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 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.
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 know I exposed a lot in my last post; ripping open a vein that cannot be sutured. Many of you reached out to see if we are okay, to offer encouragement and love. I have personally been doubled-up over all of the kind words and support. Thank you. And to my wonderful mother, who after reading said, “it doesn’t even sound like you”, which made me really take stock of where I am right now. Time for a sanity check.
Anger is a perplexing emotion. I’ve always perceived it as an irrational, unbecoming, state that no one particularly wants to be associated with. After a long time of soul searching, I can concede that yes, this anger is uncontrollable and uncontainable…but it is also an energy. I’m harnessing it.
Today a reporter, Lorna Dueck, had an interview with His Excellency, Governor General David Johnston, about the “adoption crisis” in Canada. According to her statistics, there are 30,000 children and youths available for adoption in our country. I’m not sure of the validity of the numbers, but the notion that there is a shortage of available homes is a truth (link to interview).
Now, Lorna Dueck brings a specific Christian slant to her reporting, and I’m not personally comfortable with the role the Christianity movement plays, at times, in adoption rhetoric. But I do not fault her, as an adoptee and reporter, for raising awareness. I encourage her.
So, how is it that we are AdoptReady and have to search outside of Canada to find our child when there are so many children here? Likewise, why do so many parents who want to adopt, give up on the system? I cannot speak for all, but here are my observations…
Last May, we attended our first Adoption Resource Exchange (ARE). This is a twice a year event where Children’s Aid agencies across Ontario share profiles of available children. It’s a sobering experience to see profile after video clip after medical report.
I’m going to make an uncomfortable observation here that I hope does not reflect badly on how I strongly believe in diversity….the truth is, we are white and European. Many available children are either Native/Aboriginal, or of a multi-ethnic background. For that disparity, we are considered “not the best” match family. Despite speaking multiple languages, both immigrants ourselves, each having lived abroad and with an extremely diverse group of friends, we are not “ideal”. Which is true.
Yes, adoption should first be about the rights of the child. I know how important cultural identity is to positive self-esteem and a sense of belonging. Maybe it isn’t ethical to place a child with parents who don’t have the same skin colour?
We have registered for ARE this year, which means we can view profiles of children, online and in advance of the event (a great progress – kudos!). My heart sank when I saw some of the same profiles from last year. Is it better to be long-term in foster care, or matched like a paint chip? Yes, it sounds crass, but remember, I am Angry Lori these days, and I’m harnessing it.
So back to the 30,000…it is very difficult to adopt in-between provinces (something I have never quite understood) and the majority of Children’s Aid Societies do not communicate with each other or have a common database. Now, Adopt Ontario is making efforts to build a database to match families with children, but CAS and CCAS are still nebulous organisations to try and work with. This is not blame – they are underfunded and overburdened. This latter fact is also why getting a Home Study done by CAS takes so long and why many families pay for private – word in our circle of adoption is CAS is 3 years for AdoptReady. That’s a mighty long time and many families cannot afford the thousands for private.
It takes an incredible effort to become AdoptReady. The Adopt Ontario website describes it as a two-step process, which is grossly misleading. Basically, you start by completing PRIDE – this is a 27-hour course on everything from the process, to case studies, to adoption triad issues. Ours was an excellent experience and very informative. We’ve heard from others that theirs was not as positive.
The more complicated part is the Home Study, or Structured Analysis Family Evaluation (SAFE). We did our SAFE privately and it took us a full year, which is considered fast. But that doesn’t mean the task was any less onerous. Every aspect of your life, relationship, and family history will be under scrutiny. Your hobbies, habits, routines, diet, etc. While we had an excellent social worker, it is still incredibly emotional. Hurdles pop up out of nowhere. For example, I have taken a medication for 15 years that millions of others take – that’s a negative. We are estranged from one family member – yellow card. I’m turning 40 – that’s another strike. Martin runs his own business – they don’t like that either. The list goes on.
Then comes the paperwork…In addition to the usual identification, we also needed, in no specific order, Police Clearance, Interpol Clearance, Polish Police Clearance, translated and notarized Polish Clearance, (same for Martin, who is German), notarized birth certificates, marriage certificate, financial statements, CRA records of assessment, Canadian Citizenship papers, full medical report, employment records, full family tree, fire escape plan (yup), home assessment, housing records, veterinary report (for the cat – she wasn’t immune), library list of the books and reports you have read on adoption, how many visible minority friends you have (true), how culturally diverse your neighbourhood is, record checks from the CAS, CCAS, Aboriginal Child and Family Services, and one from the CAS in Kingston (where I went to school). There’s more, but I think the point has been made.
