Children's Aid Society Seeks Gay Foster Parents
Move reflects changing face of Canadian family
by Melanie Brooks
CANADA, Ontario - The Children's Aid Society has been quietly accepting same-sex couples as foster parents for several years, but is now aggressively recruiting gays and lesbians to help care for foster children in a move that shows the organization is responding to the new dynamic of Canadian families, reports The Ottawa Citizen. Cheryl Paula and her partner, Natalie Doucette, saw that transition first-hand. Four years ago when they wanted to adopt, they were told "don't call us, we'll call you."
But they persevered, and after a successful adoption and a new desire to become foster parents, the organization has accepted them with open arms.
"When we first applied to adopt, we were very up-front about being a same-gendered couple. They weren't hostile, but they weren't too receptive," said Ms. Paula, who has six children, including two adopted boys, with Ms. Doucette.
"When we went back this year to become foster parents, they said 'absolutely, come on in.' They've gone through an amazing change."
Statistics from the 2001 census released Tuesday revealed there are 34,200 same-sex couples in Canada.
Ottawa is tied with Vancouver with the highest percentage of declared gay and lesbian couples. In Ottawa-Gatineau, 2,170 couples reported they were in a same-sex, common-law relationship. "We are currently building a roster, so to speak, of different families for the needs of the child," said Denis Boivin, a spokesman for the Children's Aid Society of Ottawa. "We would love to see more same-sex couples apply to become foster parents."
The Ottawa CAS has been working with the gay and lesbian community since the early 1990s. An information booth about foster parenting and adoption at this year's Pride Parade attracted a lot of attention, said Mr. Boivin, and hopefully will help spread the word that the society is looking for foster families of all kinds.
"We're also looking for single moms and dads, gays, lesbians, or straight, for foster families. We look for what's best for the needs of the child," said Mr. Boivin. "We've really been at the forefront here."
Since 1995, the Ottawa CAS has placed nine children with seven same-sex foster parents. Two of those couples, one gay and one lesbian, ended up adopting their children. The society is also now reviewing applications from two lesbian couples, and another two couples -- Ms. Paula and Ms. Doucette are one of them -- have recently been approved and are awaiting a foster child.
The CAS tries to match children to foster families that are of a similar makeup to that of their home family, or that have similar interests to that of the child, said Mr. Boivin. For instance, they would try to link a Somali child with a Somali foster family, or a child who needs a stay-at-home parent to a family that could provide that.
The CAS doesn't necessarily try to fit children of gay or lesbian parents with a similar foster family, said Mr. Boivin. Children are placed with whatever foster family -- gay, lesbian, strait, or single parent -- will best suit their personality or needs.
At any time in Ottawa, there are about 1,000 children in need of foster care. But with just 278 foster families, it's sometimes hard to place them.
"We'd like to double that number," said Mr. Boivin.
Recruiting same-sex couples, in particular, has been slow going. Some families don't even try to become foster or adoptive parents because of negative reports in the news, said Mona Greenbaum, co-ordinator of the Lesbian Mothers Association of Quebec. When media or movies focus on the stigma against same-sex couples, usually in the United States, it makes some people think it isn't possible to become foster parents, she said.
"Now we're at the stage where we have to let people know they can become foster parents," she said. "There are more people who would want to be foster parents. They just don't know they can."
In Ms. Greenbaum's organization, there are more adoptive parents than foster parents. Out of the 500 members, only four are foster parents, while 10 have adopted. But in the heterosexual community, there are usually more foster parents than adoptive, she said. Through the Ottawa CAS, for example, there are 278 foster families, and 170 adoptive families.
Gay and lesbian couples or individuals can adopt children in every province and territory except Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Yukon, and Nunavut. Ontario has been one of the most progressive provinces in terms of allowing same-sex couples the same opportunities as heterosexual couples in terms of adopting and becoming foster parents, said Ms. Greenbaum.
For Ms. Paula and her family, it just makes sense to accept loving families as foster parents, no matter what their sexual orientation.
"Our two adopted boys lived in foster families before we adopted them. After seeing how much they benefited from a safe, loving foster home, we thought, 'how can we not become foster parents, too?' "
Copyright 2002 The Ottawa Citizen