Right now in Canada there are around 30,000 children in need of a permanent home, including more than 5,000 in Ontario alone.30,000 is the entire population of towns like Stratford, Orillia and Orangeville. It’s everyone in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
That’s 30,000 children with no one to call “mom;” no one to love them unconditionally; no one to fight to the death for them and their rights. It’s 30,000 children with no home to return to during the holidays, no siblings to grow up with.
Canada’s child welfare system is broken, but I refuse to believe it’s beyond repair because to do so would be to give up on these 30,000 kids. Instead, I’m going to tell you why we need adoption awareness month more than ever, and what you can do to help.
Adoption is both incredibly complex and shockingly simple. On the one hand, what could be more elemental than a child needing a family? On the other hand, all the red tape, oversight, legalese and policy that regulate child welfare in Canada make everything extremely slow and complex.
There is no national database or tracking system for adoptable children in Canada. Every province has its own model for approaching permanence and adoption and its own definition of what it means to be a child “in care.” One of the first questions we should be asking, therefore, is how can we solve the child welfare crisis when we don’t even know what’s really going on?
Overall, the Canadian system is fragmented with no one agency owning the problem from a national perspective. A divisive, uncoordinated “system” means that no one is working on solving this issue; no one, aside from the overwhelmed, under-resourced and under-funded provincial agencies, is advocating for these 30,000 children and the ones who’ll come after them.
The impact on the children is obvious and devastating: they will languish in foster care (often bouncing between multiple homes throughout their youth) never knowing what it’s like to feel the safety and security of a permanent family.
What it means for society is also grave because the unintended consequences of a failing system include youth who “age out” of foster care with nowhere to go and no one to teach them basic life skills. Aging out of care has been linked to increased incidents of unwanted pregnancy, unemployment and drug addiction.
A recent Canadian study also found that nearly three out of every five homeless youth had been part of the child welfare system at some point in their lives, making them 200 times more likely to be homeless than the general population.
For children fleeing abuse, foster care can be a safe haven, a necessary refuge where love, support and the basic necessities are provided. But no matter how generously foster parents provide and how hard they work to make a child feel loved and secure they are not, in most cases, a permanent solution. Foster care is meant to be temporary, not a permanent state of limbo where children are often bounced around from home to home year after year when circumstances change or the arrangement no longer suits.
I’ve been fortunate to meet some brilliant, loving and well-intentioned foster parents. But there simply aren’t enough of them out there, and even they will tell you the system isn’t working. Even they, who love and adore their kids, will bemoan the fact that children can be in their care for years before a permanent solution is found.
The fact that we are even discussing what to do with vulnerable children using words like “solution” tells us much of what we need to know about the current system.
Admittedly, I am biased. My husband and I adopted both of our children through children’s aid. Both were age four when they joined our family and both spent time in foster care. The idea that they could be one of these children growing up without a mommy and daddy, without presents under the tree, or grandparents to spoil them is something I can barely imagine. And yet it’s happening every day, all over this country.
I can tell you first hand that adoption isn’t for the faint of heart. Adopting an older child can be especially challenging but these are the children that need the love, attention and stability of a permanent family the most. Will love conquer all? No. Will the behavioural issues resulting from years of neglect and attachment issues disappear once they find permanence? Also no. But do these children deserve the right to live in safety and have security? Absolutely.
Ignoring this problem is not an option. Allowing 30,000 children to twist in the wind while the wheels of our archaic, disorganized system grind ever slowly forward is a disgrace. That Canada has one of the world’s highest rates of children in care should enrage and confuse all of us. How is this possible in a nation as rich, progressive and developed as ours?
Not everyone can adopt, but everyone can advocate. Most of us are capable of picking up the phone, sending an email or a tweet or writing a letter to our elected officials to demand action. That’s why Adoption Awareness Month is so important. We should be using this as a time to not only promote adoption as way of creating families and changing lives, but also to consider how and why our country is failing tens of thousands of our most vulnerable citizens. And to demand action.