• Bernadette McDonald & Siobahn McKenadel

Clarifying Adoption and Foster Care: A Child First Approach

Updated: 6 days ago

Adoption and Foster care, what they are and how they relate, are often misunderstood. The difficulties and number of children currently in "the adoption and foster care system" are often used as an argument for making abortion more morally palatable. If children are going to suffer, moved from house to house, be abused physically, sexually, and emotionally, then perhaps, one might argue, it would be better for them to be killed in utero before they become fully conscious of their surroundings. While it's easy to see how this comes from a place of compassion, or perhaps from someone who thinks they're being realistic about probable outcomes for these children, we have found that those who make these arguments often have an understanding of adoption and foster care that isn't reflective of reality. Adoption and foster care are depicted frequently and inaccurately in the media to amp up the drama and get viewers invested. Many of the stereotypes are from decades past when the protections for children and families were not what they are now. We want everyone to have accurate information about what adoption and foster care look like. This blog seeks to clarify what adoption and foster care are in Alberta and how they relate. We’ve included an outline of the different systems, descriptions of the processes, and testimonies from people who have participated in each system.


First we’re going to focus on adoption. There are three types of adoption in Alberta: private, public (adoption of a child in care), and international. Each of these has their own methods, processes, and cost.


  1. Adoption

There are two different methods of in1tra-provincial adoption: direct placement (which would entail private arrangement by adoptive families) and use of a licensed adoption agency.


Non-Agency Private Adoptions

Private, non-agency adoption arrangements will be specific to the birth parents and adoptive parents involved. Because of the uniqueness of each situation, there is no list of a specific process. However, a lawyer will need to be involved to make sure the process is legal. For more information you should contact the Government of Alberta.


Adoption Through a Private Agency

During a private adoption a pregnant woman or couple will contact a private agency that has a database of vetted couples longing to adopt a child. This agency is not associated with the government foster care system at all. Birth parents are in control of the family they choose to adopt their child and pay no fees.

Process for Adoptees

  • Contact Alberta Adoption Services, a Licensed Adoption Agency, and Children’s Services Office.

  • Gather more information through sessions and classes about the process, criteria, and steps involved.

  • Apply, completing an agency application, criminal record check, intervention record checks, medical exams, financial information as well as detailed references.

  • Complete training in order to be approved.

  • A home study report is completed.

  • Wait for a match. When possible a meeting will be arranged between birth and adoptive parents.

  • You are placed with a child - if this is a newborn adoption, the agency will meet with the birth parents to discuss their wishes and plans.

  • Finalize the placement, including an home assessment post placement and a court officially finalizing the adoption order.


Process for Birth Parents:

  • Contact a private adoption agency

  • Make an adoption plan with an adoption social worker

  • Choose and interview a family that you would like to raise your child

  • You have the choice to change your mind until 10 days after the paperwork has been signed following the birth.


Adoption agencies increasingly encourage “open adoption” (ongoing contact between birth parents and adopted child) as opposed to “closed adoption” (little to no access on the part of birth parents). Unlike the one-sided picture often presented by the media, birth parents choosing to make an adoption plan have many choices and options in what they wish their experience to be. Birth families can choose frequency, level, and method of contact, amount of personal information made available to adoptive family and child. Birth parents can also decide what sort of family they wish their child to go to, including religion, size, etc. and are encouraged to be specific in what sort of home they wish their child to grow up in.

Cost

  • A birth parent who is interested in placing their child for adoption pays no cost.

  • In the event of a direct placement, costs seem to trend around $3,250 to $4000 to file documents in court as well as pay for an agency to complete a home study.

  • Adoption agency costs vary but are listed on agency websites as ranging from $17,000 to $19,000

  • Adoptive parents do also generally cover the legal costs a birth mother may incur (eg. when dealing with birth father and custody disputes)


2. Adoption of a Child in Care

Children who are unable to reside with their birth families and have been taken into the care of the Alberta government/Children’s Services may also become available for adoption. This is the only place that real crossover occurs between foster care and adoption. People may adopt children who are fostered in the care of another family or who they are currently fostering. We will speak specifically about foster care later in the article.


