected from across Canada. The researchers estimate that there is a margin of error of 3.5 points. This is what they found

Approval of adoption

Over three quarters of the Canadians surveyed strongly approve of adoption as a family form. Over three quarters think that mothers basically feel the same way about their children whether they are adopted or not. For fathers the figure was approximately 70%.

Who should be able to adopt

Over 90% of Canadians surveyed considered married couples as very acceptable to adopt. Two thirds considered mixed-race couples and couples where one partner has a disability as very acceptable as adoptive parents. Common law couples were considered very acceptable by only 40% of respondents. Twenty-five percent considered single women very acceptable, 40% somewhat acceptable and approximately one third did not consider them acceptable as adoptive parents.

Less than 20% considered single men living on their own as very acceptable, although one third found them somewhat acceptable; 45% did not consider them acceptable.

Although the majority of Canadians surveyed did not consider lesbian couples very acceptable to adopt, 48% considered them very acceptable or somewhat acceptable. Men expressed a more negative response than women—58% versus 47%. The majority of those surveyed did not consider gay male couples very acceptable as adoptive parents, although they were nearly evenly divided on this question.

Fifty-four percent considered male gay couples not very or not at all acceptable. Forty-six percent considered them very acceptable or somewhat acceptable. Once again, the male respondents expressed a more negative response to gay male adoption than the women—61% versus 51%.

Single women living on their own and lesbian couples were assessed more positively as potential adopters than single men and gay male couples, although the differences weren’t large between lesbian and gay couples.

International adoption

There was overwhelming support —94%—for Canadians who adopt children from abroad.

Birth parents

One third of respondents strongly approved of birth mothers making an adoption plan, another third, somewhat approved. Women were more likely to strongly support the birth mother’s decision than men. The approval rates for birth fathers making an adoption plan was almost the same; however, once again, men were less approving. Over two thirds of respondents considered birth mothers and fathers responsible, caring and unselfish, though men consistently ranked birth mothers and birth fathers lower on those qualities than the females surveyed.

Revelation of adoption to children

Nearly 80% of respondents felt that adopted children should always be told about their adoptive status, but 20% said sometimes. Two percent felt that adopted children should never be told. Females expressed stronger support for telling than males—83% versus 70%.

Are adopted children more likely to be a problem?

Over two thirds of the respondents felt that children who have been adopted are no more likely to be a problem than non-adopted children. Twenty percent felt that they were likely to be less of a problem.

Levels of open adoption

Approximately one third of respondents strongly approved of the exchange of cards and letters, through a mediator, between adoptive parents and birth parents after adoption. Forty-three percent somewhat approved of this level of open adoption. Only 21% of Canadians surveyed strongly approved of ongoing face-to-face contact
between adoptive parents and biological parents after adoption had taken place.

Birth reunions

Forty-six percent strongly approved of reunions of birth parents and the children they placed for adoption. Forty-five percent somewhat approved. Females were more likely to strongly approve than males—52% versus 38%. Less than 10% somewhat or strongly disapproved.

Release of information

A large majority, 84%, expressed support for the release of confidential, identifying information to adult adoptees without the permission of adoptive parents or birth parents; however, though the figure in the latter case was 71%, and in the former, 84%. Just over half supported the release of such information to birth parents without the permission of adoptive parents. Forty-five percent did not support this option.

What to make of it all

Each individual will draw their own conclusions from these findings. For some, there will be few surprises—they have been on the receiving end of many of the attitudes expressed here. If adoptive families paid too much attention to what other people think, then many adoptions would never have taken place. Adoption is often at the forefront of changing attitudes, and adoptive parents have often had to brave the disapproval of others and forge ahead.

One often hears anecdotal reports that women are usually the driving force behind a family deciding to adopt a child. This survey clearly indicates that this is the case, and that men struggle more with issues around adoption. It may also tell us that our efforts to interest and educate men about adoption must be redoubled. Equally, it could tell us that we should focus on women because they appear to be more flexible in their attitudes toward adoption. It may also shed some light on why there is so little apparent interest in providing tax credits for the cost of adoption on the part of the mostly male, Canadian government.

Amidst the positive findings—strong support and sympathy for birth parents—general if modest levels of understanding about the importance of open adoption—there are some peculiar ones: the approval rate for international adoption being 95%, 20% higher than for adoption as a whole, and the fact that 20% of respondents thought that adopted children could be less of a “problem” than non-adopted children. The first may be a result of the difficult to dislodge opinion that parents adopting internationally are basically rescuing children. The second, may indicate the attitude that adoptive children are so grateful to have been adopted that they live the rest of their lives with undying gratitude to their parents!

The study is an interesting glimpse into what Canadians think about adoption. Though the second phase of the survey did cover the whole of Canada, the first phase concentrated on two Ontario cities. AFABC would like to see a similar survey done for British Columbia. Such intelligence would assist greatly in recruitment work for BC’s Waiting Children and in offering support to all adoptive families.

by Siobhan Rowe