Up to 300 children are stuck in Ontario’s adoption process as the province reviews custody cases that involved evidence from the discontinued Motherisk drug testing program.
The Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies has halted 200 to 300 adoption cases where children left their birth families at least partly because of drug tests from the disgraced Motherisk lab at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, said OACAS executive director Mary Ballantyne.
Roughly 800 to 900 children are adopted in Ontario every year, though Ballantyne couldn’t say how many cases are currently going through the process.
Some of the affected children are already on trial stays with their adopting families — called “adoption probation” — while others are living in foster care or with next-of-kin while they wait to be taken into new homes, Ballantyne said. Any changes to their current adoption paths, such as whether they should be given back to their birth families, need to happen as soon as possible, with the children’s best interest at the centre of all decisions, she added.
“These children have already been through a lot. That’s why they’re in the system in the first place,” Ballantyne said. “We really need to weigh out what’s going to be the best for them. And hopefully that will be what prevails.”
The Motherisk lab shut down last spring, after a review that sprang from a Star investigation which found the lab had conducted hair drug tests for years using a methodology described by experts as falling short of the “gold-standard test.”
In December, a damning report by retired appeal court justice Susan Lang concluded that Motherisk drug tests used in child custody and criminal proceedings were “inadequate and unreliable.” The report prompted the creation of a provincial commission that will review potentially thousands of individual cases from the lab over the next two years.
In an emailed statement to the Star, Tracy MacCharles, minister of Children and Youth Services, said all adoption cases where a Motherisk test played a role will be put on hold until reviewed by the commission. MacCharles said the government issued an order for the CAS to stop using Motherisk results once their reliability came into question.
“As a mother myself and as someone who once explored adoption, I feel for all of those affected, but we want to be sure that the outcome of each case is in the best interest of the children involved,” she said. “We recognize that this additional wait can be very difficult for prospective parents and to anyone affected by the Motherisk tests in general.”
Adopt4Life, an Ontario support and advocacy organization for adoptive parents, has received calls from more than a dozen parents whose adoptions have been put on hold because of the scandal.
“This is going to be very difficult for everyone — the children, the birth families and the adoptive parents,” said executive director Julie Despaties.
Her organization, formed in 2014 to provide parent-to-parent support to families at various stages of the adoption process, has about 500 members, including about 250 adoptive parents and those on adoption probation. Despaties worries that many parents “don’t even know this is happening.”
Many are on adoption probation, a situation that is already tense, said Despaties, who finalized her own adoption in Toronto a year ago.
“The longer it takes, the more angst children have because they are afraid of being transferred to other families.”
“Right now our hope is that the (ministry) will be able to give us a timeline so that we can help our kids and our families,” she said.
A GTA parent whose adoption has been caught up in the hold said the situation is troubling.
“Our hearts were in our stomachs when we heard about the hold about 10 days ago,” said the parent, who didn’t want her name published for fear of causing even more delay.
“You just want to feel like a real family,” she said of the two sisters she and her husband have been parenting in their home since last spring.
The girls, ages 3 and 4, are aware of the process and are very excited about being officially adopted, she said.
“The older one says it means Mommy and Daddy get to apply for a passport so she can go on an airplane. It’s something she has been dreaming about,” the woman said. “But now we have no idea what’s going on.”
Rob Gain, a Toronto class-action lawyer spearheading a lawsuit on behalf of people affected by flawed Motherisk tests, said the paused adoption cases are another example of the far-reaching consequences of the now-shuttered lab program.
“It’s another one of the ways that these faulty tests have destroyed families,” he said.
Ballantyne said she hopes the adoption disruption will clear up as the commission begins to work through individual cases.
“This, for some families, can be a very difficult time, where they’re waiting to find out what the outcome will be,” she said.
“It’s hard. It’s very hard. I can absolutely acknowledge that. And it’s very unfortunate.”