Tonight, I find myself on yet another transatlantic flight and nothing gets me more stressed than overnight travel. Something to do with the anxiety, dark, and claustrophobia, I suppose, but I am in for a long sleepless evening. I want to know the superpower of those dozing around me. Grrr.
I never anticipated going back to this blog. It seemed like it had served a purpose, one I needed at a point of time. It was my digital version of standing on a mountain, screaming into the wind. Futile, yet therapeutic.
It amazes and humbles me that people still reach out about adoption. These readers have stumbled upon the blog either via a news article or an archived CBC interview. Admittedly, these emails are rarer these days and I generally refer them on to people more current with the issues. I have passed on a torch no one really wants or deserves.
I also received many weird messages; people who had tenuous leads on babies in need (hint: that is not how it works, and it’s illegal), or my personal favourite: the charming men who were awfully damn confident they could get me pregnant. The hardest ones are the unexpected emails urging us to try again. When they arrive in my inbox, they become the only secret I hide from my husband. I know you mean well, but the door is firmly and forever closed. No exceptions. No Disney ending. Close curtains, exit stage right.
Mostly, people want to know if we are okay. Thank you. Yes, we are okay. Often readers ask because they themselves are reaching the conclusion of their own painful experience with adoption in Ontario. There are a surprising number of these. They want reassurance they, too, will one day have a default setting of normal. I cannot answer that for you. I know your pain in my heart, but in good faith can promise nothing. As for us, we are different. Unexpectedly different, but moving on.
Basically, we have an acknowledged scar.
What I have discovered is being a woman of a certain age without children is tricky terrain to navigate, especially in the workplace. There is an assumption I only care about my career and have forsaken family life for it. This makes me think: a) don’t people google people anymore?!?! I have been on the nightly news more often than I would like as the patron saint of failed adoptions #justsayin’; and b) what difference would it make if I did?
Still, the stigma surrounding the childless woman is pervasive in a way I do not think it is for men, which is something I find insulting to my husband. There is no adequate room for him to be accepted and it hurts me when I see this. As for me being a “non-mom”, I am hyper aware of this anomaly. I recently landed my dream job. It is something I was so ecstatic and proud of; something which took two years of risk and hard graft to get to. A colleague remarked, “you probably made it because you don’t have any children”. Well then. I bet you are great fun at parties.
When people I meet ask me how many children I have, I refer to my answer as “the fart in an elevator”. I have to let it out, no one wants to acknowledge it, and there is always an awkward silence whilst we both try and recover. I have gotten better at it, I think. My response is a rapid, “We don’t actually have children but tell me about your family”. It gives an opportunity to gracefully exit the topic…more like a tiny butt peep that could be politely mistaken for a squeaky shoe sole. And no, I am not on a tirade about assuming people have families. People do. It’s a natural question.
That said, the role of a career woman without a family can breed contempt and suspicion, ironically most often amongst other career women. I was at a work event where a colleague brought in her newborn. For the record, I am not sad around children and embrace all of my friends who have let me graciously be an auntie. It works for both sides – I have a lot of love and disposable income. I am also very good at water balloon fights.
On this particular day, this baby was not enjoying the crowd and spent quite a bit of time wailing their little lungs out. From across the room, a colleague (who had three children and knew our situation) shouted, “you should try picking her up, Lori *smirk*”. Talk about dropping the gauntlet dripping with oestrogen. If she ever reads this blog, my only words would be: I envy people who have not met you.
Luckily, these are the outliers. People are generally respectful and we have been fortunate to have many rally around us, especially when another news item about CAS comes out and we are brought up. Likewise, we are appreciative of those who stuck by us when we were not at our best. A special shout out to the childhood friend who continued to invite us to their family swimming party for eight years, even though we declined every one with a fake excuse because it was too overwhelming to see our peers with children all at once. But you persisted and when we finally attended, all of you welcomed us with open arms. We are grateful.
So what about now? Personally, I do not want to talk about our story much more. We became little wind-up dolls; mention CAS and we could spin for hours. I was public with the blog and advocacy for a purpose, but some things now need to stay whispered across held hands with my husband only. I still sit on the Board of Adopt4Life, a secular organisation dedicated to increasing permanency options for all youth in Ontario, and also provide valuable resources to awaiting and those parenting. If you are at all involved in adoption or youth in care, you need to visit.
For those who want to support us, this is our ask: there is a provincial election coming up and candidates will be coming to your door. Please, ask them about their stance on improving services for children in care. Do they support equal parental leave for adoptive parents? Do they plan on addressing the shortcomings of CAS? We need those elected to stay accountable to our youth. Also spare a thought for the poor candidates knocking on our door….I will be tenacious.
As for me, grief is a very nebulous thing. This will always be a part of me, but it can no longer be my epithet. I need to be other things now. I need to get over my fear of flying. I need my empty arms to become open ones.
To everyone, thank you.
It has been two months since we made the decision to end our adoption efforts. Things feel uneasy, unsteady. Putting down a heavy weight isn’t as easy as you’d think. You are used to the burden; nothing snaps back into place, accommodating a phantom mass.
There is a feeling of reluctant release; the end of dealing with a system that we ceased to have faith in. No more advocating, waiting, and frustration. The buzz of an iPhone no longer brings a rush of hope and a wave of anxiety. We are quietly relieved of duty.
Still, the void is always there. It’s an emptiness we have known for many years. When we moved into our house a decade ago, we saved a room for a child. A couple of years ago, we repainted it preparing for our homestudy. Late at night I made a video I could use as part of our child’s memory book. I spoke about how much we were hopeful, panning the room to show the stuffed animals, books, and toys.
