Pathways to Parenthood: Understanding Adoption in BC
By Michelle Volkmann
Choosing to adopt a child is a huge decision for families looking to expand their hearts and homes. Whether individuals are unable to conceive, desire to grow their family, or have a heartfelt commitment to providing a safe and supportive environment for a child in need, adoption offers a path to building a lifelong connection.
Adoption, as defined under the British Columbia Adoption Act (the “Adoption Act”), is a legal process through which a child becomes a permanent and legal member of a new family. It establishes a lifelong relationship between the child and the adoptive parents, granting adoptive parents all the duties and responsibilities of a biological parent-child relationship.
In the following blog, we will take a closer look at the Adoption Act and the framework provided therein that prioritizes the best interests of children, sets out who may adopt a child, the methods and procedures for an adoption, and how to make your adoption official.
Who may apply for adoption in BC?
Adopting a child in BC is an inclusive process that welcomes individuals and couples from diverse backgrounds, including LGBTQ2S+ individuals and couples. Here's what you need to know about the eligibility criteria:
- You must be a BC resident for at least 6-months.
- You must be at least 19 years old to apply.
- Both single individuals and couples, whether opposite-sex or same-sex, can apply to adopt.
- Two individual adults may apply jointly as adoptive parents.
- Marital status or sexual orientation do not play a determining role in the adoption process.
- The primary consideration in the adoption process is the best interests of the child, which includes:
a. The ability of the prospective adoptive parents to provide a secure and loving permanent home for the child.
b. The capacity of the prospective adoptive parents to meet the child's physical, emotional, and developmental needs.
What are the different adoption methods in BC?
There are several adoption methods available in BC, all of which come with their own unique processes and procedures for placement. These methods cater to diverse familial situations and preferences, ensuring that the needs of both the children and prospective parents are thoughtfully addressed. It also ensures the welfare and best interests of the children involved. Below is a list of the various adoption methods currently available:
- Placement by a director of adoption - the Ministry of Children and Family Development has an adoption division through which parents may place their child(ren) up for adoption.
- Placement by an adoption agency - adoption agencies that are licensed and regulated by the BC Director of Adoption, may place children for adoption. Currently, there are only 2 licensed adoptions agencies in BC, namely the Sunrise Family Services Society and the Adoption Centre of BC.
- Direct placement - when a parent or guardian of a child places the child for adoption with 1 or 2 adults that are not relatives of the child.
- Relative adoption – when a child(ren) is adopted by relatives or stepparents.
What are the adoption procedures for placement by a director of adoption or an adoption agency?
The Adoption Act sets out procedures to ensure that placements conducted by directors or adoption agencies are carried out in a thorough and responsible manner. The procedures can be summarized as follows:
- Information exchange - the director or adoption agency obtains extensive information from the birth parents and prospective adoptive parents to ensure that all parties involved have a comprehensive understanding of the adoption process.
- Consent and notice - the director or adoption agency makes reasonable efforts to obtain any necessary consents from the birth parents. They also ensure that notice of the proposed adoption is given to individuals who are entitled to receive it, which promotes transparency and compliance with legal requirements.
- Approval and homestudies – prospective adoptive parents must undergo an approval process based on a homestudy. If the prospective adoptive parents reside in BC, the homestudy is conducted in accordance with the regulations. However, if they reside outside the province, the homestudy is conducted according to the laws of their jurisdiction.
- Consideration of cultural identity - when adopting an indigenous child who is registered as a member of an Indian band, a Treaty First Nation child, or a Nisga'a child, the director or adoption agency makes reasonable efforts to discuss the adoption with designated representatives. For Treaty First Nation children, the agency also endeavours to obtain information about their cultural identity if required by the Treaty First Nation's final agreement.
What are the adoption procedures for direct placement for adoption?
The adoption procedures in a direct placement adoption are provided in the Adoption Act and can be summarized as follows:
- Prospective adoptive parents must notify a director or an adoption agency of the adoption as soon as possible before the child is received in their home.
- The director or adoption agency obtains and provides extensive information to both the birth parents and prospective adoptive parents. This includes detailed medical and social histories of the child’s biological family and explanations of alternatives available to the parent or other guardian proposing to place the child, among other important details provided under section 8 of the Adoption Act.
- A pre-placement assessment of the prospective adoptive parents is prepared by the director or adoption agency, and copies are given to the prospective adoptive parents and the birth parents.
