People making the decision to grow their families by adopting a child may be surprised to learn that the adoption landscape is not what it once was
The odds of being able to adopt a healthy newborn, or even a child under the age of two years old, are becoming slimmer and slimmer thanks to better access to birth control, abortion and the lack of stigma increasingly associated with single women raising children.
That said, there are countless children and teenagers in foster care throughout the country and abroad who are looking for stable homes and forever families, as well as young adults who are in need of a support system.
Aviva Zukerman Schure, who has volunteered for the Adoption Council of Ontario and Adopt4Life since she adopted her now 20-year-old daughter about two years ago, said that perhaps what holds most people back from considering adopting an older child is the misconception that children in foster care are “juvenile delinquents with no hope.”
“I think there is a stigma that all the kids in foster care are such screw-ups that you can’t even imagine,” said Schure, who is also mother to four biological sons, all of whom are younger than her adopted daughter.
She said while speaking to adoption workers about wanting to find a child who was on a positive trajectory, wanted to do well in school and wanted to be part of a supportive family, she was told, “the system is filled with children like that.”
Schure recalled meeting a young girl in foster care through Jewish Family & Child, an accredited children’s aid society in Ontario that provides child protection services for Jewish families in the Greater Toronto Area.
“She was graduating from high school with super great marks and off to university and all this great stuff. These are awesome kids – not to say they don’t have their issues like every single kid, but they just need to have that permanent supportive family there who is going to say, even when things get tough… that you’re there for them,” Schure said.
“I have friends with biological kids who have mental illness, who are addicted to drugs, who are involved in criminal activity. I have a child with ADHD, and it was not the one who was adopted.”
Schure eventually adopted her daughter based on a lead from the Adoption Council of Ontario.
When they met, her daughter, who is Korean, had been living in Canada for a year with a foster mother, and there was a language barrier.
“But she bonded with my kids over their mutual love of candy… and there was just that moment where she looked at me and I looked at her and I knew that she was the one who was meant to be our daughter.”
About 10 months later, after the girl had spent weekends with the family and they got to know each other, the adoption was finalized.
Schure said that moving forward, she’d love to adopt 21-year-olds who have aged out of the system and are struggling on their own.
“It might not mean that they move into a room in your house, but that they have a permanent, ongoing, lifelong connection to at least one grown-up, because that makes the difference in their lives,” Schure said.
Noelle Burke, an adoption permanency worker with JF&CS, said although JF&CS does act as a public adoption service, the first priority is to keep children with their original families.
“We put a lot of work and resources into keeping little ones with their original families, and when that’s not possible, we go through a process of family finding, which is, if it looks like that young baby is going to come into our care, instead of placing them with a foster family right away and moving toward adoption, we put a lot of effort in looking at extended family who know the child because we want to strengthen family and keep them close,” she explained.
“We go through that, and if that is not successful, only then will we really look at a non-relative adoption. There are a lot of processes that we go through to keep the child with their people, rather than placing them with non-relatives.”
JF&CS currently has close to 40 children in care.
“Within that 40 we have about 10 kids in a legal position to be adopted. The majority are older teens,” Burke said, adding that they serve children from birth to 18, but the average age of a child in need of adoption now at JF&CS is about 16.
Michael Grand, a University of Guelph professor emeritus who co-directed the National Adoption Study of Canada in 1993 and wrote a book called The Adoption Constellation: New Ways of Thinking About and Practicing Adoption, said the big push for agencies like JF&CS is to find homes or foster care for “hard to place” children.
“These are kids who have been in care for an extended period of time, kids with physical or emotional handicaps, kids who are older and sibling groups,” he said.
Grand said in addition to addressing some of the issues that come with adopting an older child, there are certain efforts that need to be made to ensure lifelong connections are made.
First, he believes that for older children, one of the components in helping the adoptive child feel like a member of the family is to offer them the opportunity to give informed consent and a choice about whether they want to join a specific family.
“It is important that children move into a home where they themselves are part of the decision-making process, and that this is something they want,” he said.
“Someone might say, ‘I know better. This is good for you whether you like it or not.’ We don’t always respect the consent rights of the children as well as we could.”
Schure said she understands the need for a child to be heard and acknowledged, but sometimes a child might need some convincing.
“With a lot of young people, if you ask them if they want to be adopted, all their experiences with family have been negative. And so when you say, ‘Oh, do you want a new family?’ They’ll say no. Because why would they? So we need to stop saying, ‘Well, we asked them and they didn’t want to be adopted,’ because that’s not fair to them. The outcomes for kids who age out of the system without a permanent family… are much poorer.”
Grand said one of the keys to facilitating a successful adoption in which the family and adopted child build trust and bond is being completely open about the child’s adoption.
“It’s not just an issue of an exchange of information. I’ve had many an adoptee tell me, ‘Oh yes, they told me once and then we were never allowed to talk about it again.’ Or, ‘It was told to me in anger,’ or, ‘It was thrown in my face when I was acting up,’” he said.
He said in many ways, it is a lifelong conversation that families should have without it becoming a source of anxiety or hostility. And the conversation itself needs to evolve over time.
“For the adoptee, the historical fact of being taken from one family and being placed in another always raises the question, ‘Did I matter enough to anyone to be kept in my family of origin?’ And that is a prevailing question that haunts many adoptees even in the best adoptions because it’s a fact you can’t get around,” Grand said.
“What you tell an eight-year-old is not what a 16-year-old needs to know… and it is not the same as what a 25-year-old needs.”
Grand said that overall there is an expectation that openness is the norm, but it is not always practised and this can be the difference between a successful adoption and an unsuccessful one.
“People talk a good talk, but they don’t always walk a good walk.
This is part two in a series on adoption in the Jewish community. For part one, click here.