The challenges of adopting a child in Canada as a single parent

Ed Daranyi faced skepticism when he decided to adopt.

“Probably the hardest thing was continuously convincing people, social workers specifically, that this wasn’t just a phase I was going through or an accessory I was looking for.

“And that a male could have the same desire and feeling as a female to build a family,” said Daranyi, a Resident Teaching Artist at the Stratford Festival, in Stratford, Ontario.

He wrote to the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) stating he wanted to explore adoption. His request was rejected outright. He responded by challenging the notion that a single female could adopt a child and a single male couldn’t. “I used the word discrimination in my letter,” he said.

The CAS eventually invited him to an information session after which Daranyi completed all the adoption prerequisites. He filled out applications, attended training sessions, submitted his medical history, and police check. He took a parenting course. (The hefty binders are still in his home today.)

Single parents with only one income can sometimes face greater financial pressure and there’s no one to share responsibilities with. However, some experts suggest that single-parent adoptive applicants walk a totally different path than couple applicants.

Bev Fowlie, an adoption team leader for 15 years with B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development, feels there is a bias against single-parent applicants. Some social workers, she said, who are responsible for placing children in homes and meeting prospective adopters, often have this image of what they want for the child. “It’s usually a two-parent home and it’s not always in the best interest of the child to go to a two-parent home.”

For his part, Daranyi answered social workers questions about his childhood and parenting goals during home studies. He gave them reference letters from his friends to show he had a support network. It does take a village, after all, to raise a child.

Two years later, in September 2005, he adopted his son from the foster care system. It was back in 2003 that Daranyi first saw Trevor’s file with photo and notes on how he liked music and drawing. Daranyi, an art educator, could see they shared interests. His son is now 16.

Of the hours of interviews and endless paperwork, Daranyi now says, “It was all totally worth it.

“Whatever your definition of family the ultimate goal is to provide a safe and healthy environment in order for kids to be able to grow and become all they can.”

Celebrities who’ve adopted have openly discussed their challenges. In a recent issue of People Magazine, Sandra Bullock introduced her newly adopted girl to the world. She continues to battle the paparazzi to stop them taking photos of her son and daughter and she navigated the foster-care system for three years before adopting her daughter.

According to Statistics Canada, a total of 47,885 children were living in foster care in Canada in 2011. (That marked the first time in census history that foster kids were counted.) But there’s no national database that specifies how many children are in foster care in each province, nor statistics on how many foster children are eligible for adoption. According to the Adoption Council of Canada (ACC) there’s no data on many children are referred for adoption or even if adoption is a plan for them.

As a social worker for public domestic adoptions, Fowlie conducted home studies. Her goal was to get insight into beliefs and values around parenting practices. She discussed family background, motivation for adoption, the applicant’s family life and dynamics growing up, their commitment history, financial circumstances, and experience with children.

For instance, where a child has been sexually abused prior to adoption it may be better to have a woman as a single parent, she said. This gives the child an opportunity to build trust, which might be hard in a two-parent family.

Approval is complex because each case has so many variables, and, as a result, wait times to adopt vary. There is no average. “‘How long do I have to wait?That is the question I am asked most often,” Fowlie said. “And I don’t have one answer.”

The Adoption Council of Canada says there are approximately 30,000 children legally eligible for adoption in Canada, but many ‘age out’ of the system before they are matched with two-parent families or a single-parent applicant.

Fowlie acknowledges that the system is overburdened. But the interviews and home studies aren’t intended to be barriers to adoption, she said, they determine what is in the best interest of the child.

“People often come to us and are fearful and think they won’t be approved for adoption. Nobody is perfect. No family is perfect,” said Fowlie, who retired from social work in 2013. She now volunteers as an adoption support coordinator with the Adoptive Families Association of B.C.

Fowlie was 50 when she decided to adopt and her journey – paperwork, interviews, police check, being matched with a child – lasted nine months. Then she adopted an eight-year-old girl from the foster care system. “It was harder to develop a relationship than if she’d been a newborn,” she said. “But because I was single I was able to devote all my time and focus on her.”

Lawrence Morton is founder of Canada Adopts, a website that connects pregnant women who are considering open adoption for their child, with parents and families hoping to adopt babies. (In an open adoption the birth family and adoptive family have the option of keeping in contact.)

Like Fowlie in B.C., Morton’s experience is that single-parent applicants do have a harder time adopting than couples because birth mothers and private adoption agencies (that charge for their services) tend to favour two-parent families.

A lot of the reasons people create an adoption plan, usually an expectant mother, is that she doesn’t have the resources to raise a child on her own, he said. There are cases where both an expectant father and mother are involved, but a lot of the time it’s just the expectant mother.

His advice to single-parent applicants who’ve been asked how they intend to raise an adopted child: “I would stress that I’m financially and emotionally stable and I have this big support network, this family that I can rely on to help me.”