Adoptions through the “Mixed Bank”

By Colin McGregor

Adoption is a long and difficult road for any couple. It can take two years or even more between the time a family asks for the adoption of a child and the day they welcome their child into the family home.

It might surprise you to learn that very few children are given up for adoption at birth with the consent of their biological parents, as we imagine. In addition, it takes years to complete an adoption of a child from another country by the Secretariat for International Children’s Services (SASIE), a provincial agency. And for LGBTQ+ couples international adoptions are often impossible because several nations prohibit adoption by couples who are not heterosexual.

The majority of Quebec children adopted in Quebec are adopted through the “mixed bank” program. These are children who became adoptable during their placement by a judgment of the Chamber of the Youth Court of Quebec. Beforehand, the families of the mixed bank program, led by the Department of Youth Protection (DPJ), act as foster families for these children.

Mixed bank adoptions were introduced in Quebec at the end of the 1980s to place children at high risk of abandonment, either because the parents no longer take care of them, or because the problems are so present in the family of origin that they doubt that the child can return there in a safe way. Mixed bank adoptions involve foster families ready to commit to a long-term adoption project. This allows the children to be stabilized quickly in a family before we go to an adoption, normally by this same foster family.

Mixed bank is in fact the category in which young foster children have little or no chance of returning to their biological family. The workers are therefore looking for a family who can offer a long-term life project to these children.

Significant difficulties

For the children involved, a withdrawal from their home environment is necessary because of the significant personal difficulties of the biological parents, which meant that they were unable to meet the needs of their child. Due to the gloomy prognosis of the child’s return to his natural environment, the system seeks to provide them with a stable and permanent living environment in the event that the return to their biological environment proves impossible.

There are certain advantages to adopting through the mixed bank, people believe. According to the website famillelgbt.org, a website for LGBTQ+ families: The adoption process generally chosen is the so-called “mixed bank” process because it is faster. People think it’s a shortcut to adoption.

And yet, in 2021-22, there were only 163 adoptions in Quebec involving the DPJ, a 45% decline over 10 years. An adoption at the mixed bank is not a magic carpet for adopting a child. According to Marie Pierre Ulysse, head of foster families at the Integrated University Health and Social Services Center (CIUSSS) de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal (of the West Island of Montreal), she receives 500 calls asking for access to the mixed bank.

“Of that 500,” she tells us, “there are 100 calls by which I can tell that I will invite them to an information session. Maybe 80% of that hundred will show up at the first session.” After that there is a process of interviews and evaluations, and one or more reports to write.

In the end, only 2 to 5 children are adopted among these 500 original calls, “and here, there were years when there were no adoptions from the mixed bank” according to Stephanie Higden, also chief, foster families and continuum of life project for the CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal.

Integration within the family

For the adopted child, the negotiation of his identity and his belonging to his adoptive family goes through the story told to him by his parents about the circumstances of his withdrawal from his place of origin and his arrival in the adoptive family.

According to a study by the University of Quebec in Outaouais (UQO) conducted by Professor of the Department of Social Work Geneviève Pagé and her team, the main factor in the success of adoptions by the mixed bank program is the openness of adoptive parents. The foster family must be ready to answer all of the child’s questions about his or her origins and the adoption process. It is better to open the dialogue with the young person, she concludes.

Thanks to this approach, the young person will know that his adoptive parents are open and available. According to Prof Pagé: “Research shows us that it is better to open the door,” and that research indicates that we need to have “a greater climate of openness by the adoptive family” – a climate without judgment. One which includes the story of how the adoptive family arrived at the decision to adopt.

In the past, according to Professor Pagé, it was believed that it was better never to broach the subject of adoption with the child, and to hide his true blood roots. But with research, she concludes that: “It is rather the fact of knowing as much as possible the fact of being adopted but also the circumstances which led to the adoption and also knowing where one comes from, this which will allow the adopted person to have a better identity construction and a better adaptation to the psycho-social level.”

For the adopted child, the negotiation of his identity and his belonging to his adoptive family goes through the story told to him by his parents about the circumstances of his withdrawal from his place of origin and his arrival in the family. Sometimes, with interracial adoptions, there may be differences in physical appearance. In terms of identity, it’s something that needs to be worked on.

But sometimes host families are faced with dilemmas. When do we transmit information? Children were often separated from their birth families due to abuse and mistreatment. The biological family no longer had to raise the child in a caring and caring manner. The discourses of the study emphasize that it is often the incapacity of the mother of origin that justifies adoption.

“My Mother was Sick”

According to Mathilde, 10, an adopted child who participated in Pagé’s study, “My mother was sick, or I don’t know. My father told me that when the mothers are sick, the children have to go somewhere else so that the children do not catch the disease from their mother.”

Often, such a speech serves to reassure the child that it is not his fault, according to Prof. Pagé.

What do school-age children adopted by the mixed bank program say? Above all, according to Prof. Pagé’s study as well as other studies, there is greater fluidity in sibling ties than in ties with adults. Adopted children very quickly see the biological children of the adoptive family as their own brothers and sisters. Annabelle, 7, adores “her half-half-little brother”, but has no connection to her family of origin.

The study notes the effort of adults to normalize the withdrawal of the child from his family of origin and to distance the parents of origin, with whom the child has no relationship. The speech is generally benevolent with regard to the other parents (foster or biological) who succeeded one another in the pre-adoptive history of the child.

Natacha, a mom, says that “(my son) will have the choice to say that his family will include his (biological) father and I find that totally normal. But for me, his father is not part of my family.” Which shows, according to Prof. Pagé, that a family can include several people, but may not necessarily include all the links, such as with the biological parents.

In short, the results of this study highlight the influence of adoptive parents’ discourse and the level of exploration in relation to origins on the child’s understanding.

When the CUISSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal conduct assessments on parents who want to adopt through the mixed bank, they are looking at two things, according to Marie Pierre Ulysse: “The ability of the family in relation to risk, and openness with the family of origin.”

This means that there is always a risk that the family of origin will take the child back as soon as their circumstances have improved. “If the child is going to go home, how are you going to deal with that?… They don’t have to own the child. It is enough for them to have the pleasure of raising the child.”

In addition, “there are families who are very closed, who say no, no, I don’t want any contact with the other family.” These families are put on the list for children given up for adoption. Nothing prevents you from being on more than one adoption list at a time.

But if the adoption of the mixed bank is successful, the foster family must be ready to accompany this child for life, according to Ms. Ulysse.

If the subject of adoption interests you, you can consult the Integrated Health and Social Services Center (CISSS) in your region of Quebec.

Moreover,  according to Mme Ulysse, “There is a great need for regular foster families that can receive a child or sibling group for a few days or a few months until the children are reunited with the parents.  Our children are English speaking from 0 to 17 years old. And our territory is the island of Montreal.”

For information please contact the foster care recruitment services of the CIUSSS Ouest de l’île de Montréal, installation Batshaw. Tel 514-932-7161 ext 1139

Also published on the Reflet de Société website April 10th 2023

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