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?
I haven’t posted in awhile – a few months, to be exact. At first, I tried to tell myself that I was busy. This evolved into what I defined as “procrastination”. It was not until recently that I could be honest enough with myself to acknowledge what was really going on.
I am angry.
Not just upset, or frustrated. I am raw. I am raging, furious, and seething. I want to scream, run, and empty out all of the anger I feel inside. And I can’t.
Anger is not an emotion I am at all comfortable with. I have always approached obstacles with a stubborn resolve to figure it out, come hell or high water. So I’ve kept much of this inside because I really don’t know what to do with it.
Yesterday I was on twitter browsing my adoption feed. It’s Foster Awareness Month in the US, so there were loads of tweets encouraging foster parenting and adoption. Of course, this is a good thing. There are thousands of children needing homes. But my anger bubbled up to the surface and if I could go beyond the 140 characters in a tweet, this is what I would’ve replied:
“Congratulations on making the decision to foster/adopt! You’re ready to open your hearts and home to a child. Here are just the highlights of your next 18 months. Let’s start with the paper-work, which will not only take you months to collect, but will have to all be verified, notarized, apostilled (you can look that one up), and cost you thousands. That’s done. Okay, now you will spend hours with a social worker over the next nine to twelve months to whom you will have to divulge every detail of your life, personality, heartaches, and secrets (we were lucky to have a great social worker, but other couples, not so much). Your home will be inspected, your medical history examined (good luck if you are taking any sort of medication), and financial/tax records placed under a microscope. Phew! After a year you’ve hopefully made it to the submission phase – this is when the Home Study completed by your social worker is sent to the Ministry of Children and Youth Services. Then you wait. In our case, our Home Study was sent back with the following (paraphrased) – Since Lori is vegetarian, we are concerned whether she will be able to adequately provide proper nutrition to a child. We responded with a lengthy declaration on every possible way we would feed a child and all of the resources we would consult on nutrition and the multitude of methods that we would use to nurture our new toddler. Home Study now approved, that’s Phase 1 complete”.
Yup. Phase 1.
Pause for a moment. All of these procedures are done to ensure the safety of the child. But, having gone through it, one does ask the question of whether it is all too much? Likewise, we did our Home Study privately, so we were Adopt Ready in just under a year. This comes with a large cost. If you go via CAS, the timeline is much longer, due to few resources and funding, but it does not have a fee.
I can name three couples who have all given up on fostering/adoption because of the process. And these are good, strong, people. The UK now has a programme to push potential adoptive parents through the process in under six months. They are not cutting corners on the Home Study, rather, they are streamlining the process to get waiting children into available homes because they know that the longer a child is in care, the higher the risk long-term.
So back to the anger (the black slurry in the space behind my temples that keeps me awake at night and churns my stomach).
Six months ago, I was on a website for adoptable children in Eastern Europe. I came across a profile that completely blew my mind. I was so drawn to this little girl. I showed the profile to Martin and wrote an email requesting more information. Instant reply: she could only be adopted by Evangelical Christians living in the U.S.A.. Denied. I’ll write more someday about my thoughts on Christianity movements in adoption, but the moral of this story? That little girl is STILL on that website looking for a home.
At a holiday party, we had a fantastic conversation with a social worker from Hamilton. We explained our situation and she said that there has been a recent influx of children in her region, particularly newborns (although we are approved up to five years of age and aren’t set on newborn). Exciting news! Not really. We are in GTA and not eligible. Their goal is to keep children near to families. Hamilton is 40KMs away. We have the wrong postal code.
Our adoption practitioner gave us the call we had been waiting for – there was a profile of a child that had been selected for us. To say our hearts swelled would be an understatement. For privacy, I cannot share details, but I can say we fell in love. We wrote our letter of intent to Lithuania and allowed ourselves the dangerous emotion of hope. For the very first time, we dipped our toes into the possibility of parenthood. I bought the first books to start their library, and an elephant stuffed animal to put on the shelf – even though I knew it was too soon.
And it likely was too soon. We have since been told by our practitioner that this profile has also been shared with other potential parents, so it is a selection process. It’s been six weeks since we have heard anything. Six weeks of being tethered to email. Six weeks of looking at the same four pictures. No reply. We’ve been told to keep hoping. Me, I’ve put the books and elephant away on a back room shelf. I can’t look.
So yes, I’m angry. Irrational? I don’t think so. My point in all of this is that enough isn’t being done to shorten the time from foster to forever home. Yes, the child’s interest should be at the centre, but I sometimes wonder if we haven’t swung the pendulum too far and we have gone way off-centre from practical.
I know I have so many supportive friends, family, and readers – if you do want to help, write to your leaders, your MPs, and well, maybe not our Mayor Rob Ford.
For more information on the UK process, there are several new documentaries airing: