Families Count 2024: new resource on family structure now available


Families Count 2024 is now available


Families Count 2024

Vanier Institute’s new resource explores three decades of change, continuity, and complexity among families in Canada. Released during the International Year of the Family’s 30th anniversary, Families Count 2024 provides statistical portraits of families in Canada, highlights trends over time, and offers insights on what it all means for families and family life.

Chapter 12 – Thousands of children are adopted every year but far more need homes

According to the Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada, approximately 2,000 children under the care of child welfare agencies in Canada find a new home with an adoptive family every year.1 Adopted children often gain new siblings, with data from the 2011 General Social Survey (the most recently available data on the topic) showing that the majority (59%) of adoptive parents also had at least one biological child.2

Legally, adoption ends the responsibilities of birth parents toward their child and replaces them with new legal bonds connecting the child to the adoptive parents. Adoptions can occur whether the birth parents and adoptive parents live in the same province or territory, across different provinces or territories, or between Canada and another country through an international adoption.

There are three main pathways to adopt a child that was born in Canada. The first option is through the public child welfare system, which finds homes for children who are in permanent government care. This is available in all provinces and territories and is publicly funded. Children undergoing this process often come from foster care.

Alternatively, some children are adopted through private adoption agencies, which connect the birth parent(s) with people who wish to adopt. Currently only available in British Columbia,3 Alberta,4 Manitoba,5 and Ontario,6 private adoptions are not publicly funded and typically cost several thousands of dollars. Lastly, in New Brunswick,7 biological parents can actively participate in finding an adoptive family for their child.

The adoption pathway is different in Indigenous communities, where “custom adoptions” are frequent. Custom adoption is the cultural practice by which birth parents and adoptive parents make arrangements directly with each other, without involving an adoption agency. By its nature, customary adoption varies from one community to another, but it is common for biological parents to maintain a role in the child’s life after adoption.7

A detailed national portrait of adoption in Canada is difficult because child welfare works differently across provinces and territories. The same is true for international adoptions, with adoption criteria varying from one province or territory to another.8

Currently, only Quebec maintains centralized data on both provincial and international adoptions in the province.a One reason for this distinction is that since 2006, Quebec has provided adoption-specific benefits through the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP). Until 2024, these particular benefits for adoptive parents were not available in other provinces and territories.

Why this matters

Adoptive families in Canada play an important role in helping children in need with stable, caring environments. While this makes a major difference to the lives of the 2,000 children who find new homes every year, they represent fewer than one in 10 of the 30,000 children who are eligible for permanent adoption.1 But this is only the tip of the iceberg, as more than 63,000 children overall are in government care, and an estimated 235,000 children and youth across the country are considered at risk of entering care due to unstable family situations.

The needs of adoptive families and the adopted children are likely to vary depending on whether the adoption process involves family members or an agency, or is international. Since 2010, the number of international adoptions in Quebec has declined, hitting a historical low in 2020 due to the border closures in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. In contrast, the number of adoptions within Quebec has remained relatively stable since 2006.9

In Quebec, biological and adoptive parents are eligible for the same number of weeks of parental benefits. Outside Quebec, until 2024, the federal benefits system provided longer paid leave for biological parents than for adoptive parents. This inequality was due to the fact that maternity benefits were intended only for the birthing parent to support their recovery from pregnancy and childbirth. This disparity in benefits put adoptive families at a disadvantage. Some adopted children may have experienced a difficult situation prior to adoption, which can affect the time needed to bond with their adoptive parents and/or the need to access additional resources to meet special physical, developmental, and emotional needs.10

Source: Conseil de gestion de l’assurance parentale. (2022, October). Profil des prestataires 2020.9

a The data are only for adoptive parents who have claimed adoption benefits and are likely to underestimate the number of adopted children.

  1. Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada. (2021, July 22). Adopting or fostering a child from the child welfare system in Canada. https://cafdn.org/stories/adopting-or-fostering-a-child-from-the-child-welfare-system-in-canada/ ↩︎
  2. Statistics Canada. (2017, May 8). Mother’s Day… by the numbers. The Daily. https://www.statcan.gc.ca/en/dai/smr08/2017/smr08_216_2017#a10 ↩︎
  3. Government of British Columbia. Ways to adopt in B.C. – Infant adoption. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/life- events/birth-adoption/adoptions/how-to-adopt-a-child/infant-adoption ↩︎
  4. Government of Alberta. Private adoption. https://www.alberta.ca/private-adoption ↩︎
  5. Government of Manitoba. Private adoption. https://www.gov.mb.ca/fs/childfam/private_adoption.html ↩︎
  6. Government of Ontario. Private domestic adoption. https://www.ontario.ca/page/private-domestic-adoption ↩︎
  7. Department of social development. (2024, January 8). Adopting a child or youth. https://socialsupportsnb.ca/en/program/adopting-child-or-youth ↩︎
  8. Government of Canada. Adopt a child from abroad. https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees- citizenship/services/canadians/adopt-child-abroad/processes.html ↩︎
  9. Conseil de gestion de l’assurance parentale. (2022, October). Profil des prestataires 2020. https://cdn-contenu.quebec.ca/cdn-contenu/adm/min/emploi-solidarite-
  10. McLeod, C., Davies, L., Fice, N., Bruijns, L., Cichocki, E., Doguoglu, H., & Stewart, H. (2019, May). Time to attach: An argument in favour of EI attachment benefits. http://works.bepress.com/carolyn-mcleod/57


We wish to thank Denise Whitehead, Professor and Chair, Department of Sexuality, Marriage, and Family Studies, St. Jerome’s University, for reviewing this chapter.