I stumbled across that video recently. Watching it again made me want to reach through the glass, smack me across the face, shake me silly, and tell me what a fucking endless heartbreak we were setting ourselves up for.
The video, along with the photos of every child we were matched with and then declined, have been deleted from our computers. The room is empty.
We move about our day to day lives with that open and unused space. I’d like to say I’ve done something big and symbolic to reclaim the space, but no. It’s a place I rarely spend more than a few moments in. It just is.
“It looks like freedom / But it feels like death / It’s something in-between I guess” – Leonard Cohen
A few weeks after we made our decision, I sat in my office and felt beyond overwhelmed. I packed up my stuff and walked clear out of the building. I didn’t have a destination, but knew I needed out. I ended up at the Alex Colville exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. More specifically, I found myself sat in front of his painting “Horse and Train”. Colville depicts a majestic black horse galloping straight towards a train; both are moving on the same track and it is inevitable they will collide straight on.
I spent a lot of time looking at this painting. I know the horse is not going to survive against the train, yet it keeps running. It stays determined on the track even though there is an entire open field to either side. It is a haunting, striking, painting and it spoke to me on many levels. We couldn’t control the train heading straight towards us, but the horse isn’t forced to follow the track.
I used to believe that everything happens for a reason. This faith was my touchstone for every set back and challenge.
I no longer believe this. In fact, it makes me chuckle with cynicism.
We’ll never look back on this experience and say, “we learnt so much from this”. I’m very confident making this statement. This didn’t make us better or stronger people. A family was never created. There’s a child stuck in foster care who will never be matched with us and will never know they were wanted. It was a complete and utter waste of love and hope.
It’s easy to say we should just keep waiting and trying. I would pose the question: could you really build your family within a system that you have no trust in? It wasn’t impatience that made us stop. It was an inability to believe decisions were being made in children’s best interest. How can we be a part of that? (Could you?)
So what’s in the future for us? For one thing, we can stop running and begin to heal. We desperately wish the adoption system would be different, but we are getting older and it won’t change in time for us.
We are gradually coming back to the surface, exploring other ways to contribute to youth. I’m thinking about returning to my roots and volunteer teach English-As-a-Second Language. Big Brothers and Sisters are an organisation we hope we can get involved with. We want to travel, renovate the house, spend time together.
The blog will likely stay quiet, but I am grateful to everyone who read, supported us, and shared their experiences. Thank you.
After my husband wrote an open letter to Tracy MacCharles, Ontario’s Minister of Children and Youth Services, he received the following response, which we transcribed from the printed letter. We wanted to share and highlight in particular that the Minister in her response letter is inviting active involvement in the review of Ontario’s Child and Families Services Act, which is currently underway. Please see the end of the letter for the link.
Before receiving the letter from Minister MacCharles, my husband also got an emailed reaction to his letter from the PC Party critic for Children and Youth Services, Jim McDonell, which is posted below the Minister’s letter. Although we recently ended our own adoption journey, we are grateful to Minister MacCharles and Jim McDonell for taking the time to respond and react. Martin had also shared the open letter with the NDP’s critic Monique Taylor, and with Mary Ballantyne, Executive Director of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies. Neither bothered with a reaction.
Letter from Minister MacCharles – Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services, Oct 17 2014
Dear Mr. Hofmann:
Thank you for your kind words of congratulations and for your correspondence to me and Deputy Minister Alexander Bezzina regarding adoption. I appreciate the opportunity to respond and provide you with some information.
I am pleased to hear that you are passionate about improving Ontario’s adoption system and want to thank you for sharing your recommendations. The government is committed to increasing the number of children in care placed in permanent homes so they can reach their full potential. In 2008, the Expert Panel on Infertility and Adoption was established to provide advice on improving Ontario’s adoption system. The panel’s August 2009 report, Raising Expectations: Recommendations of the Expert Panel on Infertility and Adoption, included 39 recommendations related to increasing adoptions and improving adoption services.
The government has implemented many of the recommendations, including:
· removing the legal barriers to adoption for Crown wards with an access order through the Building Families and Supporting Youth to Be Successful Act, 2011;
· providing additional funding to children’s aid societies to reduce the length of time persons have to wait for a homestudy to be completed in order to be approved for adoption;
· expanding the number of Adoption Resource Exchange events across Ontario; and
· providing targeted subsidies through societies to eligible parents who adopt or gain legal custody of Crown wards who are either siblings or ages 10 and older to help with the cost of caring for those children.
The Ministry of Children and Youth Services recognizes the importance of making it easier for prospective adoptive parents to navigate the adoption system, and increasing the number of children placed in permanent homes. That is why we provide funding to the Adoption Council of Ontario to manage the AdoptOntario program. This is a bilingual website tool that provides technological support to children’s aid societies to find the best match for children with prospective adoptive families across Ontario. The website also allows for collaboration and sharing of adoption resources between adoption practitioners, increasing the possibility of finding a match for prospective parents and children who are registered on the databank.
In your letter, you identified the need to improve the adoption process after Adoption Resource Exchange events. This year, the ministry is supporting the Adoption Council of Ontario to develop new automated features in the AdoptOntario program. The new features will send electronic updates on recruitment to adoption workers to help them identify appropriate strategies, track progress, and identify next steps in the process for each child registered on the AdoptOntario databank and presented at an adoption event. This will help societies improve follow-up with prospective adoptive parents after Adoption Resource Exchange events.
