Changing attitudes about adoption
Life Canada, an organization seeking to educate Canadians about the value of life, launched a national awareness campaign in November, to coincide with the Canada’s official National Adoption Awareness Month. Life Canada’s “Adoption in Canada” campaign aims to assure 18 to 29-year-old women facing unplanned pregnancies that adoption is a “heroic” choice. According to the campaign’s website, adoptionincanada.ca, “many will consider abortion as the way out of their difficulties, but only a small percentage of women will seriously contemplate adoption.” About 60 per cent of mothers with unplanned pregnancies choose to raise the child, four in ten have abortions, and less than 2 per cent put their child up for adoption.
Birth parents “need to know that times have changed. They need to know that open adoption – where the birth parents select the adoptive families and negotiate future contact and involvement – is common practice today,” project director Anastasia Bowles told LifeSiteNews. Bowles laments that in the past, “adoptions were secret, shame-filled proceedings” and that now “adoptees and adoptive parents often suffer due to painful misconceptions and negative stereotypes.” The campaign, while acknowledging the emotional difficulties associated with adoption, seeks to put an end to adoption myths and illustrate the benefits of adoption for the child and mother. The campaign includes advertisements and a website providing information for birth mothers and links to support groups.
A recent article in Faith Today magazine highlights the shortage of adoptive parents and the need for an overhaul of the Canadian adoption system. “There are an estimated 30,000 adoptable children across Canada who are waiting and aging in a system that is fragmented, exhausted and lacking national coordination,” writes Bruce Clemenger, president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and Tracy Clemenger. Research by the Adoption Council of Canada shows that the number of children available for adoption increased by 10,000 over the past five years. The authors suggest that this is one of the consequences of the erosion of the Canadian family and parenting skills. “Individualism, family breakdown and poverty take their toll.” Furthermore, there is a lack of funding for marketing initiatives promoting adoption and no national standards for domestic adoption.
The government has recently given the issue of adoption more attention. The Human Resources Parliamentary Committee began a study on adoption in Canada. Governor General David Johnston used his first official visit to the Ontario legislature on Dec. 2 to call for MPPs to make it easier for families to adopt in Ontario. Johnston headed the Expert Panel on Infertility and Adoption, which issued the 2009 report, “Raising Expectations.” It stated that because of the province’s ineffective adoption bureaucracy, many parents are waiting several years to adopt a child while thousands of Ontario Crown wards are left in foster care.
The Clemengers, parents of an adopted child, also expressed concern over the effects that “unexamined social myths” are having on couples considering adoption. They were once told by their five-year-old daughter about her friends’ negative attitudes towards adoption. “The minds of other five-year-olds were already saturated in ‘negative views’,” they wrote. “Later, we also learned of the lack of positive and healthy resources available to schools about adoption.”
Other problems identified by the Clemengers in their Faith Today article include the mainstream opinion of adoption as a “Plan B” status (to be pursued only in case of infertility or pregnancy risks), widespread warnings about getting “genetically imperfect” children, associating adoptive families with emotional challenges, and the perception of adoption primarily as a “nice rescue thing.”
“Could our culture be in the grip of a cult-like fixation on genetic ties first, genetic ties best?” they ask. According to the article, the media rarely focuses on the positive outcomes of adoption. An example of a successful initiative is One Church, One Child, founded in Chicago, where each church involved helps a child in government care to fit into the local church and community – these children were often soon formally adopted. The Clemengers hope that involving a community at a time will help reshape public attitudes about adoption.
Several studies illustrate the positive aspects of adoption. One 2007 report from the American Sociological Review finds that “Two-adoptive-parent families invest as much and, in some cases of marginal significance, more in their children than do two-biological-parent families… The adoptive advantage becomes more apparent in comparison with children from other alternative family types.” The authors suggest that this may be partly a response to societal stigma towards adoption, sensitivity to the child’s emotional needs, and the cost of going through the adoption process. James A. Rosenthal in a 1993 study in the journal, The Future of Children, classifies adopted “special needs” children as having “distinctly positive” experiences. He found that 10 to 15 per cent of adoptions of children over three are terminated, and of those that are not, 75 per cent of parents report being satisfied with the outcome. A 1998 using the Swedish Adoption/Twin Study of Aging, compared 60 pairs of twins, one raised by the birth parent and the other by an adoptive parent. There were only four significant differences between the two: the adopted children received more education and drank less, though they were more susceptible to some forms of psychological distress, and adoptees seem to be just as likely to have a stable adulthood as children raised by biological parents, even if they do temporarily experience emotional troubles while growing up in a new family.
There is also evidence that the number of children put up for adoption every year may be closely correlated with abortion rates. A study by Marianne Bitler and Madeline Zavodny in the 2002 issue of the journal, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, tests what the impact of the Roe v. Wade was on adoption rates using data from 1961 to 1975. The report finds that “states that repealed their abortion restrictions before Roe v. Wade saw significant declines in adoption rates for children born to white women; these declines were 34-37 per cent… Adoption rates did not change significantly after Roe v. Wade for states that had not repealed restrictive laws.” The authors analyze their findings in economics terms: “The supply of children available for adoption is always less than the demand – as appears to be the case in the United States, particularly for healthy white infants… the supply of relinquished children depends on the costs… to birth parents and their families of raising children.” Bitler and Zavodny continue: “The availability and cost of abortion also may affect the number of adoptions of prospective mothers view birth, adoption and abortion as imperfect substitutes for each other.”
According to the National Committee for Adoption, the number of children adopted by parents unrelated to the birth mothers declined from 82,800 to 50,720 from 1971 to 1982. Possible explanations include increasing access to abortion and contraceptives, as well as reduction of social stigma of single parenthood.
Campaigns such as Life Canada’s and efforts by the Clemengers and Governor General David Johnston are trying to change the way Canadians views adoption among all those concerned: birth mothers, adopting parents, and the public at large. They clearly have plenty of work to do.
This is the first in a series of articles that will examine issues surrounding adoption. If you have direct experience with adoption, as a mother, adopting family, or adoptee, and would like to tell your story, please contact us at (416) 204-1687.