Building families equitably in Ontario

Carolyn McLeod argues that the Ontario government should not contribute to the view that adoption is second best as a way of building families.


The Ontario government wants to support Ontarians in growing their families. To this end, it has announced it will fund one cycle of in vitro fertilization for up to 400 Ontarians. According to Health Minister Eric Hoskins, this plan promotes “family-building for those who couldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to have children.”

But, of course, procreation is not the only way to have children. Many people – including myself – have children, their own children, but these people have never procreated. Rather, they have adopted children.

Like many people who turn to assisted-reproductive techniques to have children, many of us who choose adoption pay thousands of dollars to build our families. That’s even true of some people who pursue public domestic adoptions, as opposed to private domestic or international adoptions.

Some of these folks pay privately for an adoption home study, for example, along with the parenting training required for an Ontario adoption, because the wait lists in their area for public versions of these services are too long. They are sometimes even encouraged by their local Children’s Aid Society, because of the wait, to pursue a private home study or private parenting classes.

Three Butterfly, 14 aged-girl made by chalk and glue on kraft paper

Three Butterfly, by 14 year-old girl (chalk and glue on kraft paper)

In addition, people who choose public adoption often pay for post-adoption support for their families, support that is frequently needed in parenting children who were Crown wards. Government payments for therapy or other forms of support that these children received when they were wards of the state usually stop when the children are adopted.

To be fair, the Ontario government provides some post-adoption subsidies to people who complete public adoptions. But these subsidies are limited to families who adopt either a child over the age of 8 or a sibling group, and also to those whose annual income is $94,000 or less.

Then, of course, there are people who pay thousands of dollars for private or international adoptions. They fit different profiles. For example:

  • Some gave up on public adoption because it was taking too long and turned to private or international adoption instead.
  • Some wanted the experience of parenting an infant – they are no different in this regard from people who pursue IVF – but the wait times in the public system for infant adoptions tend to be very long.
  • Some were told by their local Children’s Aid Society that they are not a good fit for public adoption because of their race or ethnicity, age, or lack of parenting experience.
  • Some, in particular those who choose international adoption, simply want to help children outside of Canada who are in desperate need of parents.

What is Ontario doing to help these families with the high costs of their adoptions?

The answer is: not nothing, though not nearly as much as what it’s offering to IVF patients.

Currently, Ontarians who succeed with an adoption are eligible for a small provincial tax credit and a larger federal tax credit. In 2015, the most one could get from the two credits combined is $2,846, and that amount is available only to people who spent $15,000 or more on their adoption.

By contrast, the savings the government has promised to individual IVF patients is much greater. It is a minimum of $6,000 (the approximate cost of one cycle of egg retrieval, fertilization and embryo transfer) and a maximum of this amount plus the costs of transferring extra embryos if earlier transfers were unsuccessful. Notice that patients will receive this amount regardless of whether any treatment is successful. Yet with adoption, lack of success means no government subsidy at all.

The new proposed funding for infertility and adoption in Ontario is, in my view, clearly inequitable. The government needs to go back to the table and hammer out a more equitable arrangement. Otherwise, it will contribute to the view that adoption is second best as a way of building families.

Government should never reinforce this view, or worse forget – as the health minister seems to have done – that adoption is even an option.


Carolyn McLeod is a Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Western University.


Also published in The Toronto Star.

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