You also identified the need to improve oversight of children’s aid societies. Our government understands the importance of ensuring there is appropriate oversight of the child welfare system. We believe in the important work done by children’s aid societies and have mandated mechanisms in place to ensure the accountability of societies. For example, we require all societies to have clear, transparent and consistent complaint review procedures as set out in the Child and Family Services Act. We have established independent bodies such as the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth and the Child and Family Services Review Board. We have also provided the Ombudsman with the authority to investigate complaints, report and make recommendations arising from reviews about the board.
As part of Ontario’s Open Government initiative, we are taking steps to further strengthen oversight of the sector. We have re-introduced Bill 8, Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014, to strengthen accountability, enhance oversight, and increase transparency in the public and broader public sectors. This bill, if passed, will amend the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth Act, 2007, to give the Provincial Advocate new powers that are similar to the Ombudsman, and will allow him to investigate matters relating to services provided by children’s aid societies.
While much has been accomplished to increase permanency for children and youth in care and help more families to adopt, the government recognizes that more needs to be done. That is why improving outcomes for children and youth through permanent placements, including adoption, will be a key area of focus in the third review of the Child and
Family Services Act that is currently underway. The review was announced recently on September 24, and is to be completed in 2015. I encourage you to be actively involved and engaged in the review process. More information about the review can be found on our website at: http://www.children.gov.on.caihtdocs/English/about/CFSA2014/index.aspx. The ministry will continue to work closely with the child welfare sector to improve adoption services. We will also review other jurisdictions’ practices to better support children and youth in care to reach their full potential, and ensure appropriate mechanisms are in place to hold societies accountable.
Again, thank you for writing and sharing your recommendations.
C: Deputy Minister Alexander Bezzina
Email from Jim McDonnell, PC Party Critic for Children and Youth Services, Oct 14, 2014
Thank you for CC’ing me into your correspondence to the Minister of Children and Youth Services. As the PC Critic for the Ministry, I am pleased to respond.
It is vitally important to provide a developing child with a strong, supportive and stable family environment in which to grow and thrive. Willing and suitable adoptive families should not have to face the administrative hurdles that many experience today.
The Ontario PC Caucus has previously supported expanding the Ombudsman’s oversight to Children’s Aid Societies and we expect to do so again when the issue eventually comes before the House. The Ombudsman is a trusted official whose advocacy on Ontarians’ behalf is strong and constructive. Most CAS workers are dedicated to their clients’ welfare and to ensuring children can exit CAS protection and succeed – Ombudsman oversight will ensure Ontarians trust them wholeheartedly to fulfill this mandate.
Family law and adoption procedures need to reflect the need for strong protection for the child (which includes thorough background checks) and to ensure the child’s biological family is not placed at a disadvantage. Several constituents who have sought my office’s assistance in CAS and adoption matters have imparted to me how each family and each child are different, and cannot be fit into a one-size-fits-all approach.
I will work with all stakeholders to ensure prospective adoptive parents have convenient access to all the services they need in order to prove their eligibility for adopting a child and that the procedures for placing a child with a family, or transitioning a child from foster status to adoption are as smooth as possible.
Member of Provincial Parliament
A year ago we were completing our homestudy and slowing starting to announce our adoption plans.
Today, I met with our local CAS and had an amazingly positive discussion on the adoption system in Ontario and ways to improve it. Sadly, it’s not going to get better in time for us.
Yesterday, I made a visit to Goodwill, It was to donate all of the items we had purchased for a child we hoped to raise.
With much grief and guilt, we are stopping our efforts to adopt.
I know now is when I should be offering explanations and extending gratitude to everyone who helped us on this journey. We will, but all of that tidying up will have to wait.
Right now, we are quietly dealing with this new reality in our family. And it is painful.
We also know everyone means well, but we are far from being ready to handle any words of sympathy or comfort. It’s suddenly a very blank time. We will come back to everyone when we can, and hope that you’ll understand.
We would’ve been good parents.
I haven’t been active here as I’ve been trying to reach a wider audience about adoption issues. In case you’ve missed it, I wrote an article for the National Post and was interviewed by Martin Regg Cohn for The Toronto Star. I’m very grateful to both publications for helping to spread the word about adoption in Ontario.
So here’s the latest from Adoptionville:
A couple of weeks ago I did something that is so completely out of character that it startled me. I’m very lucky to travel the places I do for my job and this month, there was a meeting in Milan. I sat in the taxi to the airport and realised that I hadn’t checked the gate for my flight so I searched my iPhone, annoyed that I couldn’t locate the flight details on my calendar. It wasn’t until I did a full search that I made a pretty shocking discovery – my flight wasn’t leaving until the following day…
Funny story? Okay, yes. I was pretty sheepish having to ask the driver to turn around because, um, I’m too ditzy to know how to read a calendar. My husband was also surprised to see me lugging my suitcase back up the driveway having said good-bye only twenty minutes before (yes, I overpacked for Milan and I regret nothing).
The thing is, I don’t forget things like this. Dates, details, especially when it comes to travel, are just not things I don’t double and triple check. It wasn’t just screwing up a flight date. It was a pretty solid reminder that things just aren’t going well.
Those who know me would be amused to hear me say that I’m not a very zen person (stop laughing). This is me, and I have to embrace it. I can be laser focused, determined, and project management is in my DNA. It also means I grind my teeth and carry hand santiser in every purse and coat pocket.
Lately, it has been harder. We’ve gone through six rejections and I’m haunted by every single one. I wonder what families these children have gone to. Are they happy? Are they safe?
