Emily Cichocki advocates for the creation of “attachment benefits” so that adoptive parents can access the same amount of parental leave as biological parents.
In Canada, adoptive parents, kinship caregivers, and customary caregivers are currently unable to claim the same amount of paid parental leave as biological parents are able to claim. Not only is this system discriminatory towards these parents and caregivers, but it also fails to adequately support the needs of their families. For the sake of brevity, and because permanent kinship care and customary care often result in a legal adoption, the term “adoptive parents” will be used here to refer to the various kinds of caregiving listed above.
Researchers at Western University recently produced a report called Time to Attach: An Argument in Favour of EI Attachment Benefits. The report explains why the Canadian government ought to adjust the Employment Insurance (EI) benefits system by introducing what we call “attachment benefits.” Doing so would ensure that adoptive parents can access the same amount of paid leave as biological parents.
The current system allows biological parents to claim 15 weeks of EI benefits that are not available to adoptive parents. These additional weeks come in the form of “maternity benefits” and are intended to respond to the challenges that are unique to pregnancy and childbirth. This means that only individuals who carry and give birth to a child are eligible for these benefits. In this way, the current system provides less EI benefits to number of different kind of parents, including male couples and others who use a surrogate. The Time to Attach report, however, focuses specifically on adoptive parents. Insofar as the current system responds to the challenges that are unique to pregnancy and childbirth but not to the challenges that are unique to adoption, the current parental leave benefits system discriminates against adoptive families by treating their unique needs as less important than those of biological families.
One important challenge for families formed through adoption is that adopted children have often gone through distressing and even traumatic experiences that can make it difficult for these children to form attachments to their new parents. Such experiences can include loss or disconnection from birth parents, maltreatment by birth parents, foster parents, or caregivers, and multiple placements in foster care. Obviously, difficulties with attachment can occur in biological families as well, but these difficulties occur at a high rate in families formed through adoption. The fact that many adopted children have undergone troubling experiences with past caregivers makes attachment a challenge that is especially pertinent to adoption.
Psychological research has shown that children’s past experiences affect their capacity to form new attachments to others and also their overall social, emotional, and cognitive development. An “insecure attachment pattern”, as it is called in the psychological literature, can hinder a child from reaching their full potential in these central areas of development, making attachment an issue of incredible importance for children’s well-being.
Despite the above challenges, adoption has been shown to effectively help children form more secure attachments and make advances in their development. Still, providing children with the attention, care, and patience needed to encourage secure attachments requires commitment and plenty of time on the part of parents or caregivers, especially within the first year after an adoption placement. Adopted children also often have additional complex needs (e.g., physical or mental health) that require professional support. Finding and arranging access to such services takes a substantial amount of time, further supporting the claim that adoptive parents need additional EI benefits in order to meet the needs of their children.
Legal and international standards also support the addition of 15 weeks of “attachment benefits” for adoptive parents. Canada has signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which declares that governments should “ensure to the maximum extent possible” that children “survive and develop in a healthy way.” The rights outlined in this document support our contention that Canada ought to provide adoptive parents with an adequate amount of parental benefits. The parental benefits systems of many other countries also support our claim that Canada ought to offer adoptive parents support that is equal to that offered to biological parents. Canada, it turns out, is an outlier internationally, because it doesn’t offer equal leave benefits to different types of parents.
The authors of the Time to Attach report also conducted an online survey of 974 adoptive parents (and also those awaiting an approved adoption). The data collected through this survey showed that adoptive parents feel that the current EI benefits system does not adequately support the needs of their families. In fact, 94% of participants said that they support the addition of 15 weeks of attachment benefits in order to address the needs of children like theirs.
By introducing 15 weeks of attachment benefits for adoptive parents, the Canadian government would be showing that it equally values adoption with other ways of forming families. Moreover, adoptive parents have expressed that they need more parental leave benefits in order to help their children thrive in their new families. For the sake of justice and for the sake of these children’s well-being, the government of Canada ought to provide these families with the support that they need.
Emily Cichocki is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Philosophy at Western University.