VICTORIA - On any given day in British Columbia more than 1,000 children in government care are waiting to be adopted, says a report released Thursday that says too many children are waiting too long to find permanent homes and families.
Children's Minister Stephanie Cadieux and the province's independent children's representative, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, said they both agree that number is too high.
Cadieux and Turpel-Lafond are often at odds over child-protection issues but they united to highlight the need to find more families for vulnerable children, some of whom have been waiting six years to be adopted.
"Who are the children waiting for adoption?" said Turpel-Lafond. "British Columbians need to know that and understand that."
She said 46 per cent of children waiting for adoption are between the ages of five and 11, and 20 per cent are infants and toddlers.
"What I'm saying today with the minister, is can British Columbians open their hearts and minds to adopting children in a variety of circumstances?" Turpel-Lafond said.
Her report, Finding Forever Families: A Review of the Provincial Adoption System, recommends six steps to help the government improve adoption planning and ultimately its rate of adoptions.
The report said over a six-year period dating back to 2007, adoption placements by the children's ministry declined by more than one-third. The report stated the number of newly approved adoptive homes dropped from a high of 386 in 2005-2006 to 213 in 2012-2013.
Turpel-Lafond said the 110-page report represents the first extensive review of B.C.'s adoption program.
"The results are eye-popping," it said. "Only 260 of the 450 children in the study group were adopted and, while 166 were placed within one year of being registered, 56 were still waiting to be adopted at the end of the six-year span. For the children who were adopted, it took an average of 31 months from when they were first brought into continuing care by the ministry until their adoption was finalized."
Among the six recommendations in the report are: mounting a high-profile, provincewide adoption awareness campaign; eliminating regional decision-making for adoptions by administering a central, provincial program; making legislative changes that require and support annual external public reporting of adoption plans; and engaging First Nations to improve rates of adoption for aboriginal children in care.
"The numbers tell the story," the report said. "Although aboriginal children comprised more than 63 per cent of children in the (ministry's) continuing care in 2012-2013, they accounted for less than 40 per cent of the total children registered for adoption and only 35 per cent of the children placed in adoptive homes that year."
Of the 205 children placed for adoption in 2012-2013, 71 were aboriginal, according to the report.
Cadieux said she accepted the six recommendations and her ministry has set a goal of 300 adoptions this year, up from 205 last year. She said there are often personal reasons that hold people back from adopting children, particularly children in government care, many of whom are older and have suffered trauma and require special care.
"Part of what the representative and I do commit to in the coming months is ensuring families do know that we need them to step forward," said Cadieux. "We need them to step forward, and more importantly, the kids need them to step forward."
In April, Cadieux's ministry added $2 million to its budget to increase the number of adoptions.
Adoptive Families Association of B.C. spokeswoman Janice Fry said the extra $2 million will help ensure more children find families this year, but she's concerned the cash is a one-time payment.
Fry applauded the move to raise public awareness.
"They are right on saying British Columbians don't understand the need," she said.
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