Published On Wed Jun 1 2011
Laurie MonsebraatenSocial Justice Reporter
Queen’s Park has removed legal barriers that trap most of the province’s 9,000 Crown wards in foster care with no hope of adoption.
The legislative change, passed by MPPs unanimously Wednesday, will make more kids in the care of Children’s Aid Societies eligible for adoption, said Children and Youth Minister Laurel Broten.
“This important legislation opens the door to a forever family for thousands of waiting kids across this province and helps more prospective adoptive parents to build the families they have always dreamed of,” she said.
The Star highlighted the plight of Ontario’s foster children in a series of articles last fall. The legal change was among the recommendations of the province’s 2009 Expert Panel on Infertility and Adoption, which called on the province to double the number of adoptions of Crown wards within five years.
“We’re delighted as an expert panel to see this move and we’re hopeful that the government will act on our other recommendations around (adoption) subsidies and supports before the end of its mandate,” said Panel member William Falk.
“The Star has been a really big part of making this happen,” added Falk, who was in the Legislature Wednesday.
Until now, two-thirds of Ontario’s Crown wards were ineligible for adoption because of court orders legally preventing them from being adopted.
Under the new law, these court orders, which set out the type of contact Crown wards have with their birth family, will be terminated when children are placed for adoption. In cases where some contact would be healthy for a child, courts could make “openness” orders.
For youth who are not adopted, the new law provides more support as they move into adulthood. It will allow 16- or 17-year-olds who leave care to return to the system voluntarily and be eligible for financial support until age 21.
New regulations will also make it easier for youth receiving financial support from Children’s Aid to attend college and university by giving them access to larger student loans.
“This legislation will result in so many more children and youth having the opportunity to have a family to support them into adulthood,” said Pat Convery, of the Adoption Council of Ontario, which provides public education and advocacy on adoption in the province.
“We are especially excited about the increased support for older youth who have often been lost in the system and left without support at age 18,” she said.
Missing from the adoption reforms, however, was a provincial plan to provide subsidies to make it financially easier for parents to adopt older Crown wards who often have complex medical or social needs.
Both Tory and NDP children’s critics criticized the government on this point.
Broten said she continues to work with the province’s 53 Children’s Aid Societies on the issue.
Falk said legislation isn’t needed to make the change and that the expert panel expects the government to act before next fall’s election.
The reforms date back to the Liberals’ 2007 election promise to appoint an expert panel to review adoption, he said.
“If Dalton McGuinty is able to deliver on support and subsidies, then they can fairly check the box for having delivered on this piece,” Falk added.