What is adoption in Ontario?
Adoption is the legal process that gives children and youth a permanent, loving relationship with a new family when their birth families are unable to care for them. Adoption is intended to provide children and youth with the stability and lifelong security that comes from a permanent home. Adoption is one permanency option considered for children and youth in the permanent care, called Extended Society Care, of Children’s Aid Societies in Ontario. Learn about other paths to permanency here.
It’s all about the children and youth. Children and youth needing permanent families through adoption are often older, come from a sibling group, have experienced trauma, and may have complex medical needs. Children’s Aid Societies work hard, in partnership with families, to keep children and youth in their homes. When this is not possible, extended family members or community members with connections to the family, known as kin, are sought. It is critical for children and youth to remain connected to their communities and culture and it is for this reason that an adoption placement, particularly where the adopters are unknown to the child, is the last alternative.
Ensuring that children and youth are consulted about the decisions being made about their future is essential. Their wishes are considered at every step of their permanency journey and their voices remain at the centre of adoption work.
Children’s Aid Societies recognize the inherent right of Indigenous communities to address the needs of their children and youth and to ensure access and connection to their communities and culture. Placements of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children in non-Indigenous adoptive families are never considered without consultation and agreement from the child’s Band or community. For First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children and youth, customary care is a preferred placement option. Learn more about customary care here.
It’s all about the match. The needs of children and youth come first, and a successful adoption match takes place when a family or individual possesses all the skills and characteristics to provide for the child/youth’s needs.
The goal is to find caregivers for children and youth who share their unique racial, cultural, religious, and identity needs and can support their developmental needs.
Children’s Aid Societies do not charge fees for home studies, training, or adoption service. Adoptive caregivers just need to be sure they can meet the needs of the child(ren) or youth. There are targeted subsidies available for caregivers who meet the eligibility requirements. More information about the kinds of supports and subsidies that are available for adoptive caregivers can be found here.
Every child/youth is unique. And because of this, every adoption will be unique. But one thing that each child/youth has in common is the need for a family.
It takes time. The process to find the right match, have a home study done, and complete the training can take time. The time it takes to go through the adoption process varies depending on the needs and situation of the child/youth. For more information about the timeline to adopt in Ontario, click here.
Adoption is not right for all children/youth. Despite recent increases in permanency supports for children and youth in care, there remain thousands of young people in Extended Society Care in Ontario for whom adoption may not be the right path to permanency. Some children and youth are not emotionally prepared to engage in a process of seeking an adoptive family. They may have significant needs for healing from grief and loss experiences. Many of these young people will remain with their foster caregivers long-term.
What are the different ways to adopt in Ontario?
In Ontario, there are several ways to adopt. People often explore options in all three systems.
Public adoption involves the adoption of a child or youth currently in the permanent care of Ontario’s child welfare system. Children’s Aid Societies can facilitate the adoption of a child or youth in their care. There are no fees associated with public adoption. Each local Children’s Aid Society can provide prospective adoptive caregivers with all the required information they need to consider public adoption. The Adoption Council of Ontario’s Centralized Adoption Intake Service is another helpful resource for caregivers who may need further information to get started.
Private adoption is the process through which a child’s biological family makes the decision to pursue an adoption plan for their child. Private adoptions typically take place at birth, though they can be initiated at any age. The adoption is facilitated by a licensed Ontario adoption agency on a fee-for-service basis. A list of agencies licensed to facilitate private adoption is available at www.children.gov.on.ca.
Inter-country adoption involves the adoption of a child from another country by a resident of Ontario. Generally, inter-country adoption must be facilitated through a licensed Ontario adoption agency that is authorized to facilitate adoption by both the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services and by the child’s country of origin. Services are provided on a fee-for-service basis and vary depending on the adoption agency’s fee schedule. A list of adoption agencies licensed to facilitate inter-country adoption is available at www.children.gov.on.ca.
It is important for prospective adoptive caregivers to become educated about each of the three systems to determine the pathway that is best for them.
How does adoption work?
SAFE and PRIDE
Applicants in Ontario must complete the following requirements to adopt:
- A SAFE (Structured Analysis, Family Evaluation) home study
- PRIDE (Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education) pre-service training program
SAFE home study
- Home safety checklist and questionnaires
- Medical report, police and child welfare clearances, and references
A SAFE home study may only be completed by a Children’s Aid Society staff or a Ministry-approved practitioner. A SAFE home study can take 4–6 months to complete and is generally valid for up to 2 years.
Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education (PRIDE) Training
PRIDE pre-service is a nine-module (27-hour) training program used to prepare and educate families interested in adoption, kinship care, customary care, and fostering. PRIDE curriculum includes information about the following:
- Adoption and child welfare systems, processes, and laws
- Attachment and loss
- Child development and issues specific to the needs of adopted children
- The effects of neglect, lack of stimulation, abuse, and institutionalization on children
- Identity formation and the importance of cultural and racial awareness
- The importance of connections and continuity for children
PRIDE pre-service training can be completed through a Children’s Aid Society at no cost or through a private PRIDE trainer for a fee. Local Children’s Aid Societies are available to answer questions about PRIDE or a schedule of private PRIDE pre-service training sessions can be found here.
Heart and Spirit
Applicants in Ontario who apply to Indigenous Child and Family Well-Being Agencies must complete the following requirements to adopt:
- SPIRIT (Strong Parent Indigenous Relationships)
- HEART (Helping Establish Able Resource-Homes Together) pre-service education
For Indigenous families, the engagement process is completed through a trauma-informed lens and through HEART (Helping Establish Able Resource-Homes Together) and SPIRIT (Strong Parent Indigenous Relationships), which are alternatives to SAFE and PRIDE. HEART and SPIRIT are grounded in Indigenous family life, philosophies, values, and traditions. They support potential caregivers of Indigenous children and youth to learn about these traditions, as well as the impacts of historical events that have disrupted them.