Then the two parts of SAFE that I personally found hard:
- Humbly asking five friends to write letters on your behalf to vouch for your character (a HUGE thank you – you know who you are)
- The final visit test – this is when you are put into a room separate from your partner and have to answer about 10 pages of questions on topics like whether there is a history of abuse (alcohol, drugs, sexual, physical), up to grandparents, and your own histories (remember that joint in university? Yup, you have to fess up). We passed.
These few paragraphs only give the highlights and certainly don’t include the emotions, the waiting, and the fear. It’s the reason why so many couples simply give up. And I truly believe we need to make it more reasonable for parents to adopt.
Notice I did not say easier – no compromise on the safety of a child. But reasonable so that parents are encouraged to become AdoptReady, instead of jumping through every hoop (really, being vegetarian is a problem?).
We just received our confirmation to attend ARE with a request to build a printable profile to hand out. It explained, “this small effort can go a very long way towards making an impression with an adoption worker recruiting for a waiting child”. Yes, we also have to market ourselves. Pick the right photos, font, and phrasing. There are actually business who will do this for you professionally. Welcome to Adoptionville.
I have written this post not only explain the process, but also to engage in dialogue to challenge a change in the system. To people like His Excellency, Governor General David Johnston and Lorna Dueck, I do applaud your efforts. Still, this machine is broken. If the criteria for adoptions is so extreme and the process lengthy and intense, only to end in heartbreak, then there will not be more homes available. It’s time for a sanity check.
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:
Martin and I married a decade ago in a lovely, chic, restaurant, surrounded by our closest friends and family. That upscale venue has since been replaced with a mighty tasty authentic Mexican restaurant. Bonus points? The exact spot where we took our vows is now adorned with an awesomely tacky Tequila advert mirror. Olé! Margaritas for all!
We make a point of visiting the tequila mirror on New Year’s Eve. This year, looking at our own reflections behind the gold lettering, it was pretty clear things had changed since we rang in 2013. Back then, we had just had another failed IUI and adoption was no longer a word hinted at with the careful preface of, “well, what about, you know, maybe…”
Fast forward 365 days…..we’ve completed our PRIDE training, done our homestudy, fulfilled every possible security clearance, obtained a gazillion pieces of paper work. We are sitting on the runway ready to go.
So as we wait, engines revving, there are a million practical things that I’m starting to realise we know nothing about. Things that, I’m not going to lie, can make me break out in a pretty intense cold sweat!
– What do I say when I first meet them? I mean, “Hey, we’re your new parents” sounds pretty sinister. A simple, “Hi” in Lithuanian, plus a smile enough? I know we aren’t supposed to overwhelm them, but how will it feel to hold him or her the first time?
– How will I know when they need the bathroom?!?! Seriously, this one concerns me.
– Food. Nothing here will taste the same as in Lithuania (and no jokes about my awful cooking).
– How do we clear customs on the way back through Canada? “Anything to Declare?”…”No, I had this child in my carry-on when we left for Lithuania. Really”.
– What do I say to neighbours or my Starbucks barista when we go out for the first time? I don’t want to be thought of as the lady who kept her kid in a basement for three years!
The list of questions goes on and on. Do we get a crib or a bed? What size shoes do they wear? Allergies? Are they afraid of thunderstorms, like me? Do they like football like Martin? Will they hate the yellow we painted their room?
(And the very quietest of questions I only allow myself to ask when I feel brave enough: When will this child look at us and think, “Yes, you are my Mum and Dad”?)
This New Year’s Eve, after a couple of margaritas, Martin and I came up with another one of those “practical” questions….the name. For a number of reasons, we’d like to respect the original name (although, we may anglicize it for ease of pronunciation). Still, we don’t have any idea what it might be. So like two giddy kids peeling off a corner of wrapping paper for a quick peek, we Googled “Lithuanian names”…
When we decided to have a family, of course we spent a few gooey hours talking about baby names. It was comforting to see that some of our favourites were on the “Lithuanian List”. Many names are similar to the Polish names I grew up with and are in my family. It was also warming to be introduced to new, wonderful, names that we never even imagined.
(Side note, one Lithuanian boy’s name is “Tadas”, which sounds like “Ta-Dah!” with an “S”. We’re secretly hoping for this one because how cool would it be to say, “Here’s my son – TA-DAS!” Or, “Look who just learned to ride a bike – Ta-DAS!” Or “Show us the picture you drew, TA-DAS!” Yes, we were a wee bit giddy by this point).
There’s a lyric by ColdPlay that seems to be by mantra of late: “maybe I’m in the gap between the two trapezes”. We have made this huge leap of faith. Now we are waiting for what’s out there to greet us.
Not too shabby for a couple reflected in a tequila mirror.