Canada is not the US in many ways, but in particular when it comes to adoptions. Not only is our process vastly different, but adoption on the whole is a lot less common. I’m not really sure why that is, I theorize that it’s because we are a more secular nation, and my experience with adoptive families is that a lot of them were originally interested because of a higher calling. But it doesn’t really matter, although I wish it was more mainstream here.
I am contacted often by Canadian prospective parents and they often just want to know how it all works. The info on the actual process is very scattered. I thought I would try here to build something that is missing, a bit of a guide on adopting internationally for Alberta residents. This information holds true for Saskatchewan and Manitoba as well, possibly other provinces. Some provinces (Ontario and BC, maybe others?) require that you use an agency in your province, so this information won’t be correct if you live in one of those provinces.
I’m going to list each step in purple, so they are easy to skim for.
**I need to apologize in advance for the formatting issues on the second half of this page. I’m going to try and fix them on another computer, because on this one nothing will change it!**
First you will need a homestudy agency. Alberta does not license any agencies for the international part of the adoption. You will first do your homestudy with a licensed Alberta agency and then you will use a coordinating agency to do the international part for you.
What part actually comes first? People ask me this all the time and I blubber my way through. Technically there are two “first” things to do. When you actually start your homestudy, you will have to already have a country chosen. Why? Because when you apply to the Alberta Ministry to begin your homestudy, you need to list what country you want approval to adopt from. (That form can be found here – scroll to the bottom of the page.) That form also asks what agency you want to use, oh great! Guess you already need to know that too!
So basically try to choose a country and a homestudy agency at the same time. I will list some country information further down on this post. We chose our agency based solely on who got back to us the fastest, and was nice. Speed of communication was key. They ended up being very fast through the whole process, so I guess the test worked!
If you really can’t decide based off an email, I recommend taking the adoption training of your top pick. You don’t typically need to be signed with the agency to take the workshop, and the workshop is mandatory training hours for your adoption. If you end up loving them, win-win! If you have a bad experience, you still hopefully learned something, and you are only out a few hundred bucks. The other great thing about these workshops is that they can give you an idea of what programs are running and typically they have some info from a few agencies that they are familiar with. Take the program info, all the brochures, and then make your own decision. It does not matter if they have worked with your second agency before, they do not need to communicate during your process. Our homestudy agency had never done a Bulgaria adoption before and they had never heard of our coordinator. It did not matter.
A good workshop will also have show-and-tell families, so you can ask all your questions! The downside to these workshops is that the social workers may advocate strongly for adoption from easy fast countries, where the kids are as young and healthy as possible. Maybe that’s your jam, its not mine. These people have probably seen disruptions, and yes the easiest adoptions are probably of healthy newborns who attach beautifully. We wanted to adopt a child that really needed a home. We had zero interest in waiting in line and competing for a child, we do what we want. Don’t feel pressured to do your adoption their way. As of yet, Siobhan has not tried to light our house on fire (there was that one incident with the candle, but that is neither here nor there.)
So I guess what I’m saying is, first research agencies and then take the training.
Alberta Homestudy Agencies:
We used Christian Adoptions both times and I highly recommend them. They have great social workers and even have contract social workers in Grande Prairie and other areas which will save you on mileage. (You typically pay social workers kms even if you live in town.) Not saying Adoption Options doesn’t, because I don’t know. We did our homestudy at the same time as a friend who used Adoption Options and ours was faster. If you want to take a look at the forms you will need before you start your homestudy, they are all on their website under forms.
CAS also has a monthly playgroup in Edmonton, Grande Prairie, and Calgary. That has been great for us! They even encouraged us to attend before we had a child and I was able to meet other families in process this way.
The other two agencies are Small Miracles who are really new, so I know nothing about them, and Adoption by Choice (Don’t know anybody who has used them either.) Go ahead and contact them all! Go with your gut. I imagine the fee schedules will all be in the same ballpark, and I would pick the agency I like the best regardless of fees. A good experience is worth paying more for, and these agencies are usually non-profits so the money is genuinely going to services.
Second: Fill out and mail this form to Human Services as mentioned above. It will take a couple weeks to come back. If you’ve already picked a coordinating agency, perfect! If you haven’t, use this time to do so because Human Services will email or call and ask who you plan to use. I don’t know what happens if you still don’t know at that point, we have always chosen by the time they ask!
Here is a list of all the ones that I know in Canada, and they should list their programs on their websites. (I am waiting for Human Services to get back to me about whether AB residents can use a coordinator in the US. I was told we could not, but I now think that may not be true. I will update when I know, because that would be a game changer!) If you are interested in one or more programs, email the agency and ask for some information and a fee schedule. Any good agency will send you this information without needing anything from you. Sadly many times the agency may list a program but when you inquire they will tell you the program is not accepting new applications. This is not “normal” for a program that is running smoothly, and personally, I would not wait around for this country. If there is enough of a backlog that they are not accepting new applicants, there is something else going on with the country. Such is the way with international adoptions, programs open and close all the time.
BC Agencies: (With ALL of the BC agencies check to see if they use a facilitating agency in another province, more often than not they do, and you can hire that facilitator directly)
Sunrise (Sunrise requires an in person intake meeting, so think long and hard before you use them, because a trip to North Vancouver could add significantly to the cost)
KCR (Adoption Centre of BC)(scroll down on the page to see their programs.)