The cracks are starting to show. Upset stomach is a norm. Sleep is fitful. I’m sporting a red cystic pimple the size of a nickel smack in the centre of my eyebrows. In good news it solves my Halloween costume – I’ll make a fantastic unicorn. And yes, there are plenty of tears.
I made arrangements to miss fly home early from Milan so that we would be able to attend the CAS in-take meeting. We have been waiting for six months as they are held infrequently, but are mandatory, if you want to be a part of their program.
True, the facilitator was excellent, and the content was extremely informative for anyone new and considering adoption…but I have no idea why as an AdoptReady couple, already licensed and approved, we had to not only wait to attend, but had to postpone our intake for half a year until there was a session.
There was not one topic that hadn’t already been covered in our PRIDE training. We sat for two hours listening to a basic lecture on issues like openness, foetal alcohol syndrome, Crown Wards, and how children are placed in care. No, we are not experts or social workers, but we have done all of the provincial mandatory training, reading, and activities required to obtain our homestudy. Nothing discussed was unfamiliar to us and it was just a box to be ticked.
Well, I am ticked. I’m sick and tired of the waste of CAS at the emotional cost to children in their care. I’m bloody ticked.
The facilitator stressed that the majority of children needing forever families were adolescents (something we already knew and were accepting of). So let me ponder this: a child needlessly waited an extra half a year while we waited for this intake session? That doesn’t include the fact that CAS won’t accept our private homestudy from the province, so that’s even more time waiting. It doesn’t take complex formulas to determine why so many adolescents are in need when this is how the system operates.
I’ll close off with the only new content we were shown at intake, which are their statistics. To note, Toronto CAS boasts the highest placement rate of all Children’s Aid Societies in Ontario.
– 68 children in Toronto were placed. This is down from the average of 80 in previous years
– placements are decreasing as there are more kin placements (when a child is placed with family or acquaintances)
– 68 homestudies were completed in 2013
To put this into perspective, 679 people contacted Toronto CAS in 2013 about adoption. This means 90% drop off and only a tiny fraction become parents, since most children placed are part of sibling groups.
I cringe to think about what the statistics at other Children’s Aid Societies are if this is what excellent looks like.
Oh, and there was no reply from Children’s Aid Society to either article, or our letter.
After experiencing many of the complications, frustrations, and lack of solutions offered for adoption in Ontario, we’ve decided that while we might not become parents, it is clear that our knowledge can help improve the system. We know the problems first-hand and there are answers.
I’ve recently joined the Board of Advisors at Adopt4Life – you can learn about them here. We will be meeting with the Ministry of Youth and Children Services in a couple of weeks in an effort to create a stable framework for pre- and post- adoption services. This is the only way to truly put Ontario’s children first. (And if you are an awaiting family, consider sharing your story on the private Facebook page)
My husband wrote the following letter to To The Hon. Tracy MacCharles, Minister of Children and Youth Services. I’m publishing it here because it’s an excellent summary of what is happening and what needs to change.
We would be grateful if you’d not only take a moment to read, but also to consider using it to write your own message to your MP, MPP, or MCYS.
List of MPs – http://www.parl.gc.ca/Parliamentarians/en/members
List of MPPs – http://www.ontla.on.ca/lao/en/members/
Ministry of Children and Youth Services – http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/contact/index.aspx
Adoption for the Rest of Us: Seven Recommendations for Ontario
Open Letter to The Honourable Tracy MacCharles, Minister of Children and Youth Services
Dear Minister MacCharles,
Congratulations on your recent appointment to Minister of Children and Youth Services in Ontario. I was happy to read that you have a background in human resources and are passionate about “organizational change and effectiveness”. Please apply your passion and skills to improve Ontario’s inefficient adoption system.
The first time my wife Lori and I attended the semi-annual Adoption Resource Exchange (ARE), an event to help “locate and match adoptive families with Ontario children needing adoption”, the profile video of a little girl stuck with me. Looking straight into the camera, she told her viewers that “if you are good parents, please adopt me; if you are bad parents, don’t apply”. Based on the number of available waiting families, one would think that there are enough “good” potential parents for her. Yet, more than a year later, the girl’s profile was still listed as available for adoption.
The longer Lori and I are a “waiting adoptive family”, the more it becomes clear that unless it is a kin adoption by relatives, Ontario’s system struggles to connect prospective parents to the many waiting children. It is time for the Ontario Government to improve adoption for the rest of us.
People working in the system keep saying to us that “it’s all about putting the interests of the children first”. We wholeheartedly agree with the premise. But why then are non-kin adoption numbers so low? Why does adoption often take years? If Ontario is serious about putting the interests of the children first, it should speed up its slow system. Here are seven thought starters.
1. Move adoption to the top of your to-do list
Many of the flaws in the system were identified and put into government reports by 2010. Nothing substantial has happened since then. Years have been lost. How is this inactivity helping the waiting children? Please make adoption a top priority for your mandate as a minister. Act now.
2. Learn from other jurisdictions
A good start would be to look at how other jurisdictions have improved their adoption systems. For example, England was able to reduce adoption times, so that parents “can now become approved as an adopter within six months and can have a child placed with [them] within three months after that”. Change came through the leadership of people like David Akinsanya, a former foster child who was frustrated about never being adopted. Please talk to David and others with the right experience.
3. Put real oversight in place
Perhaps the biggest systemic flaw is the lack of real oversight of Children’s Aid Societies. We have personal experiences with the effects of this. One example is a child profiled at ARE, a forum that is supposed to help speed up adoption. We submitted a letter of intent through AdoptOntario to the responsible Children’s Aid Society (CAS). After three months of silence, the CAS said it never received our letter. AdoptOntario says they definitely sent it. No resolution. Hopefully, the child has been matched with a family whose application wasn’t lost.
