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A national policy on adoption remains elusive

Provinces keep track of adopted babies in their own ways

National Post. June 09, 2005.

No one knows exactly how many domestic adoptions occur each year in Canada.

The reason? Adoption is a provincial matter, and each one has a different way of keeping track. Infants and older children are grouped together in some provinces and separated in others; native children can be tracked provincially or by band councils only; and privately funded agencies -- licensed, charitable organizations that handle the bulk of infant adoptions -- are not tracked at all.

What is known is this: About 76,000 Canadian children are currently living in some form of public care other than their own homes, and about 22,000 are legally eligible for adoption. But only about 1,700 children are adopted each year, according to the Adoption Council of Canada. The council has asked Ottawa to use the census to find out how many adopted children and adults are living in Canada, but no new questions have been added on the topic.

The last major known Canadian research on adoption rates was published in 1993 by Michael Grand and Kerry Daly of the University of Guelph's department of family relations. Mr. Grand says the research received some federal funding because it was billed as a project to better understand teen pregnancy and abortion. The Guelph researchers compiled data from each of the provinces and territories and found the number of domestic adoptions dropped by almost 50% between 1981 and 1990, from 5,376 to 2,836. The biggest drop was in the number of public adoptions -- adoptions of children who are wards of the state. During that time, private adoptions remained steady at about 1,000 a year but increased from 17% to 40% of total adoptions.

Adoptions have declined largely because single motherhood is no longer stigmatized, and the young, unmarried women who are pregnant are more likely to parent their infants, says Mr. Grand. At the same time, infant adoptions have become rarer because of the declining teenage pregnancy rate.

In 1974, teens between ages 15 and 19 gave birth to about 55 babies per 1,000 population; by 1997, the number dropped to just over 40 per 1,000 population and has continued to drop.

More recent data from Statistics Canada found that in 1997, with the decline in births to teens, abortion surpassed live births as the most likely outcome of teen pregnancy for the first time. Just over half of pregnant teens chose abortion, compared with just under half opting to give birth. In 1974, about 65% of teen pregnancies resulted in live births, while about 25% resulted in abortion.

Mr. Grand asked each of the provincial adoption directors to use uniform procedures to compile their data but they had no interest or funding to follow through. "It's a great mistake because it does not allow us to do careful analysis of social policy to find out what's working," he said.