Adoption of a child from foster care is a lengthy process involving many home visits, interviews, etc. The Alberta government website describes these children as all having special needs, including:

  • Being part of a sibling group that needs to stay together

  • Children who are between 10 and 17 years of age

  • Background including prenatal exposure to drugs and/or alcohol, physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse and neglect

  • Medical, physical, developmental, behavioural, learning or emotional problems” (para. 2, Adopt a child in government care | Alberta.ca, 2021)


Children “come into care” when a birth family approaches the government due to feeling they cannot care for their child themselves (for a variety of reasons), or if a separate party reports concern for a child’s safety. A child will only be taken into care of the government when “all reasonable attempts to meet the child’s needs within the family have failed, or when the child’s safety is threatened”. (para. 3, Become a foster caregiver | Alberta.ca). This is not a process that is lightly entered into, and for a child to be removed from a birth family, very grave circumstances would have to be noted.


Birth family access to a child in care varies. In some cases contact has been ended for the wellbeing of the child; whereas in some cases that continued contact is essential to the terms of their placement within a family.


Government care is totally distinct from private adoption, and a child willingly placed with adoptive parents through an agency would not become “lost in the system” or be taken into care of the government. Parents considering their pregnancy options should not confuse a government process for assisting children in unsafe or unhealthy circumstances with the voluntary seeking out of a private agency.


Click this link to see the profiles of the children waiting to be adopted, at the time of publishing this article, there were nine: Adoption Profiles Lookup - Alberta Human Services - Government of Alberta


Process

  • Contact a local office

  • Attend an information session / Decision Making

  • Complete the application package

  • Orientation to Caregiver Training

  • Get a Home Study Report done

  • Wait for a placement


Cost

There are no costs to the applicant in applying, becoming approved, or being placed for adoption with a child who is in permanent government care.


Now that you know the process for adoption of a child in care, we wanted to share with you some stories of people’s variable first hand experiences.



Susan’s Story

“Describe the process that you went through - include your feelings and thoughts on the experience. 
“We decided to adopt a little girl about 4 years old when our 4 biological sons were between 11 and 21.  We didn't want to adopt a baby as babies get adopted quite easily.  As it turned out God led us to adopt a 13 year old girl, a 8 year old girl and a 6 year old boy - all biological siblings.
The process was fairly easy as it's hard to find experienced parents to adopt older sibling groups.  As we already had a large family we didn't really think much about the process and assumed things would fall into place. Not being related by blood didn't matter to any of us, especially since the closest relationship in a family is between a husband and wife and there is no blood in that relationship.

Did you have any misconceptions or misunderstandings about the system? What are some misconceptions you feel that others may have?
I don't feel the system portrays an accurate picture of adoption.  I don't really think the system actually understands adoption. I always felt like the system felt the adopted children should be treated differently because they were adopted which definitely was not something we agreed with.  We treated them like our biological children and had the same expectations for them as our other kids.  Keeping in mind they had trauma and abuse to overcome, but we wanted them to feel like they were always members of the family.  For that reason we never celebrated their "got ya" day as we didn't feel a constant reminder of the time they didn't live with us was healthy.

Do you think adoption/foster care are portrayed in the media differently than the reality of what you have experienced? If so, why do you think this occurs?
Yes, I think it's a very superficial portrayal.  Adoption, at least of older kids, is very, very tough.  But watching them develop into contributing members of society and have a second chance at a good life is amazing. 

Do you have any closing thoughts that you would want someone less familiar with the adoption/foster care system to hear?
If you are hesitant about having a baby that you don't feel you can raise, and don't think adoption is a good thing, think again.  Life is always better than death.  Giving that child a chance at life is a gift.  There are so many couples that can't have children biologically that would love to adopt a child.  God can make good things out of any situation and even though our children were apprehended we still celebrated the fact that their birth mom chose life.

We’ve included two stories here because people have different experiences and capabilities within the same system.