My wife has received emails from other prospective parents with similar stories of inefficiencies and random decision-making. People in the system have told us that collaboration between the provincial and local parts of the adoption system is difficult. There is clear friction. “Putting the children first” would mean overcoming obstacles to an efficient partnership, and working together to get children and parents matched.
The generic information we received from your Ministry of Children and Youth Services and from the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies make it sound like standards are in place, including a complaints process involving the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, the Child and Family Services Review Board (CFSRB), and the Provincial Ombudsman (who can only investigate the CFSRB). This convoluted process seems designed to proactively avoid being helpful or meaningful.
A key recommendation in Bill 42, currently stuck in the weeds at Queen’s Park, is to make Children’s Aid Society’s accountable to the Ontario Ombudsman. This would help eliminate some of the friction. I urge you to push the bill forward, convince your MPP colleagues of its merit, and improve oversight.
4. Create accountability in the system
Accountability mechanisms are missing or not working. For example, after the same ARE, we submitted a letter of intent for another child, along with thirteen other couples. Months later, and only after my wife persistently raised questions, the responsible Children’s Aid Society admitted (over the phone only) that the file had not been touched since the ARE event.
Isn’t it imperative that the few kids whose profiles have been prioritized for ARE over the thousands of other waiting children get matched quickly? Especially if there are fourteen waiting families interested in one child? Why bother highlighting these kids only to move them to the bottom of the pile again?
My wife heard from other adoptive families with similar stories. One family applied for a sibling group of three at one ARE, never heard back, and the same children appeared again at ARE a year later. From the perspective of those families it may be frustrating; but how devastating is it for a child in the system to think there aren’t any “forever families” for her or him?
These may be singular examples, but are they really exceptions? How many children are kept in foster care way longer than necessary? How much does it cost to keep them there? How many resources are clogged up because of inertia? Where is the accountability? How is the adoption progress of individual children tracked? Who is actually checking and following up on it? Please simplify and improve accountability in the system.
5. Change the approach
Changing the system is possible. One idea for shortening the adoption cycle is to better separate in-take of parents and case management of children. Given the severity of situations that adoption workers have to deal with, it is no wonder they struggle to both actively help traumatized, abandoned children, and manage the matching process with adoptive families. Of course they will prioritize an urgent situation, and rightly so.
This leads to bottlenecks. For example, Toronto CAS is only holding its second in-take meeting of the whole year this October. Why not centralize in-take and keep case management local? Appropriately staffed, these separate units would work more efficiently. It would require modifications to the heavily decentralized approach Ontario is currently taking with its legally independent Children’s Aid Societies. Your leadership in spearheading change in this area is critical.
6. Stop prospective parents from dropping out
Creating separate approaches for in-take of prospective parents and case management of waiting children may also help keep more adoptive families in the system. The P.R.I.D.E. training for adoptive families at the beginning of the process is an excellent introduction to adoption, and an eye-opener in many ways. Even there, participants are often told that a successful completion can last two to four years.
My wife writes a blog (http://DorothyWasAdopted.wordpress.com/) about our adoption experience, where she is also publishing this letter. She hears from other families a lot. Many write to say they have either given up or are thinking about it. How many prospective parents has Ontario lost because they abandoned the adoption process due to a slow system that scares away instead of nurturing interest? It’s in the interest of the children to find better ways of keeping waiting parents in the system.
7. Modernize processes and technology
Decentralization, fragmentation and outdated paper-based processes are working against the interests of the children. Bringing together disjointed databases of children across Ontario and Canada is a first step, but much more could be done to speed up the process. England has made the process fast and transparent by removing administrative barriers and putting accountability checks in place. Combine this experience with technology excellence that makes complex processes faster, easier and more user-friendly.
The Government of Ontario has created the MaRS Discovery District to foster research-driven and technology-based innovation. Why not team up experienced adoption workers with some of the young bright minds coming out of University of Waterloo and other Ontario universities to start a project for modernized adoption processes at MaRS?
In conclusion, I know that I am self-servingly looking at the adoption system through the eyes of a waiting parent. Frontline work with children matters most, and I truly hope the system is much better on that end. Based on what my wife and I have experienced since starting our journey two years ago, I wonder how often “putting the interests of the children first” is used as a phrase to shield from accountability and unwanted collaboration.
How many kids in Ontario grow up without ever having a family to belong to because the system denies them the chance, despite the availability of adoptive families?
Minister MacCharles, speed up the adoption process, so that more forever families are created faster. It is doable, someone at the top just has to lead the way. I hope you are the one to make a difference for the many waiting children and prospective parents in Ontario. Thank you for listening.
So this is a first for the blog…I am writing this post from the Business Class cabin of an Air Canada plane, flying back to Toronto from Paris. Sounds glamourous, and I suppose it is – I know I am very privileged to travel the way I do for my job (because believe me, I could not afford this ticket on my own!). I should be enjoying the luxury and the fact that I am returning home after a long work trip. Sadly, it doesn’t actually feel all that great. I mean, the reclining seats and large pillows are nice, but I’m not settled. Actually, I feel quite awful.
A few months ago I was making this very same trip for a project. During that flight I ended up with a little stowaway beside me. There was a family traveling from India, via Paris, with three little children…a baby, a toddler, and a lovely young boy of seven who quickly became my air buddy.
