Pros, cons of kinship care and family adoptions in Ontario

In Ontario, Children’s Aid Societies are looking to kinship care as a very realistic option for children who cannot live with their birthparents. Working under the premise that most people have the desire to look after nieces, nephews, grandchildren and children in the community who need help, Children’s Aid Societies offer information, monitoring and support to make the placement successful.

Before making a decision to parent a young relative either on a temporary or permanent basis, interested family and community members need to seriously consider the pros and cons of kinship care, as well as be realistic about what it involves.

Benefits of Providing Kinship Care to a Family Member

In many cultures, it is intuitive for extended family members and neighbours to look after their community’s children. Aside from wanting to protect and nurture the next generation, these close-knit communities provide support when a child’s family is in need of help. The pros of providing kinship care include:

  • The child stays with people she knows
  • A better chance of preserving a child’s culture and language
  • A shared common history within the family and community
  • Easier access to birthparent information

Kinship care is very child-centred, so decisions are made in the child’s best interest. As a result, the ultimate goal of placing a child in kinship care is to provide the child with a place to live while the birthparents sort out their issues. From a child’s perspective, this temporary arrangement is the least disruptive and minimizes stress. From the point of view of the kinship care family however, their lives will greatly change.

Challenges of Adopting a Relative

Even if there are problems suspected in a child’s family, the request to become a kinship care family usually arises during a crisis situation. Despite being familiar with the family situation, people hoping to provide kinship care need to be prepared for:

  • The child experiencing complex emotions
  • Putting aside issues with family members
  • Arranging visits with birthparents
  • Adjustment of all family members, both immediate and extended
  • A complete change of lifestyle

Perhaps the biggest challenge for people providing kinship care to grandchildren, nieces or nephews is to see blood relatives struggle with their own problems in addition to temporarily losing their child. If there were issues within the extended family already, kinship care arrangements tend to make problems even more complex.

Issues That are Unique to Kinship Care

In many ways, kinship care is like fostering a child but there are some unique differences that need to be taken into consideration. Fostering is a conscience choice made by individuals or families, where as kinship care is usually unexpected. Kinship families may suddenly find themselves:

  • Seeking help from professionals for themselves and the child
  • Struggling to speak positively of birthparents
  • Having difficulty handling special occasions and holidays
  • Needing to redefine their role in the child’s life
  • Working with the Children’s Aid Society

There is also a great deal of uncertainty for kin families as they do not know if the child will be returning to her birthparents, and if not, should they legally adopt or take custody of the child.

Kinship care is often the best choice for a child whose family is in crisis, but the family taking the child in needs to be prepared. When the Children’s Aid Society, the birthparents and the kinship family are all working for the child’s best interest, kinship care can be a successful arrangement.

Fostering the Child You Want to Adopt

According to the Dave Thomas Foundation, there are over 150,000 children available for adoption in North America and 30,000 of them are in the Canadian foster care system. The average age of these waiting children is eight years old. However, many Canadian adoptive parents are adopting infants and younger children by fostering with a view to adopt.

Benefits of Fostering a Child Before Adopting

There are many pros of choosing to foster a child before adopting her, the most important one being that she is with her permanent family sooner. Other benefits include:

  • Foster parents are sometimes privy to information about the child’s birth family that adoptive parents are not routinely given
  • Future adoptive parents and siblings can bond with the foster child sooner
  • Structure and routine are consistent through foster care arrangement and adoption
  • Financial support and planning for the child’s developmental, emotional and social needs are available through the child welfare organization
  • Less disruption to the child’s life

Another positive aspect of fostering a child with a view to adopt is that the future adoptive family may have a chance to meet the child’s birth family. As open adoptions are becoming more common, the contact and information obtained during meetings will be invaluable to the adopted child in the future.

Challenges of Fostering a Child With a View to Adopt

When looking at the option of fostering a child before adoption, the biggest factor that holds adoptive families back is the possibility of the child going back to the birth family. Aside from the pain and anxiety over the possibility of a reversal, other cons of fostering before adoption are:

  • The stress of arranging the family schedule to permit visitations between birth family and foster child
  • Dealing with the emotions and challenges the foster child may have following a visit with birth family
  • It may be many months or years before the child can be legally adopted by the foster family
  • Attachment with the child may be impacted by delays in adoption finalization and fear of an adoption reversal

Despite the stress and upheaval to the foster/adoptive family’s life during the waiting time, the consistent routine and semi-permanent arrangement is very beneficial to the child.

Preparing for the Transition From Fostering to Adoption

Even if a child has been fostered by a family since birth, the permanency of an adoption status may bring forward some issues for the newly adopted child. Key things that adoptive parents need to keep in mind are:

  • To not assume that even though the adoptive family is relieved the adoption is final, the child may not feel the same way
  • To keep routines, expectations and living arrangements the same for the child as they were before the adoption
  • Mark the finalization of the child’s adoption with a celebration
  • To follow through on promises to maintain contact with birth family members and to take the lead from the child as to the nature of the contact

By becoming involved in a foster child’s life early on, adoptive parents create the environment for a happy, well-adjusted child. As stated in the vision of the Dave Thomas Foundation, “Every child will have a permanent home and a loving family”, fostering with a view to adopt gives kids the consistent and caring support that every child deserves.

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