Last week, members of the Time to Attach team went on a whirlwind trip to Ottawa to meet with several MPs and policy advisors. They had one objective: to advocate for a new class of employment insurance benefits for adoptive parents, customary caregivers, and kin caregivers.
The research team at Western University and its main partner, Adopt4Life: Ontario’s Adoptive Parents Association, have been building an argument to offer adoptive parents and kin or customary caregivers an additional 15-week leave. This “attachment leave” would allow for more time for children to attach to their parents or caregivers, and to address the unique needs of these families.
As part of their research, the team at Western surveyed almost 1000 adoptive parents, kin, and customary caregivers. Approximately three quarters of respondents felt that the current employment insurance benefits, which only offers 35 weeks of parental leave to adoptive parents, did not give them or their children enough time to adjust to their new family. Researchers also asked survey participants about the complex challenges that their children experienced, such as navigating an openness agreement with birth parents, mental health challenges, or a physical disability. 84% of respondents reported 2 or more significant challenges, and an astounding 40% of respondents reported 5 or more.
The team argues that these survey results support the need for an attachment leave, as do various political, legal, and economic considerations. They note that although the current EI parental leave benefit system acknowledges the unique challenges faced by biological parents, it does not acknowledge the unique challenges faced by adoptive parents. One reason for this oversight may be that there is a general misunderstanding about the realities of adoption.
“The face of adoption is different that what most people picture”, says Cathy Murphy, Executive Director of the Adoption Council of Canada. “The reality is that most children or youth awaiting adoption in Canada are older, many over the age of 10. Many have experienced trauma and have complex needs. A 15-week attachment leave is long overdue to help support these children or youth and their parents.”
The team had 9 in-person meetings in Ottawa and several additional tele-conferences last week. They were accompanied by the executive of Adopt4life and the Adoption Council of Canada, including Murphy. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with support from MPs across the political spectrum. Karen Vecchio, MP for Elgin-Middlesex-London, tweeted, “One of the best meetings I have had as a MP. I learned so much and was so grateful to hear how your organization helps families. Truly amazing!” The team plans on returning to Ottawa in February to release their report and solidify support from MPs.