Adopt4Life—Ontario’s Adoptive Parent Association, is a community of people with lived experience of adoption, that strengthens and empowers parents to achieve permanency for children so that they reach their full potential.
They believe that all adoptive, kin, and customary care parents have a right to advocacy, support and guidance throughout their lifelong journey.
We were overwhelmed with emotion, when Lauren Parente called us to say that Realtors Giving Back will be supporting our vital work with adoptive parents and permanent kinship caregivers. It makes so much sense for us at Adopt4Life to join forces with realtors, because the home is so fundamental to the work both our communities do. For children touched by adoption, a forever home is such a grounding, healing and powerful force in their lives. It lets them reach their potential.
A common misconception about adoption is that when a child is placed in a family, everyone gets their happy ending. We take immense joy in our families, and we believe adoption is a beautiful thing. But it can also be a trial by fire into the world of extreme parenting.
To understand how terrifying the transitional months—or even years of an adoption—can be for children with a trauma history, we invite you to read this story written by Clare, one of the older adopted youths in our community. Her first adoption broke down after 18 months, leaving her and her three siblings angry, hurt and distraught. Thankfully, her second adoption gave her the permanent home she'd dreamed of. But her new parents had their work cut out, for the first few years, convincing their instant family of four traumatized kids that they had what it would take to remain their parents forever. Please take the time to read Clare’s words:
Today, most children are over the age of six when they are adopted, and their emotional baggage is already heavy. Whether adopted internationally, privately or publicly, or coming to their kin caregivers through child welfare, they may have lived in multiple homes and lost birth family members, orphanage nannies, foster parents, siblings, friends and even beloved pets along the way. Add to that the possible loss of culture, language, schools, familiar foods and surroundings, and it’s a lot for a child to grieve.
Attaching to new parents or kin family means opening up to the possibility of further loss or
rejection, so the impulse for a child is often to test—a lot—before they trust. Many children joining their new families —from babies to teens—have trouble sleeping and managing their emotions and behaviours. Histories of abuse, neglect, witnessing domestic violence, institutional care, prenatal exposure to alcohol and drugs, hunger, separation from their birth parents—these are just some of the adverse experiences that our babies, toddlers, children and teens need to work through with loving and patient parents or permanent caregivers.
But there are so many possible factors to cause strain. We surveyed adoptive parents and
permanent kinship caregivers across Canada, and discovered that 1 in 2 have at least one child
with complex or special needs and 1 in 3, with a mental health diagnosis. That means that as soon as their child/ren are placed, they have to learn to parent differently and they find their schedules filled with appointments to meet with specialists, school administrators and various agencies to advocate for their child/ren. An estimated 1 in 3 adoptive parents and permanent kinship caregivers experiences post-adoption depression syndrome.
Enter Adopt4Life! Founded by Julie Despaties, after she adopted three older children, this not-for-profit organization is a lifeline for Ontario’s adoptive parent and permanent kinship caregiver community. Julie was experiencing tremendous challenges, after her children joined her family. One of the most beautiful and hardest days of her life, was when her children moved home. “Within moments after my husband and I laid our eyes on their profile pictures, I knew they were our children. However, that wasn’t the same for them. My every attempt to nurture them was received with hostility and rejection. They quickly identified my vulnerabilities and exploited
them without let-up, making me doubt my abilities to be a parent and my worthiness to be their mom.” Her experiences were so different from those of her friends with kids, that she felt
desperately lonely. She figured there must be other adoptive parents out there, feeling as isolated as she did, and that they would all be stronger together. But at the time, there was no organization solely looking after adoptive parents to help normalize their journey and break the isolation, so she set about creating one.
Five years on, Adopt4Life - Ontario’s Adoptive Parent Association, has grown into a thriving
community of people with lived experience of adoption or permanency caregiving. They serve
awaiting parents, adoptive parents and kin and customary caregivers. The organization works to prevent disruption--when a family breaks down and children return to foster care—by offering advocacy, one-on-one crisis support with local staff, online peer support groups, interactive webinars, buddy and mentor matching, monthly in-person meet-ups, adoption news and research updates, and family events. We have main and special-focus support groups too, for communities within our community, for example: dads, single parents, LGBTQ2S+ families, families raising a
child with First Nations, Metis or Inuit heritage, interracial/transracial, and families committed to nurturing openness with their child’s biological family.
