People often write or call us here at Focus expressing their interest in adopting a child. We would love to share some basic information about adoption in Canada. First, there are three ways to adopt in Canada: public, private and international.

Public adoption

Public adoption involves adopting children who are in the care of a provincial child welfare authority. These are children whose parents have been unable to parent them, for a variety of reasons, and the courts have therefore turned over responsibility for their care to the province. These children can range in age from newborns to teenagers.

Since few parents give up their rights without a period of trying to parent, it can be months or years before these children are legally able to be adopted; this is why few are available for adoption as babies. Some, however, are adopted by families who have fostered them. If you are interested in pursuing public adoption, you should contact your local child welfare office and inquire about the process, which usually involves education and screening (a home study).

There are no fees for adopting through the public system and some financial support is available if the child requires ongoing services such as counselling. These children are usually considered "special needs" children, not necessarily because they have mental or physical handicaps (although this is sometimes the case), but because they may have experienced abuse, neglect or disruptions due to shuttling back and forth between birth and foster families before a permanent placement (adoption) is found. Adoptive parents must parent with these special circumstances in mind; a stable, loving, consistent family is an amazing gift for these children.

Christian families who wish to foster and adopt children from the public system need to be aware that spanking is not permitted. In fact, in some Canadian jurisdictions, telling a social worker that you would spank a child will result in the home study being turned down. Parents should consider other means of discipline to provide boundaries for their children.

Private adoption

Private adoptions are also governed by the provinces. This type of adoption involves children who are being placed by a birth family. Usually, though not always, these are infants who are relinquished for adoption at birth. Adoption agencies, licensed and accountable to their provincial government’s adoption division, facilitate these adoptions.

These agencies provide birth parents with free counselling, support and referrals if they choose to parent, and matching services if they choose adoption. There is no obligation for birth parents to continue with the adoption if they suddenly decide it is not what they wish, even though the agency may have provided considerable support. It is essential that birth parents make this choice of their own free will, without any feeling of obligation or coercion on the part of prospective adoptive parents or agency staff.

Private agencies also provide services to prospective adoptive parents – including adoption information, education and home assessments for those who apply to adopt – as well as support services before, during and after the adoption. There is no guarantee that adoptive families will be successful in adopting when they apply with an agency, but the great majority do succeed in adopting. Agencies will explore with applicants the likelihood of them being chosen by a birth mother, as well as everything involved in the process before recommending that they complete an application.

Adoptive parents are charged fees for the services provided by the agency. We recommend that you contact your local agencies for specific information about the fees, what they cover and when they are charged. It is also important to understand that in most cases, private adoptions are considered open adoptions.

Open adoption means that the birth parent(s) have the right to receive information about prospective adoptive families, to choose a family for their child and to meet the family at some point in the process. They may wish to negotiate some form of ongoing contact with the adoptive family. This prospect makes many families nervous about private adoption. Some common questions are:

  •  Will this confuse the child?
  • Will this be intrusive to our family? 
  • Will my child prefer the birth mother to the adoptive mother?
  • Will they try to take the child away from us? 

If you choose this option, it is important to explore these issues thoroughly with an adoption worker early in the process. In general, families who are initially afraid of open adoption come to embrace it when it is understood and managed well. If you would like to discuss this at greater length, call us at 1.800.661.9800.

Canada has two agencies that are specifically run by evangelical Christians. Amaris Adoption Services works in Alberta and JFJ Hope Centre works in Ontario. In other provinces, contact your provincial child welfare ministry for information on licensed agencies. It never hurts to ask an agency if they have Christian social workers who can work with you on your home study. Some provinces also have services specifically designed for families who are Catholic or Mormon. 

International adoption

A third option for adoption in Canada is international (or "intercountry") adoption. Many children around the world are orphaned and in need of families. Since international adoption regulations vary between countries and change over time, your provincial adoption division is the best source of information on which countries currently have workable programs and what is required to adopt from those countries.

All these programs require a screening process, performed by a licensed agency in the adoptive parents’ province (as described above). This involves adoption education, a home study and approval from the provincial authority. Home studies, with other required supporting documentation (such as medical reports, financial statements, etc) are then sent to the child’s country, where a child will be selected and proposed to the family.

Once a family accepts a proposal, they are considered to be matched with that child and the legal process is initiated within the child’s country. Again, this process and the cost of the adoption, as well as the length of time it takes, varies from country to country. It may also vary depending on the circumstances within the country.

Countries that have had workable and successful intercountry programs with Canada include China, Haiti, Ethiopia, Russia, the USA, Vietnam, Thailand, Ukraine, Romania, Kazakhstan and Taiwan. Contact your provincial or local agency that works with international adoptions for current information on the status of these programs.

Once the legal paperwork is completed, arrangements are made for the family to receive their child, usually by travelling to the country to pick the child up, but occasionally children can/need to be escorted to Canada. Travel forms a significant percentage of the fees involved in international adoption, which range from about $15,000 to $40,000 Cdn.   

It is important to consider the cultural and racial differences that your child will experience. While parents often feel that culture or race is "not an issue" for them, the child who grows up outside of their culture and/or race may feel alienated, displaced or uncomfortable in situations parents may not have anticipated. It is essential that parents carefully consider how they will help to preserve culture, offer opportunities for their child to interact with others of their race and help their child feel comfortable "in their own skin." Agencies will assist in the process of educating parents and heightening awareness of the challenges of intercountry adoption.

Where to go from here

If one or more of these options interests you, we recommend that you take a look at our Waiting to Belong website, which offers a wealth of adoption-related information.

In addition you can contact a local or provincial agency and ask for more detailed information. Most agencies offer written packages and/or free information sessions to explore these issues further.

We also highly recommend that you pray about the matter. The hand of God is so evident in the forming of families – from the miracle of childbirth to matching just the right child with the right family. God will lead you and guide you (and provide for you) if you step out in faith believing He has called you to pursue adoption. Do call us if we can be of further assistance (1.800.661.9800).

Wendy Kittlitz is vice-president of counselling and care ministries at Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2010 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

If you liked this article and would like to go deeper, we have some helpful resources below.

Our recommended resources

Join our newsletter

Advice for every stage of life delivered straight to your inbox