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Adoption advocates debate use of photo database of children
The North American Adoption Conference was held in Toronto this week, where advocates tried to find solutions to the low visibility of foster children awaiting adoption.

Courtesy of the Toronto Star

By: Mariana Ionova Staff Reporter, Published on Fri Aug 09 2013

As about 30,000 children await adoption across Canada, child welfare advocates are seeking ways to make foster kids more visible to potential adoptive parents.

Currently only about 2,000 children are adopted in Canada every year, with many older kids and teens remaining in foster care for years until they age out of the system.

At an international conference in Toronto this week, 750 advocates, social workers, adoptive parents, adopted children and youth in foster care met to discuss the need for solutions.

Laura Eggertson, president of the Adoption Council of Canada, said one of the key reasons so few kids find homes is that there is no comprehensive system for matching potential adoptive parents with foster children.

“One of the problems is that these kids aren’t very visible,” she said. “We think part of the issue is connecting them with parents.”

The Adoption Council of Canada currently runs a national password-protected database that allows potential parents to browse children’s photos but Eggertson says its benefits are limited because few provinces use it due to privacy concerns. As a result, the database, Canada’s Waiting Kids, only features a fraction of the kids looking for permanent homes.

“It’s not used very well,” Eggertson said. “Part of our goal over the next few years is to work with agencies and provinces across the country to use it more.”

Eggertson has seen first hand how well the registry can work. When it launched 15 years ago, the photo database led Eggertson to her own adopted daughter, Miranda. Before her adoption, the 8-year-old Ojibway girl had spent much of her life in foster care in Kenora.

“I know some people think it’s just posting children’s faces like an ad,” said Miranda, 23, who was the first child on Canada’s Waiting Kids database to find a home. “But the social workers can’t always get all the kids across to parents because there are just too many kids in care.”

Sandra Scarth, a veteran child welfare professional, also believes photo directories can improve adoption rates because images can have a powerful effect on potential parents.

“The people who argue against this say, well, you’re just putting a child on display and getting a very superficial look,” said Scarth, founding director of the Child Welfare League of Canada. “But there is a basic connection between people when they see a picture of a child. They really feel for that child.”

This became clear nearly 50 years ago, when the now-defunct Toronto Telegram began running a daily feature highlighting a child in need of a home. Most agencies were opposed to the feature and only three of the 50 regional Children’s Aid Societies signed up to participate. “Today’s Child” began in 1964 with a photo of “Hope,” a 15-month-old girl with developmental delays who was in Toronto’s foster care system.

Toronto Children’s Aid Society received more than 40 requests from families looking to adopt the little girl. “We were just astounded by the response,” said Scarth, who was working there at the time. “It was overwhelming.”

After three years, the column expanded to other newspapers, including the Toronto Star. About 80 per cent of the children featured found a home.

But today, the use of photos remains controversial as some policy-makers believe it commodifies children. Yet, according to Scarth, the potential of adoption photo directories is too great to squander.

“I don’t think the concerns outweigh the potential for children to find a family,” she said. “I know the argument is that it’s protecting the children’s privacy but it’s also preventing children from being adopted.”


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