Barb’s Story

“Describe the process that you went through - include your feelings and thoughts on the experience. 
“The adoption process was long and drawn out. Especially because we were anxious about the type of child we wanted to adopt… We were matched with our son approximately two years after we originally began the interview and training process. Just about the time we were going to give up hope of ever finding a match. One of the most interesting facts is that when you’re matched with a child, you do not even get to see a picture so that you are not making a decision based on emotions. It was very interesting to learn that the six year old boy who matched with us had the same birthday as me. Before we even met him or his foster parents we learned his name, age and a bit of medical and emotional history. The next step was to meet with his foster parents and social worker. This was a very surreal meeting. Imagine me meeting the very people who were the safe haven and loving arms who held the boy who was not yet my boy. We could tell that the foster parents really loved our son. And we were able to talk to them for two hours and ask any questions. We also met with his kindergarten teacher who thought that he was wonderful. But even in those first meetings we could see areas where our little boy had fallen through the cracks in a system that does not have the resources to really nurture hurt children. In kindergarten he was allowed to disengage from the social interactions that form the very purpose in kindergarten. I would say that we had a full disclosure of all of our future son’s medical, emotional, and intellectual difficulties from his kindergarten teacher, foster parents, and doctor reports. Many people feel that the foster parents system does not always give a full disclosure to the potential adoptive parents about the kids they might adopt. On the contrary, we found that the social worker, foster parents, and kindergarten teacher were all very forthcoming, honest, realistic, and enthusiastic. They told us the truth but encouraged us to move forward. On the Feast of Corpus Christi, while seeing other families in the procession, we decided to say yes to our son. Saying yes to adopting our son was such a major decision that we needed all the help from God and family and friends that we could get. The amazing coincidence in our process is that our son was officially adopted on the feast of St. Juan Diego and our family had had a longstanding devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe who we credit with the life of our daughter.
I think it is important to have a good social worker who understands and is supportive of your lifestyle. Our social worker was originally opposed to home education, an important part of our lifestyle, but when he saw how our son grew and flourished in our home, he started to change his mind about homeschooling. Our worker was able to help us in person, over the phone, and over email and responded right away to any crisis that came up.

Did you have any misconceptions or misunderstandings about the system? What are some misconceptions you feel that others may have?
I do not believe I had any misconceptions about the system because I had researched, talked to
dozens of people, read books, and took the intensive adoption training course. I am a planner type of
a person who imagines all of the negative points that could possibly happen so I had basically already imagined how difficult it could be.
Yet even with all my planning and preparation. It was still ten times harder than I imagined. I want to say that looking back I find it hard to believe that I survived all that stress. And it was not just stress on me. It caused stress on my marriage as my husband and I tried to figure out coping methods and new parenting paradigms. It caused stress to my 15 year old son who was thrust into the position of father
figure as his new brother temporarily shied away from dad. It caused agony to my 8 year old daughter who opened her heart to a new brother who at first viewed her as a rival to survival rather than a compatriot. But the hardest hit of all was our new sweet son who had the most difficult 6 year start in life only to end up in a new city with 4 new people he didn’t know. Imagine coming to a new house with new people and new toys and a new bed and you don’t know where anything is. He had to ask where the fork drawer was in his own house. And on top of all that the woman you love as mom is 4 hours away and you don’t even remember your new mom’s name. Thankfully, to this day, we have never let the connection to his foster mom and dad lapse. He phoned them everyday, sometimes several times a day when he first arrived home. And there have been many wonderful visits through the years. Now as a freshly minted adult, he is developing relationships with his birth family at his own speed.

Do you think adoption/foster care are portrayed in the media differently than the reality of what you have experienced? If so, why do you think this occurs?
 I found that it was difficult to find books on adoption that my son could relate to. Most adoptions in books and media don’t focus on older child inter-racial adoptions. Once our son was older we finally found a movie which does a realistic portrayal of an older child inter-racial adoption situation. Instant Family with Mark Wahlberg. That movie represented the process very well except we never experienced an adoption match up party represented in the movie and we never went to the courthouse to see the adoption finalized. In Alberta most adoptions are finalized privately in a judge’s chambers with just the judge alone.
I also think that most families do not understand how difficult adoption is for an adopted child and for the family he is joining. Joining like this at an older age is difficult. Friction is inevitable as everyone adjusts to the new normal. Families looking in on a new adopting family might assume that everything is going fine when it most definitely is not. They might make comments saying that they have 7 kids so adding one child to a family is not a big deal. Or they might make comments that having kids spaced two years apart is natural and beneficial to kids to help them learn to share. Both these comments miss the mark as adoption is not the same as bio parenting.

