The Yukon is making significant changes to the way it deals with adoption disclosures.
Once an adopted child reaches the age of 19, they will be able to access information about their birth parents and vice versa.
Or, if they choose, the parent or adoptee can file a disclosure veto or no-contact declaration to prevent this information from being released.
People can file this veto at any time, but are encouraged to do so soon.
The policy is part of the new Child and Family Services Act, which will come into effect on April 30.
The decision to open up adoption records is “wonderful,” according to Wendy Rowney, vice-president of the Adoption Council of Canada in Ontario.
“This is the fifth jurisdiction (in Canada) and that’s fantastic news, we certainly hope that it continues to spread,” she said.
“Every adoptee – every person – has a right to know who he or she is and where they started in life.
“And that’s what this piece of legislation does, it allows adoptees to know who they were when they were born.”
Knowing where you come from is important to people, but it’s often also very important to your doctor.
Adoptees will now be able to access their family health history.
“It’s very important, especially in a day like today when people take preventative action based on their health history,” said Rowney.
“If you don’t have a health history there’s not much you can do. It’s like shooting in the dark all the time.”
The Yukon government is releasing a national advertising campaign in an attempt to contact birth parents and adopted children who have moved outside the territory, said Health and Social Services spokesperson Pat Living.
Many communities that Yukoners are likely to have moved to have been targeted.
But the Yukon has so few adoptions each year that the department has been able to keep in touch with many of these people and notify them of the change.
There have been concerns that the deadline comes too soon.
But Health devolved to the Yukon government in 1993, so it will be a couple years yet before those first adoptees reach 19.
“The new act encompasses the best practices that we’ve found out there in the adoption field,” said Health and Social Services Minister Glenn Hart.
“For those people who want to be protected, this act provides for that while also leaving an open line for those who want to follow through.”
While the adoption council is thrilled about the disclosure of this information, they’re not as happy about the disclosure veto.
“We’re disappointed, of course, that Yukon felt it necessary to include that,” said Rowney.
“We strongly believe that contact preference forms are the best way to go or, failing that, a contact veto or nothing at all.”
There are many other jurisdictions that have had open adoption records for years without the disclosure veto, without any serious problems.
England, for example, has been open since the mid ‘70s and has reported no major problems, said Rowney.
Australia and New Zealand implemented a similar program in the ‘90s and again there were no problems.
There are even several states in the United States that have open adoption records and no vetoes.
The disclosure veto seems to be relatively unique to Canada.
The four Canadian provinces that already have open adoption records (BC, Alberta, Ontario and Newfoundland) have these sorts of vetoes.
Why is that?
“Frankly, I think it’s just because the first one had one,” said Rowney.
“British Columbia had one and the rest were following suit.”
There are misconceptions around what people in the adoption community want, said Rowney.
“Giving people access to the birth registration of their adult child is not the same as having Thanksgiving dinner together for the rest of their adult life,” she said.
“It’s not an invitation, it doesn’t have a map to their house included, it’s just information and what you do with it is up to you as an adult.”
It’s insulting to imply that adoptees or their birth parents might misuse this information, said Rowney.
Birth parents are not by any definition more criminal and their children are not more likely to stalk simply because they’re adopted.
“It’s simply creating a class of Canadians that are being judged criminal before they’ve done anything,” she said.
“Besides, we already have laws in place in case one adult is bothering another adult.”
Once an adoption goes through, the parent waives his legal rights over the child.
In spite of this, there are often concerns that opening up records will lead to someone being exploited for money.
These concerns are unwarranted, said Rowney.
“You know, I’ve been doing this a long time but never met anyone that’s in it for the money,” she said.
“People are not after missing fortunes. They’re after pieces of themselves that are missing.”
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