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Ontarians support more aid for parents who adopt, poll suggests

Source: Toronto Star
By: Laurie Monsebraaten, Social Justice Reporter

An overwhelming majority of Ontarians supports sweeping reforms to provincial child protection laws, including more support to parents who adopt children from foster care, according to a new poll released Monday.

The poll, sponsored by the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, is the centerpiece of its 2011 Child Welfare Report and annual lobby of MPPs on Monday.

The association provides advocacy and support to 51 of the province’s 53 Children’s Aid societies.

The report comes in the wake of a weekend Toronto Star series on the issue, including an account of one adoptive family pleading for more help to support three siblings with a variety of emotional and behavioural issues related to a birth-mother who abused alcohol when she was pregnant.

The survey of 1,002 Ontarians conducted by Angus Reid in March, found that 93 per cent believe the province should provide more assistance to at least some adoptive families, especially if the children have special needs. Seventy-six per cent said all families who adopt should receive support.

“Ontarians firmly believe there needs to be additional supports to families who adopt or opt for other legal options to provide a permanent home for children in care of Children’s Aid,” says the report, obtained by the Star.

Survey respondents also said child welfare agencies should be able to protect children from abuse and neglect beyond age 16. They favoured more financial support for Aboriginal children and they want Ontario to help more foster children complete high school.

“Ontarians and Children’s Aid Societies are in sync when asking for improvements,” said association spokesperson Marcelo Gomez-Wiuckstern.

“We believe the (Ontario) government has put in place excellent initiatives and is taking good steps in that direction,” he said. “But more needs to be done for our children and youth.”

Last month, Queen’s Park introduced legislation to remove legal barriers to adoption and began studying the issue of adoption subsidies.

About 82 per cent of children in care have medically-diagnosed special needs and receive health, dental, education and treatment supports while in foster care, according to the report. This support — which costs taxpayers an average of $45,000 annually per child — ends when they are adopted.

“This can be a major challenge for families who want to provide a permanent home for a child but are unable to pay for or access the services the child needs,” the report says.

The report and survey results bolster the recommendations of a 2009 provincial expert panel that called for adoption subsidies for all parents who adopt children over age 2 and for every child with special needs.

Led by David Johnston, now Canada’s governor general, the Expert Panel on Fertility and Adoption estimated that annual post-adoption subsidies of between $9,000 and $15,000 would save taxpayers $26 million annually within five years and $36 million annually after that.

Currently, adoption subsidies are the responsibility of children’s aid societies. Since there is no provincial funding earmarked for subsidies, the money comes from general revenues on a case-by-case basis. It means some families in some parts of the province get generous help, while others get nothing.

To date, 46 societies have subsidy agreements with about 2,000 families. While foster families receive about $18,000 annually per child, the average annual subsidy to adoptive parents last year was just $4,350.

Expert panel member William Falk says those who don’t believe the state should pay people to adopt “do not understand the difficulties faced by these kids and their adoptive parents.”

“Many kids need lifetime supports and the families who are willing to step up to this challenge deserve our society’s support,” says Falk, who is also an adoptive parent of two sons are ages 12 and 4. “This is cost-saving and good social policy.”

The lack of post-adoption support, long waits for parents seeking adoption approval along with cumbersome legal barriers, contribute to lives in limbo for most children who have been permanently removed from their families due to abuse and neglect.

Of Ontario’s 8,300 Crown wards, just 993 were adopted in 2009-10, meaning many will grow up in foster care and never experience the special love and guidance of a permanent family. When they age out of the child welfare system, they are more likely to end up in homeless shelters, the criminal justice system and mental health programs, studies show.

Survey respondents said children should be protected by child welfare agencies until age 18 and “should not have to transition to adulthood at 16 and be responsible for their own safety.”

An overwhelming 94 per cent said Ontario should spend more money to ensure more youth in foster care graduate from high school. Just 44 per cent of youth in foster care complete high school — compared to 81 per cent of their peers.

Another 44 per cent think children in care should stay in their foster homes until they have completed post-secondary education or acquired a full-time job, just like most of their peers who don’t leave home until then.

“Children in care deserve to have the same health, education and employment opportunities as their peers,” the report says.

The Angus Reid poll has a margin of error plus or minus 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.


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