Conversations on adoption, family, parentage and the law

Adoption Leave: Towards Equality for Adoptive Parents

This post is by guest blogger Jane Marsden, articled student with Hart Legal

Jane Marsden, Articled Student at Hart Legal

Jane Marsden, Articled Student at Hart Legal

One thing is clear:  Canada has a serious adoption problem.

An estimated 30,000 Canadian children (many of whom are in their teens and have special needs) are in the care of child welfare agencies, waiting to find permanent families.

Earlier this month a Commons Committee (the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities) tabled its Report, titled “Federal Support Measures to Adoptive Parents”. 

The Report makes 12 recommendations on how to improve adoption across the country.  These include developing and launching a public awareness campaign to raise awareness of adoption, creating a national database on domestic adoption in Canada, and examining the inequalities between child welfare and family services provided on First Nation reserves and those services provided off reserve.

Although it is beyond dispute that all the areas outlined by the Report do need significant improvement, the Report falls short according to critics in the NDP and Liberal Party.

The Liberals state in their Dissenting Opinion (which can be found at the end of the Report) that the Committee chose to disregard the voices of adoption stakeholder groups, adoptive parents and adopted children themselves, all who appeared as witnesses before the Committee. 

Of particular concern to these parties was the establishment of a new employment insurance benefit, “adoption leave”, that would give adoptive parents more time to bond and adjust with their adopted child.

 

As the law currently stands, adoptive parents are entitled to 35 weeks of parental leave under the EI system in Canada, however birth mothers are entitled to an extra 15 weeks of EI maternity benefits.   Disappointingly, the Committee declined to make any recommendations on an adoption leave benefit due to the current “period of fiscal restraint.”

So where does this leave the 30,000 children waiting to be adopted and the families who hope to adopt some of them?

As of earlier this year, foster parents committed to adopting children in their care are now eligible to receive EI parental benefits. This is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, however it does not go far enough.  As the Committee itself acknowledged, many adoptive parents testified that the need for more time to adjust, recover and bond with adopted children is so crucial that many parents have to take unpaid leave from their employment. 

In the news: Parental benefits available for foster parents planning to adopt

Earlier this month, the federal government announced that families who foster children with the intention to adopt will be eligible for parental benefits under the Employment Insurance program.

Parental benefits allow parents time away from work to bond with their newborn or newly adopted children.    It goes without saying that such time is no less important—perhaps even more so— in the case of foster parents who plan to adopt, where the child is often older and may arrive in the home of her prospective parents with a history of trauma and fears of abandonment.

An estimated 30,000 Canadian children living in care have parents whose parental rights have been ended by the courts.  In B.C., as many as 1,300 children like this are wait-listed for adoption through the Ministry of Children & Family Development at any given time.  Most of these kids are school age; many are teens.  Some have siblings, who are all looking to be adopted together.  Many will turn 19 without ever finding a permanent family, having spent their childhoods in foster care or institutional placements.

The EI scheme allows an adoptive parent  up to 35 weeks of parental benefits.  Under the new rules, it will no longer be necessary for a foster parent to have commenced adoption proceedings in court before becoming eligible for benefits, a step which, depending on the province, can take several months after the child is placed in their home to complete.  Instead,  a  “demonstrable commitment to adopt” will be all that is required.

If this small change to the law makes it easier for even a handful of Canadian families to adopt the children in their care, it will have been well worth it.