As a family with five adopted children we face challenges daily. Each of our children has their own strengths, challenges and all have experienced trauma to their attachment to caregivers. My children all exhibit this in different ways and have all expressed it at differing stages of their adoption process. Dealing with such a vibrant yet challenging family requires a lot of patience, love and flexibility.
Our first adoption was a newborn that was placed at the time of his birth by his birth parents. The process of a consent adoption can be quite daunting. We were notified of being chosen on a Monday evening and by Friday he was home. We had just four days to prepare for the arrival of our baby boy and I had to immediately take my parental leave. Currently, parental leave benefits for adoptive children is nine months. When adopting a newborn that means I would have been required to return to work and find childcare for him while he was only nine months old. Parents that give birth to their children are granted three months of maternity leave benefits plus nine months of parental leave. The additional three months is very important from an attachment perspective. For a newborn adoption the child bonds with the birth mother for nine months and then this attachment is disrupted and a new bond must be formed with the adoptive parents. The transition back to work is hard enough with a 12 month old child. In our case we would have done this with our son at 9 months while he was still forming his attachment to us. Sending him to a childcare facility during such a crucial time for his attachment was something that we could not bear to do. He still needed the contact, the nurturing and the love from his mother. I opted to leave my job as an Early Childhood Educator to become a full-time parent. The financial burden was difficult to adjust to but how do you put a price on your child’s well-being? It was not a risk I was willing to take. At the same time it didn’t seem fair that I had paid the same EI premiums but was not able to access the same length of benefits.
Our four youngest are all biological siblings. All four have potential to have significant challenges due to drug and alcohol use of their birth mother. Their needs are also compounded by the loss of their foster families. Our children have had a difficult time in adjusting to their new homes and once they settled in (which can take up to double their age at time of adoption) they began to show some of the effects that this early trauma has caused. Adopted children have needs specific to the types of trauma and loss that they have experienced. Supports can only be put into place once the child is settled into their home and bond with their new family. Both our second and third adoptions were two children at a time. As I was a stay at home mother my husband took parental leave to help transition the children into our home. When adopting two at a time it was important to have us both home for the transition time and to ensure someone was able to give 1 on 1 attention to both at the same time. He was only able to take 15 weeks of parental leave as his employer offers parental leave top up for that duration. His EI parental benefits are only 25% of his normal income due his income being over the EI maximum earnings. Our family was unable to endure the loss of income as once we added the first set of two I had to close the daycare in our home so I could focus on the needs of the two new children. This meant his income was our only source of income. Fifteen weeks is not enough time for the children to settle into their new home and routines. Just as they are starting to get their bearings in a new home with new parents one of their new caregivers had to return to work causing another adjustment for our family.
Adoptive families have been looked over for many years in the current parental leave entitlement. A change needs to happen to strengthen and support adoptive families and to allow new families to consider this as an option for extending their families. I would love to see the Government work alongside the adoption community. Working together to build a plan that embraces Canada’s children in care. The added time for the children would ease transitions into their new families while easing the stress new parents has about returning to the workforce. More flexibility in when and how parents can take their leave would also help especially when adopting school aged children.