I will admit it: I used to be the type of passenger who cringed seeing the stroller approach down the airplane aisle. I’ve had enough experiences with crying babies, poopy diapers, and seats being kicked, thank you very much. When we got on the adoption train a few years ago suddenly parents become objects of curiosity. It may sound creepy, but I couldn’t help but watch and wonder…would that be us one day? Will we be juggling toys and blankets while we bring our child home from Lithuania?
Back to my wee friend in the skies – this family had already been traveling for twelve hours and another eight hours was proving exhausting. I couldn’t sleep anyway, so I passed my iPad to the eldest boy to see if he would welcome a distraction from the long trip, especially since his parents were already busy with his two younger siblings. He took the bait and soon was happily playing away.
When we decided to adopt from Lithuania, one of the things I did was download a bunch of children’s apps to learn English. Yes, I know – a bit premature. I figured they would come in handy. And they did. Here I was, 38,000 feet in the air, with such a kind little boy, playing games to learn colours and numbers. It wasn’t a trip from Lithuania, and it certainly wasn’t my son, but for a few hours, it was a break from reality. The parents were happy for the extra set of hands, and I got to play fantasy parent until we touched down in Toronto.
So sitting here on the plane flying home I am startled by a recent and harsh truth:
We will never make this trip home with our child. There will be no long flight from Lithuania; no comforting a little one while their ears hurt during landing; no playing games or pointing out shapes in the clouds. There will be no iPhone video footage to show of the trip, no Welcome Home banner on the porch, no luggage to unpack. It will not happen. Ever.
I don’t know how to grieve this anymore, so I guess I will just tell the story. I have a good seven hours…
Our first rejection from Lithuania was devastating. We had a set of photos of this child, a story, a plan, and in one quick email, it was over. When we were presented with a second child who was deemed a good match, we made every attempt to keep our hearts closed and our heads clear. For the record, this is impossible.
When you are matched, you must review the entire file of the child and put together a proposal on why you would be great parents for this specific child. This means pouring over every detail about the child’s history in an effort to match your skill set and resource against their needs. You also have about 48 hours to do it. We wrote and rewrote, reformatted and edited our letter, finally sending it for translation and submission.
Needless to say, we were rejected.
In the Lithuania program you do receive details on why you were not selected as parents as well as details about why a different set of parents were chosen. For this child, they are truly going to a good home that can accommodate their unique needs. They will be loved. This is the perfect outcome. It’s odd to grieve a happy ending, but it’s certainly what I am doing while flying over the Atlantic Ocean.
We know we cannot go through this again.
In both of our rejections, it was clear that the selected families had advantages that we will never have. All were younger, had degrees in child psychology or pedagogy, and already had young children. That’s null for three. Sure, our adoption practitioner urges us not to give up hope. Well, there’s hope and then there’s reality.
I know I cannot look at another photo and read another dossier only to try and fail. We can’t endure another tidal wave of this. That’s why we have decided to stop our adoption efforts in Lithuania and refocus on Ontario.
This decision might come as a surprise given the poor luck that we have had with CAS the past six months. And really, it’s not a choice. I mean, we have not even been told by our CAS if we can attend the in-take in October. Still, it is where we are – the gap between the two trapeze swings, flying between two countries, suspended.
We are lucky to have such an incredible village of friends and family around us – and I know many of you want to say sorry and offer your thoughts. These are all appreciated. But it’s going to take some time for us to get back on our feet.
In the meantime, I have been refocusing a lot of my energy on the adoption community and lobbying for change within CAS and MCYS. At the end of it all, this is not about us as parents, but about a lot of kids who need homes. Watch this space for some serious kicking.
Now, time to recline my seat and think about what to do when I land.
You worry a lot about making a good impression when you are trying to adopt. During the homestudy phase the drive home after every social worker meeting was a detailed dissection that would rival any CSI Autopsy. Did we say the right thing? Was wearing jeans too casual? I wish I had remembered to turn off my mobile ringer! And so forth.
We were lucky to work with a very good social worker, but it’s still a difficult process. You can’t help but keep in the back of your mind that someone is looking at every aspect of you to decide if you can parent a child. It’s daunting, to say the least.
You also agonise over a lot of forms and applications. Some border on the obtuse like, “On a scale of 1-10 how desirable is a speech impediment? Autism? Sexual Abuse?” (seriously, the word used is “desirable”) or “Which of the following conditions would you be willing to accept – AIDS/HIV, Asthma, Lice, Cleft Palate, etc.” The lice question still perplexes me to this day.
It’s hard not to develop a bit of a wicked sense of humour. In one of the many essays we have had to complete, under the question “Why do you want to adopt?” we gleefully drafted an entire response that ranged from, “we are bored blaming all of our farts on the cat” to “I would finally have an acceptable response for why I have the TomKat app on my iPad” to “Starbucks isn’t going to fetch itself on Sunday mornings, you know?”.
At times, it feels like you are marketing yourself as parents, and it just isn’t easy. This week, I threw away all of those tendencies. I went full throttle for answers.
I’m not sure I did the right thing.
Last post I wrote about a boy from ARE. The fact that no progress had been made on his profile quite frankly haunted me. I couldn’t sleep, and if I did, I was awake within the hour thinking about him. Random thoughts like it’s August already, so he will have to not only join a new family, but change schools. If he transitioned over the summer, he would have had a better chance. I could not let it go. So, I called back the director at his CAS, leaving a voice message that I probably re-recorded eight times.
