Parental leave policies for adoptive families, as compared to biological families, are discriminatory. Not only do these policies place adoptive families in precarious financial positions while bonding with their children, but they also deprive adopted children of parental time and resources that help them adjust and form healthy attachments with their adoptive family. Our family’s story demonstrates the need for improved parental leave policies for adoptive parents.
I am an adoptive mom of three children. In August 2013, my husband and I adopted our daughter who was 18 months old at the time. I took parental leave and devoted my days to helping our little one to settle in and form attachments with us. It was clear to me that a mere 35 weeks was not enough time to help my little girl (who had been in foster care since she was six months old) feel fully secure and bonded in her forever home. We also knew that our little girl had two brothers in foster care, brothers whom we didn't have the heart to separate from her. 9 months after we adopted her, they became crown wards and we adopted them. There we were with four children (three newly adopted, ranging in age from two to five), and I was due back at work in two months because: 1) I was only entitled to 35 weeks parental leave as an adoptive mom; and 2) I wasn't eligible to take a second paid parental leave for adopting my sons because I had to return to work and work a certain number of hours before I’d be eligible.
Given the increased expenses that came along with having four children, we were in a conundrum. We needed my second income (in addition to my husband’s), but our children needed to heal and settle. Our oldest son had to adjust to going from an only child to suddenly being big brother to three siblings! These changes and financial challenges were tremendous, but our children's needs required that I extend my time off work by a year, all unpaid parental leave. I had to be home with my children to take care of their various needs. I was happy that my workplace could accommodate the extended leave, but we knew that, inevitably, living on one income with four children was going to place tremendous financial pressure and stress on us. Although we brought three children from the foster care system to a loving home, and allowed three siblings to unite after a-year-and-a-half apart in foster care, there was no 'special' provision in the law to allow for back-to-back paid parental leave.
The burdens our family incurred due to insufficient paid parental leave, accompanied by a lack of post-adoption support from our local CAS and our children’s costly needs (e.g., for attachment therapy), created a huge financial burden for our family, which we will be spending many years trying to recover from. Financial help through better parental leave allowances would have made it easier to stay home while meeting our daughters' adjustment and attachment needs. Had I been eligible for a year's leave – as biological parents are – that would have provided us with 4.5 more months of employment insurance (EI) and top up which was a much needed support at the time, given the many costs that accompany adopting three children within a span of seven months.
Adoptive parents should be provided with a full year of leave as are parents whose children are biologically-related. Here are two reasons:
First and most importantly, providing increased parental leave is in the best interests of the child. Many children who are adopted experience disorganized attachment, which can impede their success in life by preventing them from being able to form healthy relationships. These children are vulnerable and research supports parental presence for as long as possible to establish healthy attachment, have time and energy to devote to the delays, and give them the best start possible as they heal and move forward. In short, adoptive children need the time to bond, attach, and heal. Depriving them of that extra time can have major ramifications.
Second, having two sets of parental leave arrangements – one for biological families and one for adoptive families – discriminates based on family status! For the sake of equality, adoptive parents deserve the same benefits of leave as do biological parents. The government argues that more parental leave is necessary for biological parents who experience pregnancy and childbirth. This parental leave time, it is argued, need not be given to woman who didn't carry a baby. However, there are other reasons adoptive parents need that parental leave time. Adopted children – whether they come from institutionalized care, an orphanage, a foster care setting, etc. – tend to have much higher needs than biological because of the experiences that brought them into the adoption system in the first place. Adopted children often require more supports to help them adjust and form healthy attachments, and these supports often carry substantial costs. The fact that adoptive parents receive only 35 weeks of parental leave, while biological parents get an additional 17 weeks of leave, is discriminatory.
For reasons of equality, fairness, and the best interests of children, parental leave policies for adoptive families need to be changed. By granting adoptive families more time to bond upon the child’s placement, we can prevent challenges that children may face in future due to trauma history and disordered attachment, which would pose a heavy burden on our society in the long-term.