- The prospective adoptive parents may only receive the child in their home after all the requirements under section 9 of the Adoption Act have been met, specifically that:
(a) The parent or guardian placing the child must receive a copy of the pre-placement assessment prepared by a director of adoption or an adoption agency.
(b) The prospective adoptive parents must receive a copy of information regarding the medical and social history of the child's biological family.
(c) Reasonable efforts must be made by the prospective adoptive parents to obtain any consents required under Section 13 of the Adoption Act (the child, if 12 years or over; the child’s parents; the child’s guardians).
(d) Reasonable efforts must be made by the prospective adoptive parents to provide notice of the proposed adoption to the birth mother's identified biological father (if his consent is not required under Section 13) and anyone registered in the parents' registry under Section 10 in relation to the proposed adoption.
- Except in the case where a prospective adoptive parent is a relative of the child, the prospective adoptive parents must notify the director or the adoption agency within 14-days after the child is placed in their home.
What are the adoption procedures for relative adoptions?
A parent or other guardian who is related to the child can place the child for adoption with a relative. The term "relative" includes individuals who are related to the child by birth or adoption. In the case of Indigenous children, a person can be considered a relative based on the child’s or the child's Indigenous community's customs, traditions, or customary adoption practices.
Relative adoptions differ from non-relative adoptions in terms of the requirements. When a birth mother places a child for adoption with a relative, the involvement of a director or adoption agency is not necessary. Prospective adoptive parents are exempt from completing a homestudy or pre-placement assessment. The birth mother is also not required to undergo counseling or provide detailed medical and social history. However, an application to the court is still needed to obtain an adoption order.
Step-parent adoptions are permitted in BC through relative adoption. After the adoption, the parent who is not the applicant ceases to have parental duties and responsibilities, subject to the court's authority to modify any existing Family Law Act parenting time, guardianship orders, or agreements.
What consents are required for adoption?
Under the Adoption Act, there are several consents necessary for a child's adoption, specifically:
- The consent of the child's parents.
- The consent of the child's guardians.
- And, if the child is 12 years of age or older, the child's consent is also required.
The Adoption Act also provides for waiving, dispensing, or revoking consent where necessary. More specifically:
- Consent from the biological father who is not presumed to be the child's father under section 26 of the Family Law Act is not required, unless he acknowledges that he is the father and is named by the birth mother as the child's father.
- The court may dispense with a required consent, meaning it can decide to proceed without it, if doing so is in the child's best interests or if certain circumstances justify not requiring the consent. This can include situations where the person is incapable of giving informed consent, has abandoned or deserted the child, has not fulfilled their parental obligations, or is unfit to care for the child.
- A birth mother also has the right to revoke her consent to the adoption within 30-days of the child's birth, even if the child has already been placed for adoption during that period. To revoke her consent, the birth mother must submit a written notice to a director or an adoption agency within those 30 days.
- A child that has been placed for adoption also has the right to revoke their consent to the adoption at any time before the adoption order is made.
How can adoptive children access information about their birth records and biological parents?
Gaining access to information about birth records and biological parents is a significant aspect of the adoption journey for many adoptive children and their families. In British Columbia, there are several pathways through which this sensitive information can be accessed, respecting the privacy and preferences of all parties involved. Understanding these options helps clarify the processes involved and ensures that the rights and interests of the adopted child remain a priority. Below, are the methods available in BC:
- Openness agreement – these are voluntary agreements that can be made by a prospective adoptive parent or an adoptive parent with certain individuals involved in the adoption process. These individuals include relatives of the child, other individuals who have established a relationship with the child, or prospective adoptive parents of the child's sibling. The purpose of an openness agreement is to facilitate communication and maintain relationships between the child and these individuals.
- Registering for post-adoption openness - both the adoptive parents of a child under 19 years of age and relatives of that adopted child can register with the provincial director to indicate their interest in making an openness agreement. If both parties have registered, the provincial director may assist them in reaching an openness agreement, facilitate the exchange of non-identifying information, and if desired, disclose identifying information provided by each party. This process also applies if adoptive parents of a child and adoptive parents of the child's sibling have registered.
