FOR YEARS most child-welfare agencies across Canada that handle non-Catholic cases had severe shortages of adoptable children compared to the numbers of eager, would-be adoptive parents on their lists.
But recently, in a trend that has gone largely unnoticed outside the agencies, this situation has become reversed. Two years ago in Montreal, for instance, the Children’s Service Centre, which draws on the entire non-Catholic, non-Jewish population of Quebec province, had three approved sets of parents waiting for every available child. “Now,” says the CSC’s director, Mrs. Muriel McCrea, “we're just about breaking even.” In February she had 283 applications for 251 children. In Toronto in 1958, the Children’s Aid Society which supervises all non-Catholic adoptions in the metropolitan area had five screened applications for every child available. Now the ratio is only two to one. The same trend has taken place in B. C. and on the prairies and seems likely to occur soon in the Maritimes.
These facts came to light in a Maclean’s survey of authorities from all ten provinces. Some said they fear that within the next few years there may be such a surplus of adoptable children that it may be necessary to set up orphanages — a move most child-welfare experts would deplore as a serious step backward.
The growing surplus of adoptable children will come as astonishing news to many people already aware of other important trends in adoptions—including an overall increase in the number of adoptions. (Totals are up sixty percent in Canada and the U. S. from ten years ago.) Part of this increase can be accounted for by Catholics, who have undergone a trend roughly opposite to that of the non-Catholic agencies. In the past, there has been a surplus of adoptable Catholic children, but in a campaign backed by the church itself, the Catholic Women’s League has promoted many adoptions, to the point where the surplus has disappeared. When Ontario’s fifty-five children’s aid societies, for instance, reported 4,033 adoptable children on their rolls at the end of 1964, a breakdown of their
religions showed almost an even split between Catholics and non-Catholics.
Meanwhile, other changing patterns have also boosted the total number of adoptions: Adoptive parents often go much further afield for adoptable children than they once did. Sixtyeight children from Nova Scotia were adopted by Montreal couples in the past few years, and other inter-city, inter-province and international adoptions (notably between the Maritimes and the New England states) have become commonplace. At the same time, special campaigns have been successfully waged to promote adoptions of youngsters who in the past were virtually unadoptable—children who are handicapped, beyond preschool age or of mixed race. Since 1958, the Montreal Children’s Service Centre has arranged adoptions of 197 racially mixed children, including many partly of Negro extraction.
Despite all these efforts, the new surplus of adoptable children is growing rapidly, at least among non-Catholics. Authorities cite these reasons:
• ILLEGITIMATE BIRTHS have increased — by nineteen percent in Montreal and seventeen percent in Toronto, for example, in the past five years.
• MEDICAL ADVANCES, ironically, have aggravated the problem in two ways. Improved medical treatments mean survival for some babies who, a few years ago, would have died from diseases and defects suffered at birth. At the same time, new methods of treating infertility have enabled some couples to have children of their own instead of applying to adopt.
• MORE TEENAGERS are getting married than ever before. They have a higher rate of failures in marriage, and their children often become wards of the agencies.
• CHANGES IN LAWS in many provinces have lately reduced the time of temporary wardship to make children adoptable sooner, before age becomes a handicap. This increases the total number of children listed as adoptable at any given time.
One radical solution to the growing surplus was suggested in Toronto recently by Joseph H. Reid of New York, executive director of the Child Welfare League. At a meeting of
eighteen hundred professional and voluntary agency workers (including a thousand Canadians) Reid suggested that many unmarried mothers should keep their babies and raise them. In a pilot project in California, he said, this approach worked well; most of the unmarried mothers raised their children successfully without attempting to “pass” as married women.
Adoption experts can't agree on how necessary such innovations are at the moment—partly because they can't agree as to when the surplus will become an acute problem.
“We're at the edge of the crisis now,” says Mrs. Mary Speers, director of one branch of the Children's Aid in Toronto. In one way, at least she finds it a welcome change. “It used to break our hearts ten years ago when we had so many applications we could not fill.”
But such heart - breaking experiences may start to look good in retrospect, if the situation develops as some authorities fear. Walter Blackburn. a deputy head of the CAS in Toronto predicts: “The crisis will be here before we are in a position to Solve it.”
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