While the work we’re doing is already ensuring a brighter long-term future for children and
youth—and literally saving families—we have so many dreams to strengthen and expand our
offerings, and that’s where your generous help would be invaluable. We keep our costs low by
working remotely, and most of our staff are currently on part-time contracts. As we enter our fifth year, we’re seeing the demand for our support and advocacy grow exponentially. Our dream is to help more children; adoptive parents and permanent kinship caregivers; and awaiting parents who are navigating the unbelievably labour-intensive, nerve-wracking and emotionally challenging process of becoming approved to adopt. Currently there are around 12,000 children in care in Ontario—wouldn’t it be amazing if those children all had a place to call home.
Yet around 1,000 children in Ontario age out of foster care, annually, without a family. Imagine as a young person, having nowhere to go for the holidays, to be hugged after a heartbreak, or to help them fill out forms for further education or medical needs. Without parents or permanent
caregivers to guide them, as they transition into adult life, more than half do not finish high school. A BC study recently reported that 90% of former youth aging out of care end up on welfare within six months and that girls who grow up in foster care are four times more likely than their peers to become pregnant by age 19. And another study, conducted in the US, indicates that one in three former youth in care goes on to experience homelessness. Former youth in care are more vulnerable to everything from police involvement to human trafficking to alcohol and drug addictions 1 . With your help we can get more children into lifelong forever families - a place to always call home.
Your donation would allow us to:
- Hire additional part-time and full-time staff across Ontario to reach more families in crisis.
- Create videos and expand our online parenting resources to raise awareness of adoption issues, and to set up adoptive parents and permanent kinship caregivers for success.
- Provide new one-on-one supports for the Awaiting Parent community, as they navigate the adoption readiness and application process, so we can ensure that there’s a home for every child.
- Create a respite program to prevent caregiver fatigue and train relatives and friends, so they can become an adoptive or kin caregiver family’s circle of care.
Your generous support has moved us beyond words, and we can’t wait to share the news. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. Now let’s go build something beautiful together.
For every child, a home!
With much gratitude,
Executive Director and Founder
By An Adopt4Life Community Member
My husband and I first heard the word “infertility” a year into our marriage. Immediately, we saw our picture-perfect dream of becoming parents shatter into a million tiny shards. After many long months processing our grief and despair, we started looking into adoption.
We never could have foreseen all the obstacles, hoops and paperwork ahead: police checks, medicals, financial statements, reference checks, trauma-informed parenting classes, home visits where we answered hundreds of questions about every intimate aspect of our lives, and endless evenings researching developmental delays, childhood trauma, grief, openness with birth family, attachment therapy... it often felt as though we were drowning. All the complicated feelings we were having got too much to handle on our own.
Our family and friends didn’t have the knowledge or resources to help us or get what it was like. They hadn’t formed their families this way, and it felt like they didn’t speak the same language. Adopt4Life was our lighthouse in the storm. The team members we connected with listened to our stories and helped us problem solve. They connected us to professionals and to other awaiting parents. Suddenly, there were people we could lean on for support.
If we had anxieties over a potential match with a child or over a crucial missing form, we could connect with other people going through it online in the moderated discussion groups--even at 2am. Now we knew other people going through it, we could meet up for a coffee to discuss the adoption process—it was incredible the difference it made. Everything felt less daunting.
The Adopt4Life community was there for us from the very beginning of our journey and they are still there, now that we’ve finally become parents through adoption. You can’t get hugs from most organizations, nor phone calls in the middle of the night, when you’re going through a tough time. But with them you can. Our Adopt4Life community cried with us during the most difficult parts of the wait and jumped for joy when we were finally matched with our daughter. They’ve been there the entire time with encouragement and support.
As an adoptive mother, I’ve received help from Adopt4Life on how to talk to family members, who didn’t fully understand adoption or certain things about my child. I’ve learned how to manage hurtful comments from strangers. Through Adopt4Life family events, my daughter has had the opportunity to meet other children who have been adopted as well. Many of our kids have been through a lot—changing foster homes, losing people they loved, experiencing traumatic events—and it’s so important for them to have friends who just get it too.
Adopt4life is run by other adoptive parents who’ve been there—who get it. When they give advice, it’s because they’ve lived it themselves. The team members don’t hide behind computers and newsletters. They are out there meeting community members, making buddy and mentor connections, bringing meals or coffees to your home, and hosting family events and educational sessions. It has been so important to our family to have this incredible organization in our lives. They’re more than a support group to us—they are our family.
The opinions expressed in blogs posted reflect their author and do not represent any official stance of Adopt4Life. We respect the diversity of opinions within the adoption, kinship and customary care community and hope that these blog posts will stimulate meaningful conversations.