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Editorials Crown wards: a group of kids that are not all right

A permanent, loving family may be the single greatest predictor of a child's emotional well-being and potential for success.

Children who are parented by the government often end up damaged by the experience. The long-term cost to society is high; they are much more likely to end up on social assistance, have high rates of teen pregnancy, drug use and criminal activity.

It makes sense, then, to put time, money and effort into a central agency that is dedicated to finding permanent homes for the 30,000 to 40,000 children and youths who languish in foster care and group homes across Canada, as Alberta, British Columbia and New Brunswick have all done.

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The province of Ontario, however, remains a laggard. It has failed to reform its approach to public adoption. It has no centralized agency to co-ordinate adoptions, leaving the task to 53 separate child-welfare agencies, which devote most of their time and resources to child protection - and not to adoption.

Of the 9,300 Crown wards, only 8 per cent have a case plan dedicated to finding them an adopting family. Many prospective adoptive families wait years to be matched with a child.

This is all the more puzzling because Premier Dalton McGuinty commissioned a blue-ribbon panel on fertility and adoption in 2009, chaired by David Johnston, who was recently appointed Governor-General. The committee called for extensive, but not expensive, reforms. Among them: the creation of a central adoption agency to co-ordinate information and adoptions; help for bewildered parents to negotiate the confusing and bureaucratic adoption process; and post-adoption support, which costs significantly less than the $32,000 a year to keep a Crown ward in care.

And yet Ontario has failed to act on these recommendations.

"The government must make it a priority to find families for every Crown ward in the province. These kids have already been through so much neglect and abuse. They shouldn't have to wait another day for Mr. McGuinty to fix the broken system," says Patricia Convery, the executive director of the Adoption Council of Ontario.

There are also legal barriers to adopting children who still have court-ordered contact with their birth family, an outdated approach in an age of open adoptions. This too could be remedied. A recent editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal recommends government oversight to improve accountability; if a Crown ward remains in the care of the state for two years, this should be considered an adverse outcome.

The government of Ontario should adopt the model of other provinces and embrace reform. The province's most vulnerable children need no less.

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