Do you have any closing thoughts that you would want someone less familiar with the adoption/foster care system to hear?
 Adopting an older child is a thousand times harder than adopting a baby but it is so important
because older children deserve families too. An older child in foster care and looking for a forever home is much harder to place in a family because parents know that it is easier to adopt a baby. I see that there is a real need to adopt older children. One of the things that was a great difficulty and made our family tense at times was adopting a child who was two years younger than our youngest biological child.
When we were matched with our adopted son, my instinct warned me that a two year gap was too small. My instinct was probably correct but we did feel a call from God to dispute that misgiving. A four to five year gap would have probably been easier for all concerned but we are so very grateful and blessed by our son. We do not regret our decision to adopt our awesome son. No one but God himself will ever truly understand the crippling abuse our son suffered nor the huge chasm of loss he endured. He grew up outside of the warmth and protection of his biological parents. Any child who does not grow up in the bosom of his biological family suffers loss and pain. Yes, sometimes it is unavoidable and even safer to be adopted…but we must never, ever forget the primordial loss that precious child has suffered.
When he was 5 police came and took our son from his home to his foster parents and then almost 2 years later I came and took him to his new home 4 hours away. When he came to our home he was not very communicative but he was sad, hurting and bewildered. He was so distraught that his body became ill
with constant fevers. The fevers went away the very day when his new mom kept a promise she had made to him when she first brought him home. Then he knew finally that he could trust and heal.
This child of mine is athletic, charming, helpful, and loves having fun. He is the kid who sings in the shower and sneaks up on his beloved dog to scare her. He is the kid who would literally give a limb to help his adoring grandparents. He is the kid who drove across the country to rescue his sister in the middle of a pandemic. He is not perfect and I am not perfect but God, in his wisdom, chose beautifully to bring us together.



3. International International adoption is the adoption of a child from a different country than Canada. Choosing to adopt a child from abroad is becoming more popular due to the long waiting list for domestic private adoption as well as the ability to be more particular about the age and needs of the desired child.

Process

The typical process of an international adoption is based on a few factors involving the relationship of the country from which the adoptive child is coming with broader adoption services (Hague Convention Adoption). There are variances, but the standard process would be:

  • Fill out International Adoption Application

  • Submit the form to Adoption Services within Alberta Children’s Services

  • Get training and participate in a home study report.

  • Compile an adoption dossier (the results of your home study report and other information). This is frequently done with the assistance of an adoption agency.

  • Get the dossier translated and formatted according to legal and national standards (notarized, authenticated and verified).

  • Send it to Adoption Services who will then pass it along to the adoption authority in the chosen country, who will then send it along to an approved agency.

  • Fill out sponsorship forms with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to allow the child to enter the country.

  • A match is made through the adoption agency, Adoption Services, and yourself.

  • Inform Alberta Adoption Services of your decision regarding the match using the Letter of Acceptance/Decline.


Given how complex this process can be, it is recommended to use a coordinator to help the adoptive parents navigate the paperwork, legalities, and communication.

Cost

According to the Alberta Government website, most international adoptions take an average of three to four years to complete and cost between $15,000 and $40,000.



4. Foster Care

Oftentimes people are confused about the difference between adoption and foster care. The only children who would be placed in a foster home would be children in government care. Foster care is defined as “the temporary living arrangement made for a child when Children’s Services is unable to quickly locate and support suitable kinship care” (para. 1 Become a foster caregiver | Alberta.ca, 2021)

The ultimate goal of foster care is to reunite biological families. However, when this can’t happen, these children will eventually find long term homes either through adoption or private guardianship. As you can see, this is not the picture painted by abortion advocates of children “given up for adoption and getting lost in the system.”


Process

The process of becoming foster caregivers is lengthy and at times extremely complex. The idea that foster children end up in terrible homes or that the government does a poor job in ‘vetting’ the candidates does not reflect the grueling examination that candidates must go through in order to be eligible.