When I didn’t hear back for two days was when I began sending my postcards from the edge. I emailed anyone, and everyone, I could find associated with this particular CAS. I struck gold when I found online an old PowerPoint presentation that had several Board of Directors’ email addresses. I contacted them and where possible, also tweeted to them. I emailed the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS), and MCYS. It was a bit like a cyber “bombs away!!!!”.
As you can imagine, things moved pretty quickly at this point. One Board of Director Member took my concerns very seriously (thank you, thank you). We finally received an update the next day – no, we were not shortlisted for this boy.
It’s a heartbreaking message to hear and one we have encountered more times than we like to admit. Even when you know the chances are remote to none, hope still digs in. There are tears every time.
Speaking of hope, what I do have are personal assurances that this boy’s case is now being seriously looked at and monitored for progress. I wish for his forever home to be found soon and he has a chance to thrive.
I’m hardly suggesting I am some patron saint to foster children. I’m not a social worker and I’m an outsider looking in on this system. Ultimately, it is still CAS that has to do all of the hard work. But, with no oversight, no independent body like the Ombudsman to answer to, CAS has no accountability. And things DO fall through the cracks, which is a dangerous state when children are involved. For example:
My email to OACAS also earned me a hasty reply from CAS Z about a young girl we had also never received a reply about. The good news: there are now two families selected for her and the matching process is proceeding. The bad news: CAS Z says they never received our Expression of Interest (EOI).
When you submit an EOI, it is done via the AdoptOntario website. We received email confirmation that our EOI was forwarded. This morning, we called AdoptOntario who indeed confirmed the time and recipient of our EOI form. Yet CAS Z says they never received it. Just another tumble down the rabbit hole.
I don’t quite know where we stand now. I already know from conversations that my name is damn recognizable around Ontario CASs – which is an achievement I will not proudly add to my CV.
Did I do the right thing this week? In questioning the system, have I placed a scarlet letter on our profile? I have no clue. Maybe this blog isn’t even such a good idea.
But, as I told one CAS worker – If I will advocate this hard for children we’re not even matched with, imagine what we would do for our own child?
I suppose it’s time for an update, although there isn’t too much to share from Adoptionville. Things lately are a little bit like the TV shows Lost, The Amazing Race, and Let’s Make a Deal. No idea what’s happening, but we have to clear a gazillion crazy hurdles to get there, and no guarantees for what’s behind doors #1, #2, or #3.
Our biggest challenge right now is dealing with Children’s Aid Societies. I realize I risk quite a bit by speaking out about our experiences with them, but I also don’t believe in silence. Yes, there are many people there who work hard and don’t have an easy job. I can’t even begin to imagine the situations they witness. Still, I have questions.
There is no independent oversight of CAS. There is currently an effort in Ontario (Bill 42) to place CAS under the review of the Ombudsman, but that is still in debate. For more information about Bill 42 – click here.
At the last ARE (Adoption Resource Exchange), two profiles looked like good matches for our family. We eagerly submitted our interest via our social worker….in May. We heard nothing back until I lost my patience last Thursday and called CAS X directly to determine our status. (Note: I’m withholding all CAS locations in this post). This phone call was a bold move and I put my Mamma Tiger on full throttle. I was passed from person to person, and then to a supervisor (for anonymity, I’ll call him John) who seemed to have some appreciation that four months was a very long time for a response.
My conversation with John was quite enlightening, in the way that you call learning not to place your hand in a pot of boiling oil enlightening. Basically, he did not know the status and no, we could not register with CAS X as you can only deal with the CAS that matches your postal code. So this begs two questions:
– Why were able to apply for this particular child at ARE, no matter what damn address we have?
– The AdoptOntario database is supposed to match children with families across the entire province. So what difference do our GP coordinates make if we might be a great match for a child less than 20 KM away?
Within five minutes of speaking with John, the phone rang. It was a social worker from CAS X. She informed me that no efforts had been in the case of the child we expressed interest in. I was told that the person in charge of the profile had been on leave and now on vacation, but that fourteen families had submitted applications. She did not have a timeline for when the cases would be reviewed.
This little boy is considered a “hard to place” due to his age and other factors. Yet, there are FOURTEEN families interested in finding out more about him. A homestudy is about twelve pages. Multiply that by fourteen and it’s about 170 pages of reading. Of course there are many, many, more steps taken before a match is considered, but I also know that the longer a child is in foster care, the harder it is for them to adjust to a new, permanent, home.
The cynical part of me doesn’t really believe the explanation for the delay, which I know is harsh. But take into consideration the following: we also applied for a young girl in another region at ARE. Do you think anyone has called us or our social worker back? No. Likewise, only one of the families that we are connected with from ARE received an update. CAS is supposed to respond to all applications, even in the case of a decline. So now you know why I’m doubtful.
Back to our local CAS. I have to be fair and say that after getting past the dragon at the gate who answers the phones at CAS (the one who basically said don’t bother, we aren’t interested, and you aren’t the right race, and you wouldn’t be able to parent any of our children anyway) the woman (I’ll call her Grace) who manages adoption in-take made a considerable effort to get in touch and answer our questions. This was greatly appreciated and has been extremely helpful. Still, individual efforts can’t change the fact that (to quote another show, Laverne & Shirley) this is still quite the schmozzle.
CAS does not accept our current SAFE homestudy that has been approved by the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services. According to the dragon, CAS takes at least another year to complete an additional homestudy. Luckily, this was clarified by Grace as a misnomer, but that yes, additional homestudy elements are required. Our current SAFE homestudy isn’t enough.
