When the social worker told Jack VanNoord that she was taking away his 5 1/2-month-old foster child to be adopted by another family, the father of five had just one question for Children’s Aid:So the only way to adopt is to foster first, and that means fostering children who have not yet been released for adoption and who may be returned to their families. What do you think? They have it right, don't they, that the parents, not the child, should bear the risk? Would you accept that risk? Have you accepted that risk?
“Are you running an adoption agency or are you acting in the best interests of the child?”
It didn’t seem right to VanNoord and his wife Cody to be uprooting the baby boy, whose inquisitive blue eyes and gummy smile had stolen their hearts in three short months with the family.
But in the fall of 1986 in the rural community of St. Thomas, south of London, it was rare for foster families to adopt, especially if they already had five children. Childless couples or those with just one child were the priority. And you had to be on the adoption waiting list.
“That all seemed rather silly to me,” recalls VanNoord. “What about the child? This would be the second separation. How many times can a child go through that?”
He immediately set to work researching the then-emerging theory of attachment between babies and caregivers. He hired a lawyer, sought the opinion of a noted London child psychologist and began his fight for the right to adopt baby Kris.
Today the VanNoords’ “courageous stand” is credited for sparking Ontario’s first foster-to-adopt program, where the goal is to ensure every child who comes into care is moved only once. If the child can’t go back home, the foster parents automatically become the adoptive family.
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Jim Hummel, head of adoption and foster family recruitment from 1980 to 2001, says the VanNoords “presented a very cogent argument that made you sit back and reflect on what you were doing.”
Soon after the case, Hummel made the controversial decision to close the agency’s adoption waiting list — which had grown so long that many parents were waiting up to a decade for a child, anyway. From then on, all prospective parents were told the only way to adopt would be to foster the child first.
Many parents complained to the agency board and the local MPP, and some chose to adopt children from other areas. But Hummel stood his ground.
“There was a lot of criticism from colleagues in the field. We were seen as renegades,” he acknowledges. “It took several years to educate parents. But once you explained it, most embraced the idea.
“Under the old system, the adults had no risk while the children took all the risks,” he says. “Most people understand that’s just wrong.”
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