This FAQ is currently under review to better reflect recent Indigenous-led child welfare reforms. It may contain out-of-date information.
Adoption is a legal process where a child is raised by people who aren’t their birth parents. Birth parents are the parents who the child is biologically related to. For this to happen, a birth parent has to give up their parental rights. The adoptive parents also have to agree to take on parental rights for the child.
Some people view adoption as an alternative to abortion. Some see it as the option for pregnant people who aren’t comfortable with abortion, but don’t want to be a parent. But adoption isn’t just a choice to not have an abortion or not to raise a child. It is its own process, which is chosen by the pregnant person.
If you’re thinking about adoption, it can help to understand what adoption involves so that you can make the decision that’s right for you.
What are the different kinds of adoption?
There are five types of adoption recognized in Canada:
- A public adoption is when a parent or parents adopt a child through the Canadian child welfare system. These adoptions are often financially supported by the child welfare system.
- A private adoption is when a parent or parents adopt a child through a private organization, like a church group. These often require adoptive parents to pay the organization to arrange the adoption.
- An international adoption is when a parent or parents adopt a child from another country. Some countries have very strict limits on this in order to prevent child trafficking. This means they can take much longer than “domestic” adoptions within Canada.
- When someone marries a person who has children, that person may formally adopt their stepchildren in order to have the same legal protections as the original parent.
- Finally, a kinship adoption is when someone adopts a child who they’re related to, like a grandchild or younger sibling.
Most of these types of adoptions can also either be open or closed.
An open adoption is one where the adoptive parent(s) meet the birth parent(s). Both sets of parents are able to know who each other are and be in contact. This can allow a birth parent to stay in touch with their child even if they aren’t considered the child’s parent.
A closed adoption is one where the adoptive parent(s) do not have contact with the birth parent(s). Birth parents are usually forbidden from contacting the child, though they may make themselves available for the child to contact them when they get older.
Having different kinds of adoption available helps people who are going through it find the best options for themselves and their children. One family’s arrangement can look totally different from another family’s arrangement, and that’s okay!
What about foster care?
Foster care and adoption are sometimes grouped together, but they’re different things. With adoption, parental rights are permanently signed over to the adoptive parents. A birth parent may still be in touch with their child, but once the child is adopted, their adoptive parents will have full custody. The child is legally part of their family forever unless the adoption is formally dissolved. If it is dissolved, the child does not usually return to their birth parents; instead, they might go into foster care, or be adopted by someone else.
Foster care is designed to support youth under 18 who have no legal guardians available. This includes birth and adoptive parents. Foster care may allow a birth parent (or another relative) to regain custody of their child at a later time. Minors in foster care “age out” of the system at either age 16 or age 19, depending on the province.
Is adoption right for me? What are my options?
If you’re pregnant and considering adoption, choosing which type you’d prefer can depend on a lot of things.
- Would you be interested in having contact with your birth child in the future?
- If your birth child wants to have contact with you someday, how would you feel about that?
- Do you want your birth child to be raised in a specific kind of environment? Would you be more or less comfortable if you could choose the parents who raised them?
- Are there certain cultural or religious things that you want your birth child to be aware of as they grow up? If they’re First Nations or a person of colour, would you want them to be raised by someone who is as well?
Just like with parenthood or abortion, it’s important for people who choose adoption to know as much as they can about what they’re choosing. If you’re pregnant, you should never be pressured or forced into something like adoption.
If you’re thinking about it, it can help to talk to someone you trust. A social worker or counsellor may also be able to help answer your questions about what you’d need to do in order to go through with an adoption.
Does adoption work?
Lots of people who are considering adoption have worries and fears about it. There are lots of stories about adoptions that go badly. People sometimes say mean things about birth parents who “give up” their children, or accuse adoptive parents of “stealing” other peoples’ babies.
While there are some real problems with how adoptions can work, if you’re thinking about going through with one, it doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad parent. Lots of children who are adopted have happy, loving families.
Most adoptions work out, but sometimes they don’t. What happens when it doesn’t work out can depend on the type of adoption it is. The child might enter the foster care system, be adopted by someone else instead, or – more rarely – go back to the custody of their birth parent. This can happen for all kinds of reasons. It doesn’t mean the child is “bad” or has “failed” in any way. The most important thing is that the child has access to the support they need, no matter what their family situation is.
When it comes to making a family, there’s no one “right” way to do it. One person’s family can look totally different from another’s! What’s important is that family members love and support each other, regardless of if they’re family by birth or not.