Choices (Choices has a great selection of programs, but many are only open to BC residents. Be sure to read under each program if it is open to you.)
Family Services of Greater Vancouver (I think all but their Japan program uses another agency in Canada to facilitate, so this link may not be too helpful. The Japan program uses a US agency to facilitate and I am waiting to here back on whether AB residents can coordinate with an out of country agency.)
UAS Eastern European Adoptions (They only run Bulgaria and Ukraine right now)
Children’s Bridge (They have the PDF of info for all their programs posted on their website. Super helpful!)
Worldview (Personally not a fan, they want to have a conference call in order to get their program info. That turned me right off. And they have next to no info on their website.)
TDH Ontario (I have heard that they are significantly more expensive than other agencies, but check the fine print. Fee estimates may include travel and accommodations though you will typically pay these separately.)
Loving Heart (Our agency. Feel free to contact me personally for a review)
Family By Adoption (Other than Haiti I don’t know if any of these countries are actually running right now. Most African countries are not. It’s possible that South Africa will reopen in the near future. Guyana may be moving.)
Countries that are actually running right now:
India (I would use Children’s Bridge for this one but there are options)
Vietnam (Expensive and as far as I know it is only a special needs program)
USA (Expensive but just about the only place to adopt a baby)
Japan (Another infant option)
Haiti (Haiti is always kind of slow because their system is a mess, but it does run. TDH Ontario did a presentation on adopting from Haiti and the wonderful lady who coordinates that program is a passionate Mama of many Haitian kids. I would not use anyone else for Haiti.)
I am by no means an expert on every country. I do know a little bit about most country programs in Canada. I get a lot of my information from the Canadian International Adoption facebook group, so go ahead and join that one!
There’s a possibility that Thailand is working right now. They recently got rid of their infertility requirement, which leads me to think since they are reducing requirements that there must be children available. There was someone in the facebook group who was going to update in the next couple of weeks so I will follow along and add them to my list if it’s positive news!
Third: Apply to both of your agencies and start your homestudy. I recommend applying to both agencies because then you can ask your coordinator if there is anything specific that your country of choice likes to see in the homestudy. For example, Bulgaria wants every single special need that you are open to listed in the worded portion of placement considerations in your study. The checklist you are expected to attach, is basically garbage. If it’s not listed in the body of your homestudy, they will assume you are not open to it. (A note on medicals: as a combined third item, you will need a medical to begin your homestudy. Ask your coordinating agency for their medical form too, so you can do both at once.) Your homestudy agency can walk you through all the items you need prior to starting your process. It will involve references, medicals, intervention checks, and criminal record checks. I recommend sending the reference forms VERY early, because your references are probably not in the same hurry that you are.
Fourth: After your homestudy is completed it will go to the Alberta Ministry for approval. This process will take anywhere from 4 weeks to 4 months. When we adopted the first time our agency told us 4-6 weeks and it actually took 13. This time I asked the Ministry directly and they are running at 8 weeks. Go ahead and ask them! As a combined fourth item, this is a great time to get your fingerprints done. I recommend using a third party like Commissionaires because they have really open availability and will send the results directly to your coordinator. Check with your coordinating agency if fingerprints are required (if they list RCMP clearance, that is what this is.) This is in addition to the standard criminal record check you will have done for your homestudy.
Fifth: Ask your coordinator for the list of documents required for the dossier. They may not typically send it until your homestudy has been approved, ask for it in advance so that you can begin gathering all of those documents and have them ready for when your homestudy is approved. There is no reason to waste all that time doing nothing. I wish we had known that the first time. This will involve property tax assessments, income tax assessments from the previous year, the medicals and fingerprints that you already did because you’re smart and you listen to me…. and other misc documents. If you’re doing your homestudy at the beginning of the year, as we are, do your taxes as soon as possible. The country that you are working with is probably going to want those assessments and not the year before last. You don’t want this to hold you up.
Sixth: When you get your approved homestudy, mail that dossier!
Seventh: Start Part 1 of your immigration approval right away! You can actually do this at any time and you may as well! The processing time on these applications is always increasing. Currently they say one year but they are actually running at 5 months, so at that point you can make an inquiry. You do not need to have any information about your child (just enter “unknown” for any identifying info.) You can even leave the country blank and when they finally read your application they will contact you and ask what country. (Not a recommendation because their communication system is notorious for sending things all over the place. But personal experience, you can.) If your application is stuck you CAN get your MP involved, many people will tell you this. We had to do this last time and it was by no means a quick cut-and-dry phone call. It took at least two months to resolve! This time we applied for Part 1 when Siobhan came home because we can always renew. Happily we have it already and will use it very soon! We changed the country on it easily with an email.
The rest of the process is going to be very country specific. Typically your dossier is registered and you wait for a match. See? So easy! LAWL!
I hope you have enjoyed this guide! Well, maybe “enjoyed” is not the right word, but I hope it helped clear up some of the process for you. If you are an adoptive family and you noticed anything missing, or want to add a country (or agency) to the list of programs that are working, please leave me a comment or contact me!