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Ontario GenWeb Project: Adoption In Ontario, A Brief History
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Adoption in Ontario:
A Brief History
by Anne Patterson

Adoption in Canada was not regulated by the government until the early 1920's. Prior to this adoptions were arranged privately and many children were placed with relatives or individuals arranged by churches.

In 1921 Ontario passed the Adoption Act. This act introduced restrictive and very strict guidelines for disclosing any information about the adoption in general. Further changes occurred in 1927 and records pertaining to adoption were to be sealed and kept under the jurisdiction of the Registrar General.

The act was passed at a time when secrecy, shame and misunderstanding prevailed. Young, unwed birth parents were told that they would be better off getting on with their lives by placing a child for adoption. Adoptive parents were told that the emphasis of the environment would shape their child's personality, and that genetics were hardly even important. For adoptees it was thought that the need to know about their roots would never be of importance. Society has very clearly changed and has proved the above myths to be untrue, unfortunately the system as a whole has not reflected that change. Very little has changed regarding adoption but it is undeniable that some positive, changes have occurred. Today at the present time adoptees are still not able to access their adoption files however a few provisions have been set in place allowing a more open approach.

Around the late 1980's for the first time since the original act was passed adoptees were allowed to have access to their original adoption order. Prior to this the only way an adoptee could even know their own birth name was only if their adoptive parents provided the information to them. The release of the adoption order by the government was considered to be the adoptive parents decision. Thankfully things have changed.

An adoption order is the legal document that officially confirmed the adoption. The order itself contains the original name of the adoptee, names of their parents or any other birth information is not contained on the adoption order though.

A major set back occurred in the early 1970's for adoption orders. Policies of information on the adoption orders changed and most adoptees born after 1970 only have the first initial of their surname at birth along with their first names. This is more than frustrating and demeaning for most, as the letter is accompanied by a series of numbers. In addition to adoptees being able to obtain their adoption orders another change occurred giving at least some access to birth information.

Adoptees and birth parents today are able to access something called non-identifying information. This information is a social history of the birth or adoptive family. It contains a brief synopsis of some medical information, ages, hobbies, interests, occupations and other brief descriptions of the adoptive and birth family. It does not include names and places of either the adoptive or birth family but it is at least a beginning for many in finding some much needed answers.

Non-identifying information can be requested from the Children's Aid Society that handled the adoption. For more information about this contact your local children's Aid Society.

The Ministry of Social Services also set up a registry in the 1980's called the Adoption Disclosure Registry for the province of Ontario. This registry is for birth parents, adoptees and birth relatives. It operates as a way for adoptees and birth relatives to register in an attempt to match with a relative that may also be registered. The registry provides reunion facilitation for both parties. For more information about the Ontario Adoption Disclosure Registry contact your local Children's Aid Society.

Provincial laws regarding adoption vary from province to province. Ontario is still lagging behind in a trend towards openness in the adoption system. The BC government for instance in the last few years has opened the records for adoptees and birth parents, allowing far more access to their own personal information than ever before. Open adoptions are also changing the attitudes of society where adoption is concerned. What used to be frowned upon when an adoptee sought out their roots is now being far more accepted and understood.

There are several resources in most major cities for adoption and search. Some search avenues include support groups, or hiring licensed investigators to do a search. At the very least adoptees and birth families are finally receiving some answers. There is a movement from several adoption groups to open the adoption records in Ontario. It is my understanding that the adoption laws as they exist will be reviewed by the government. It has been said that one in five people are touched in some way by adoption. Hopefully Ontario will adapt the current system for a more open, sensitive system.

We have learned much from the closed adoption system. Most of the adoption triad consider the adoption laws to be damaging. The secrecy of closed adoption has done far more damage than it ever did to protect anyone. It is my personal hope that adoption will be open globally and that the closed system will become a dinosaur of the past.


Your First Step in tracing an Adoption:

  • Adoptees - contact the Children's Aid Society* that handled your adoption and request non-identifying information. If you do not have your adoption order request an adoption order form as well.

  • Birth Mothers & Other Birth Relatives - contact the Children's Aid Society* that handled the adoption and request non-identifying information.

  • For Private adoptions - Both adoptees and birth mothers should contact the lawyer or the doctor that handled the adoption and request available information. Private adoptions are also supposed to release available non-identifying information.

    To locate a Children's Aid Society - Use Canada 411 business directory, type in "Children's Aid" and all CAS agencies in Canada will appear (you can narrow it down to a specific city or province).

    In most cases the Children's Aid Society will direct you to the Adoption Disclosure Register. This is the government agency that maintains a registry of adoptees and birth relatives seeking a reunion. They also offer support and information. Consider contacting them if interested in pursuing adoption information.

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