A portable home study
Once a home study is completed, prospective adoptive caregivers can apply to adopt through private, public, or inter-country adoption.
Each adoption system has unique requirements. Additional documentation, interviews, or education may be necessary. No one practitioner or agency can fully approve adoption within all three systems, and Children’s Aid Societies cannot complete a home study for the sole purpose of inter-country adoption. An updated home study may be required if caregivers move from one system to another.
There may be instances when a SAFE home study requires an update:
- Change of adoption system (for example, public to inter-country)
- Change of circumstances (a new partner or child, a separation, a move to a new home or area in the province)
- Change of child profile (expanded criteria to include different sex, age, special needs, etc.)
Prospective adoptive caregivers will be required to update any information that was not provided or has changed since their original home study.
Becoming approved as an adoptive applicant takes time.
Completing all the requirements for adoption in Ontario may take up to 1 year. There may be a wait list for PRIDE training or completion of a SAFE home study based on available staffing and resources.
In all three systems, children are placed based on the match with the family. The time frame for a match, and subsequent placement of a child, depends on the type of adoption being pursued and the profile of the child the caregiver is hoping to adopt. Local Children’s Aid Society staff or a private adoption practitioner can discuss time frames relevant to everyone’s unique circumstance.
After 2 years, SAFE home studies require updating. This involves obtaining new references, criminal and child welfare clearances, medical reports, and a meeting with an adoption professional to update relevant information.
What is openness in adoption?
“Openness in adoption” refers to the possibility of adoption for children and youth who are in the Extended Society Care of a Children’s Aid Society to maintain relationships with their family of origin. Openness in adoption was introduced in 2011 when Bill 179, Building Families and Supporting Youth to be Successful Act established changes to the Ontario Child, Youth and Family Services Act that removed legal barriers to permanency for youth in care in Ontario who have relationships with their birth family. Openness in adoption has been viewed as enormously beneficial to children and youth to maintain important relationships, as well as connections to their community and culture.
2020–2021 adoption data
In 2020–2021*, 525 adoptions were completed through Ontario Children’s Aid Societies. In 2020-2021, 387 adoptions (almost three quarters) included openness provisions.
The number of children for whom adoption is an option has decreased steadily in the last 5 years. This is because of the increased focus of CASs on keeping children living safely with their families.
* These numbers were reported from 38 non-Indigenous member agencies. They are derived from the Q4 2020-2021 Ministry Quarterly Reports (as of October 29, 2021).
Adoption Council of Ontario — The Adoption Council of Ontario (ACO) is a not-for-profit organization providing outreach, support, and education to all adoptees, adoptive parents, potential adoptive parents, birth families, and adoption professionals in Ontario. ACO runs the Centralized Adoption Intake service which provides a central point of information and support to help prospective adoptive caregivers learn more about adoption and complete their application.
Adopt Ontario — Adopt Ontario is a photo listing website that connects children from Children’s Aid Societies in Ontario waiting for adoption with families in Ontario. It is a program of the Adoption Council of Ontario.
Adopt4Life — Adopt4Life is the association in Ontario that provides peer-based community supports to parents and caregivers at all stages of the adoption journey.
Adoption Resource Exchange — The Adoption Resource Exchange conference is an MCCSS funded program that helps locate and match adoptive families with Ontario children needing adoption. These events are hosted a few times a year by the Adoption Council of Ontario.
Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS) — MCCSS provides oversight of Children’s Aid Societies and children and youth for whom adoption is an option.
The province of Ontario provides adoption supports to families that have adopted through a Children’s Aid Society.
These supports include:
- Targeted subsidies for adoption for families and children who meet the financial eligibility requirements. Targeted subsidies provide for monthly financial supports until the child turns 21 years. These are reviewed annually and will continue as long as the family continues to meet the eligibility requirements.
- The Aftercare Benefits Initiative, which offers comprehensive health and dental benefits to former youth in care, including adoptees between the ages of 18 to 24, if they don’t have access to drug and dental benefits through their employer, adoptive parents, or a spouse’s plan. The adoption must have occurred on or after June 1, 2016. The program offers prescription drug, dental, extended health and counselling benefits, and life skills supports that they might not otherwise be able to afford. Eligibility will be for four consecutive years up to age 24. It is administered by the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS).
- The Living and Learning Grant (LLG) to help youth from care and adoptive families with the costs of pursuing postsecondary education. Eligibility includes adopted youth in Extended Society Care aged 18 to 24 who were adopted on or after August 1, 2013. Youth must be enrolled in full-time postsecondary programs that are approved under the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) beginning August 1, 2016. The grant provides eligible youth with $2,000 a semester ($500 per month) of full-time postsecondary studies to a maximum of $6,000 per academic year to help with educational expenses. Eligible youth may receive the grant for a maximum of four academic years.
- Funding to support customary care, a culturally appropriate placement option for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children and youth. There is one-time financial assistance of $5,000 available to families who meet the eligibility criteria.
- Pathways to Permanency, which is specialized training offered through the Adoption Council of Ontario for parents who adopt.
- The Parent2Parent Support Network, which empowers adoptive parents, as well as kinship and customary caregivers, to connect and support one another by matching new caregivers with experienced ones. Supports, specialized learning, and resources help both new and experienced parents meet the needs of their children.
To learn more about these supports and subsidies, visit the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services.