- Disclosure of Indigenous community information for Indigenous children - if Indigenous community information was not provided to an Indigenous child or a prospective adoptive parent, the director or adoption agency must make reasonable efforts to disclose the applicable information to the child (if sufficiently mature), as well as the adoptive parent after the child's adoption. With the written consent of the adoptive parents, identifying information can be disclosed to designated representatives of the child's First Nation, Nisg̱a'a Lisims Government (in the case of a Nisg̱a'a child), or Treaty First Nation, or to a designated representative of an Indigenous community identified by the child (if 12 years of age or over) or by a pre-adoption parent (if the child is under 12 years of age).
- How adopted persons can access their original birth registration and adoption records - an adopted person who is 19 years of age or over can apply to the registrar general for a copy of their original birth registration, the adoption order, and if applicable, any notices provided by a Treaty First Nation or the Nisg̱a'a Lisims Government. Similarly, pre-adoption parents named on the original birth registration can apply for certain records. However, access to these records may be subject to disclosure vetoes or no-contact declarations filed by individuals involved in the adoption process.
How are adoptions finalized?
Finalizing an adoption in British Columbia is a multi-step process that ensures the best interests of the child are at the forefront while meeting legal requirements. This procedure involves several key stages, from the initial court application to considering the child's views, ensuring transparency, and preparing necessary documentation. Each step is designed to comprehensively evaluate the suitability of the adoption, prioritize the child’s welfare, and establish a legal and emotional foundation for the new family unit. Understanding these steps is important for prospective adoptive parents as it outlines the journey towards making the adoption legally binding. Below are the essential stages involved in the finalization of adoptions in BC, highlighting the considerations and requirements at each phase:
- Court order process - finalization begins with eligible applicants submitting an adoption application to the court. This application can be made by either one adult or two adults jointly who are residents of BC.
- Consideration of the child's views - when involving a younger child, aged 7 to 12, whose consent isn't required, their perspective remains significant. In such cases, the applicant must arrange a private meeting between the child and a person authorized by the regulations. This meeting aims to assess the child's understanding of adoption and gather their views on the proposed adoption or any desired name change.
- Notice requirement - transparency and communication are vital in the adoption process. Applicants must provide written notice of the adoption application at least 30-days before the scheduled hearing for an adoption order. This notice must be given to the director or adoption agency if the child was placed by direct placement or brought into BC for adoption by a non-relative. It should also be given to any individual with court-ordered contact or access to the child.
- Required documents - before an adoption order can be granted, certain documents must be filed with the court. These include all necessary consents to the adoption, namely:
a. the child's birth registration or appropriate evidence of birth facts.
b. the child's views report, if applicable.
c. the post-placement report, if required.
d. any additional information as stipulated by the regulations.
- Court considerations - when evaluating an adoption application, the court takes various factors into account. This includes reviewing the post-placement report and other relevant evidence to ensure that the child has resided with the applicant for a minimum of 6-months. Ultimately, the court assesses whether the adoption is in the best interests of the child.
- Name change possibility - during the adoption process, the applicant can request a change to the child's given names or family name. However, if the child is 12 years or older, their consent is required for this change. For children between the ages of 7 and 12, the court considers their views before deciding on a name change, respecting their individuality and preferences.
- Effects of adoption order - once the adoption order is granted, the child becomes the legal child of the adoptive parent, and the adoptive parent assumes all duties and responsibilities associated with parenthood. It's important to note that the birth parents' parental duties and responsibilities are relinquished, except in cases where an adult applied to become a parent jointly with another parent.
- Appeal and setting aside an adoption order - while adoption orders are typically final, there are limited circumstances where they can be set aside. This involves appealing to the Court of Appeal within the designated timeframe or demonstrating fraud, with the Supreme Court, determining that setting aside the order is in the child's best interests.
The role of lawyers in the adoption process
While directors and licensed adoption agencies have the primary responsibility for non-relative adoptions under the Adoption Act, lawyers play a vital role in providing legal advice and handling the necessary procedures.
Seeking the assistance of a knowledgeable adoption lawyer can provide peace of mind and help ensure a smooth and legally sound adoption process. Here at Crossroads, we offer guidance at various stages of the process, ensuring compliance with the law and protecting the legal rights of the parties involved. Whether it's drafting affidavits, advising birth parents and prospective adoptive parents, or obtaining the adoption order, the lawyers at Crossroads Law have the expertise to help you navigate the legal complexities of adoption. To get started, schedule your free 20-minute consultation with a Crossroads family lawyer today!