  • Contact a Children’s Services Office or Delegated First Nation Agency

  • Apply - this process would include the application form, completion of a home study, intervention record check, criminal record, medical and personal references, environmental safety assessment as well as completion of training sessions.

  • Licensing and a foster care support worker are provided.

  • Fostering families are subject to ongoing licensing requirements including home reassessment every six months.


Cost

Foster caregivers receive financial compensation to cover the day to day costs of the child’s living expenses.



Marianne’s Story
“From when we first thought of fostering to when we actually applied 7 years had passed. We heard a plea for foster parents at Church and after some prayer we looked into it. At that time the application was 30+ pages each and all hand written answers to dozens of questions.  It was overwhelming to say the least. When we finally applied the process changed to an electronic form of much shorter duration and the Support Worker helped us through the process. We submitted the documents and waited close to 6 months, maybe more. Once our application was reviewed, we had a “home study” done. The HS was a series of visits by a third-party individual who interviewed everyone in the house confidentially. She was looking to get a picture of how we were as a family unit. There were discussions and further interviews and then she submitted a report and recommended our home as a potential foster home. 
The home study was very personal and honest. We needed to answer addiction questions, questions about fears and struggles. It was very intense. We answered them very honestly and let the process take its course. 
When we were approved, we took a 4-day course called OCT. Orientation for Caregiver Training. This came before the home study, I think. Anyway, there were a number of sections we had to study and work through with other potential caregivers. This process was eye opening as it was delivered by foster parents who shared their real-life stories of pain, joy and failures.  This process was just the beginning. Once we took this training, we started taking a number of the 30 other courses caregivers were required to take during their first 5 years.

Misconceptions 
“There are a lot of misconceptions about the system. Many American or TV ideas were dispelled. Our system in Alberta is very forgiving and gives numerous chances to biological parents to continue parenting their children when there are dark times. Most apprehensions take months to occur unless there was imminent threat to Children's safety and even then, the people in the system work hand over fist to help parents keep their children.
“The system is huge and multi levelled. There are intake personnel, assessment, apprehension and kinship workers, there are court dates and documents to sign and keep. As a parent we have to cover our bases at all costs. We have to document dates and times of positive and negative behaviour. We document the growth and development of the children in our care from a neutral point of view. 
I think people believe that parents who have their children removed from their homes can “choose” to change but the opposite is true. I have seen so many broken and damaged parents trying to raise children but have no way of knowing how because they never were taught...I think the media, “hollywood” portrays a negative caregiver view. There are always bad apples in the system. Caregivers can only do so much and workers are often stretched to breaking... I do know that the good stories and the successes that occur are of little interest in the minds of most people. We have to remain silent about our children unless it is with workers, so we can’t even share our struggles with others.  We all have our daily struggles, why would we think that others have a more difficult time.


There are many misconceptions regarding the system of adoption and fostering. As we have discussed there is a wide variety of mini-systems within the larger whole, each totally distinct and not to be confused with the others. Women experiencing an unanticipated pregnancy are told that their child must be “wanted” in order to be allowed to continue to live. They need to be assured that there are so many adoptive families who deeply desire to nurture and love their child and can provide them with a beautiful life.

Babies being placed for adoption are in some ways rare and are highly sought after. Seventy percent of children waiting for adoption are between 7 and 12 years old. (Alberta’s Waiting Children Booklet, p. 5, 2017). Infants are greatly desired by many adoptive parents, and most adoptive parents seem more than happy to encourage and participate in the growing relationship between biological parents and their children.


Pregnant women are often backed into a corner by the lack of information and a false portrayal of the realities of the adoption and foster care systems. Women faced with an unanticipated pregnancy are already burdened with so many other worries and considerations. We want them to know that they have options and choices available to them that can allow the tiny human inside of them to have a loved and joyful life. Hopefully through spreading this knowledge and encouraging compassion we can help assuage potential birth parents' concerns about adoption, and counter the narrative that abortion is an antidote to possible suffering. We hope that this article has provided you with any information you were missing regarding adoption and foster care and helped you understand these complex yet separate processes.


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