Secondly, adoption in-take is only twice a year, and by invitation only. If the need to place children is so great, then why isn’t more of an effort being made to enroll parents more often than every six months? Likewise, if MCYS has approved our homestudy, which is extremely comprehensive and took a year to complete, why does CAS require more investigation? Yes, we ALL want to operate in the best interests of the children, but something just doesn’t seem quite right.
The next CAS in-take meeting is in October and we haven’t received confirmation that we are eligible to attend. Until then, I’ve discovered another hobby – contacting any political representative I can about Bill 42. There needs to be impartial, independent oversight of how CAS operates in Ontario.
If you’re in a similar situation with adoption in Ontario, please reach out via comments, or drop me an email. If you are interested in changing adoption in Ontario, please reach out to your MPP and urge them to enact Bill 42. You’d not just be helping us, but the thousands of families and children caught up in the system. Thank you.
In other news, we had to update our RCMP Interpol clearance. Here’s hoping I get a better photo.
We were warned that one of the hardest times during adoption is when you are AdoptReady but still waiting for your match. Actually, I don’t think anything can really prepare you for the frustration, the anticipation, the tears, and the feeling of futility.
About two months ago, we were matched with a child in Lithuania. It was an extremely exciting time. We gazed at the photos and profile sent to us and made the very dangerous leap into hope and action. We were going to be parents! The joy was all encompassing. It was on our minds every morning, afternoon, and evening. Little things like preparing meals meant conversations on what type of food would we need to start buying for a toddler. Trips to the bookstore meant a stroll into the kid’s section for an indulgent purchase of one of our childhood favourites. Queuing at Starbucks meant watching children run around while parents placed their orders with a quiet glance and smile between us: that would be us someday soon! In a word, all of it seemed delightful.
We knew something was wrong after we stopped receiving emails from Lithuania. Weeks passed, then a month. After two months it was pretty clear. On a Friday afternoon, we got a call from our international adoption practitioner – we had been rejected. I don’t remember much about the rest of the day other than just leaving my office and crying the entire subway ride home. The tears continued for days – in the kitchen, the shower, the garden. Martin and I clung to each other for the weekend, fragile and exhausted.
After awhile, we knew we had to collect ourselves and get started again. And for those who know me, when I get disappointed or frustrated, it turns into an annoyingly unstoppable force and pursuit of goal. Now that we knew our chances in Lithuania might now be less than we originally hoped, we decided to reignite our efforts in Ontario.
Many people have asked why we are pursuing international adoption instead of local. We actually always wanted to adopt in Canada. Unfortunately, the system, as I have ranted before, isn’t easy. Sorry, did I say “isn’t easy”? I meant, it’s broken, shattered, and completely incomprehensible. Yes, this is another diatribe on the faults of the Canadian adoption system – I apologise that you’ve probably heard much of this before, but it seems like the only thing I can do is get the word out and hope for change.
Twice a year, there is an event called the Adoption Resource Exchange (ARE) here in Toronto. Profiles of children available for adoption are presented in handouts and videos. We’re veterans of this conference and decided to prepare. Because I couldn’t attend due to a travel conflict, on the advice of our social worker, we built our own profile to hand out, complete with a link to a video about us. We professionally printed out 100 glossy, two-sided, flyers to present to all of the social workers at ARE.
ARE has come and gone and we have 99 flyers leftover, and zero views of our video.
What happened? Well, basically not much. Either there wasn’t interest, we didn’t live in their region, or were told to register on the AdoptOntario database….
Let’s talk about that database for a moment. I certainly applaud the efforts to build a single Ontario system that would match prospective parents with waiting children. Right now, Children’s Aid Services are completely divided by region, meaning, there is no formal connection between say Toronto and York Region CAS despite a difference of 20 km on a highway. So this database is a terrific move forward and we have eagerly registered.
Remember that number I mentioned about 30,000 children waiting for forever homes in Canada? 47 of them are registered, as of this morning, on the AdoptOntario database. Forty. Seven. Not even 50 children.
These are direct quotes from the AdoptOntario website:
“On average, adoption matches when the child has been placed on the Databank take approximately half as long as placements where the child was not in the databank”.
“Currently, over 20,000 families are registered to view the photolisting”
How many children are NOT on that database being connected with the 20K+ registered families? I’m just guessing here, but in not so scientific terms I’d say a helluva LOT. That means children not being matched; thousands of children at long-term risk; and many, many, forever family opportunities lost.
Yes. This system is broken.
I’m not a social worker. I’m only involved from the outside looking in and I know I’m wearing my project manager hat whenever I try and detangle this web. However, I would be extremely grateful for someone in the system to explain to us how exactly this mess happens. Are we missing something completely?
I have sent emails and follow up emails to Toronto and York Region CAS explaining that we are AdoptReady and looking to be matched. There is no work required on their part to do a Home Study; we aren’t seeking a newborn (most available children are older) AND are open to either gender, any ethnicity. Basically, we could be potential parents for a child in their region needing a home, if there is a match.
No replies. Nothing. Not even an Out-of-Office notification.
I’ve since found out from my own research that we cannot register with York Region CAS (we live 20KM away in Toronto!). As for why Toronto CAS hasn’t replied, no clue.
I could go on and on, and likely already have said too much. There are also experiences I could share that aren’t suitable for a public blog (but happy to tell to anyone interested).
There is a time when we will need to respectfully say “enough”. Our adoption story might seem fresh to those around us, but is has been a few years in the making for us. We hope friends and loved ones will understand our decision and allow us to quietly let go, should that moment arrive.
Until then, we have 99 glossy, full-colour, adoption profile flyers kicking about our house. Anyone interested in origami?