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Family Connections: An adoptive family shares their story of building a new, inter-connected family

by Krista Lamb, Communications Specialist

For Lisa and Alex (not their real names), adopting a child seemed like a natural choice. They had married in their 40s and neither wanted to go through costly and potentially heartbreaking IVF treatments.  Alex has older children from his first marriage who live with their mother and, while he remains very close to them, he was eager to have another young child in his home.

The couple, who are of British/Caribbean decent, contacted the Children’s Aid in Peel to look into adoption and quickly began the process. When their son Ian came to live with them in 2011 they were overjoyed. It had taken a few years to find the right match, but the happy couple know that little Ian, who is now a spirited four-year-old, was more than worth the wait. As they describe it, “he’s entwined in our hearts and our family.”

For Priscilla Kwok, a Child Protection Worker in the Adoption Department at CCAS, Lisa and Alex were a great fit for Ian. She had exhausted her options within CCASs pool of potential adoptive families and turned to other CASs to see if they had the right family. CASs often share resources this way, as the focus is not just on finding an available family, but finding the right fit for each child. In this case, Peel CAS had a family that seemed like a good candidate. After her initial research and meetings with the family, Priscilla felt confident that this was the right match. “They were very open, very welcoming,” she says of Lisa and Alex. “They were also sensitive to the birth family – they felt for this family who could not raise Ian.” Lisa is a teacher and both parents had experience with children – they were also comfortable parenting a child with Ian’s needs and shared the same cultural background.

“They are very grounded,” Priscilla explains. “They had realistic expectations. They know that the perfect child does not exist.” 
Lisa and Alex were also willing to work with an adoption model that encouraged openness with Ian’s previous family connections. They agreed happily to keep in touch with his biological family by sending photos and updates via the CCAS. They also decided to remain in contact with Ian’s foster family and a foster sister who has since been adopted. For the couple, it is a decision they feel very comfortable with – Ian had lived almost his whole life with his foster mom and sister and they realized that when he moved away he would wonder what happened to them. “He was very close to his foster sister,” says Lisa. “We wanted to preserve that relationship on some level – they had lived together for two and a half years – I think it would have felt very wrong to us not to continue communication. We include them in our prayers, we speak of them and he speaks to them on the phone. We couldn’t cut him off from that.”

The family also uses Skype to communicate regularly and has visited with Ian’s foster mom and sister, as well as exchanging gifts during the holidays. They plan to continue that communication for as long as it feels right to do so. They know that not every adoptive parent chooses to have that relationship with foster parents, but they are also aware that children who have been through closed, secretive adoptions sometimes feel unhappy when they are finally told about their adoption. The couple was uncomfortable with that closed model of adoption. “We talk openly about his life and the process we went through to adopt him. It’s private, but it’s not a secret,” says Lisa. The family even keeps a copy of Ian’s lifebook, which chronicles his life before adoption, on the coffee table so that he can access it and go through it all the time. Their worker, Priscilla, see this as a positive. “That is helpful for him to bridge the connection from his past to his new home,” she says. 

Openness arrangements are increasing in the child welfare sector as awareness of the potential benefits of expanding the concept of family to include the child’s past connections are understood. Openness is not the same as an open adoption and does not always include regular face-to-face contact with the birth family, but may involve continued contact with relatives such as grandparents, siblings or other members of the birth family to a degree with which everyone is comfortable. Currently, openness arrangements are determined on a case by case basis by our staff, who consider the individual needs of each child and family.

For Lisa and Alex, their main focus right now is on raising Ian to be a healthy and happy young man. They relish their new role as parents to a young child and continue to have a supportive relationship with their CCAS and Peel social workers. “We would recommend to others that they go through a CAS to adopt,” says Alex. 

This family is happy that they did.