exposing the dark side of adoption
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A crying shame


A crying shame
Sarah Treleaven,  Financial Post  Published: Saturday, April 19, 2008

This first in a two-part series looks at the steeply rising costs of adoption. Next Saturday, the costs of surrogacy.
Perfect-looking families stare out from online profiles on private adoption sites, pleading to provide a home for someone else's biological child. Couples view video clips of a four-year-old born to a drug-dependent mother, puzzling over whether she will be the right fit for their family. And then there are those who literally travel to opposite ends of the Earth to pick up a son or daughter they've only seen in a photograph.
The picture of adoption in Canada includes multiple images. While there are three options for adoption in Canada--public, private domestic and international -- the system is far from simple to navigate. It is characterized by copious paperwork, lengthy wait times, few guarantees and -- in the case of private and international adoption -- extremely steep fees.
While there are currently no fees associated with public adoption through a Children's Aid Society, the cost for private and international adoptions can range from $10,000 to $50,000.
Prospective parents often start by paying for a mandatory homestudy, which determines if prospective parents and their environment are suitable for a child, and sometimes a parent training course. Additional expenses can include counseling costs for the child's biological family, legal fees (for facilitation by licensees, citizenship processing or name changes), oversight fees for adoption practitioners, travel expenses (including hotels, flights, incountry costs and visas), private agency fees and finally -- in the case of private domestic adoption -- the costs of marketing oneself as the ideal couple.
In the private domestic system, prospective adoptive parents create online profiles, print business cards and publish small books in an attempt to sell themselves to provincial adoption agencies and birth mothers. According to Sarah Pederson, program manager at Ottawa's Adoption Council of Canada, the administrative steps and expenses are wide ranging and guidelines are generally set by the provincial or territorial Ministry of Children and Youth Services.
The wait times for private adoption can be excruciating and control is wrenched out of the hands of applicants as they wait to be picked by a young woman who gleans from a picture and a few short paragraphs that they just might be the perfect family for the baby she cannot keep.
Denice GrantSmith and her husband, Lewis, are trying to arrange a private domestic adoption by posting on Web sites such as Canada Adopts!, and pushing their parent profiles to agencies. Ms. GrantSmith, herself an adoptee, says that they have spent $6,000 to $7,000 to date on a homestudy, Web site development, agency registration and the printing of profiles. For the entire process, she expects to pay "$20,000 at least," once parent-training classes, counselling and legal fees, and agency fees have been factored in.
In the public system, it is the kids who must be marketed to prospective parents. They are typically older, classified as high need and have often been removed from a negligent environment. Virginia Rowden, director of social policy at Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies (OACAS), says that there are at least 9,000 children in Ontario alone available for adoption. Even up against the projected expenses for private and international adoption, these children are often the hardest to place.
And the odds of placement might soon get even slimmer. Pending legislation in Ontario would require future adoptive parents to pay out-of-pocket for a lawyer to finalize their child's adoption. "Unless a fund is established to pay legal costs, free adoption services in Ontario will cease," says Marcelo Gomez-Wiuckstern, director of communications for OACAS.
Then there are international adoptions. These are generally facilitated through an international adoption agency and the requirements and expense can vary widely depending on the child's country of origin.
After two high-risk pregnancies that resulted in emergency Cesarean sections, Maike McCaskell and her husband decided to adopt a
third child through international channels. Two years after starting the application process, Ms. McCaskell and her mother-in-law flew to China in August, 2004, to pick up a 10-month-old baby girl. Within an hour of landing in Guangdong province, Ms. McCaskell was holding her new daughter.
"I know that people don't necessarily believe me, but it's the exact same thing as when you give birth and they put the baby in your arms," Ms. McCaskell says.
The McCaskells estimate that they spent a total of $25,000 to $27,000 on the adoption of their daughter. In addition to the homestudy, physicals, police checks and agency fees, the Mc-Caskells also paid for the translation of all of their documents and sundry government fees. Ms. McCaskell was required to stay in China for two weeks, and she estimates that the expenses related to the trip cost her $7,000.
Michael Blugerman, an adoption practitioner in Toronto, says that China is one of the least-expensive countries of origin for foreign adoptions, averaging $23,000, including travel and incountry costs. In other countries, most notably Russia, the expense can be closer to $45,000 --not including personal expenses.
Cathy Murphy, director of adoption services and acting executive director of Children's Bridge international adoption agency, says that mandatory incountry stays vary significantly -- from two weeks in China to eight weeks in Kazakhstan.
The high cost of adopting from a foreign country prompted the National Bank of Canada to introduce the International Adoption Financial Package 10 years ago. According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, inter-country adoption has been declining since 2003. But Linda Sefc, NBC regional manager, says that the loan program has been increasing in popularity, and that the average amount borrowed is $35,000 to $50,000.
Even for couples with deep pockets, the adoption process can quickly wear them down. Money can buy few guarantees. The private system in Canada is suffering from a tremendous shortage of available newborns; fewer than 100 private adoptions were completed last year from the pool of hundreds, if not thousands, of couples waiting to adopt.
The wait times for international adoption average two to three years, according to Ms. Murphy. But Mr. Blugerman says that the popular China program is now a four-to five-year wait, and the landscape is constantly changing. "The most active new area is Africa -- particularly Ethiopia and South Africa. I think [the wait] could be under a year. Some, like Korea, have slowed down to a dribble. There's more of a nationalistic fervour everywhere. The first principle is that these kids should be raised in their own country."
But with a dearth of newborns available for domestic adoption, an unpredictable international adoption system and reluctance on the part of parents to take on children through the public system who might require special care, frustration over the inability to build a family is mounting. Regardless of resources, some parents worry that they could be waiting forever for a child.
Laura, who asked that her real name not be used, has been waiting to adopt a baby through private Ontario channels for two years. "There's nothing you can do other than wait," she says. "Money isn't an issue. We're young, we have a nice house and cottage -- we're everything any birth mother would desire. We can provide a great life for a child, and it's just not happening for us."

2008 Apr 19