Why Don’t We Care About Foster Kids in Canada?

Foster Children Canada

My children are foster children. They’re legally “mine”, both adoptions were finalized years ago, but when I met them, they were foster kids.

Both my daughters came from challenging birth homes. Abuse, neglect, poverty and addiction are a common reality for children in care and mine were no different. Since becoming their mom, I’ve become attuned to the realities, myths and misconceptions that can prevent foster kids from finding their forever homes.

Many kids in care struggle with emotional, mental health and behavioural issues. Many of them struggle to trust and attach, which isn’t surprising given what many of them have experienced.

Poverty, neglect and a lack of proper nurturing and nutrition can have damaging effects on a developing brain. Through no fault of their own, these children are struggling to survive and thrive.

Canada’s national and provincial child welfare systems are underfunded, under-resourced and under-attended. There is no national tracking system to connect a waiting child in Alberta, for example, with a willing family in Ontario. It’s a running joke (though not a funny one), that our country keeps closer tabs on its used cars than its most vulnerable children.

Child welfare is a fluid and complex issue, to be sure. But that’s no excuse for a first-world country like ours. And until there’s public outcry and pressure on our elected officials, nothing will change for these kids. Our government has solved complex problems before. It’s tackled national issues and dealt with crises.

Why isn’t child welfare on anyone’s radar?

Having experienced the system first hand I believe people care, we just don’t care enough.

When Stephen Harper’s Conservative government launched a plan to end door-to-door mail delivery, the public outcry was substantial. One year later, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party was elected on a promise to restore it. If we care that much about our mail service, surely we can rally around better treatment and services for our most vulnerable children?

Unfortunately, foster care and child welfare are not seen as a universal issue. Whereas mail delivery impacts us all, the care and keeping of at-risk youth does not. If I tell you tens of thousands of Canadian children are growing up in government care never knowing permanency, stability, security and love, of course you’ll care. You might even be outraged. But if it doesn’t impact you directly, it’s hard to get agitated enough to do something, especially when there are so many burning concerns deserving of our attention.

Add to that the perception that foster kids are “bad”, “damaged” and “unlovable” and we’re left with a climate of apathy and no one really knowing what to do or how to do it.

Truthfully, most crown wards (ie. kids who are adoptable because birth parent rights have been legally terminated) are older children or teenagers. Many of them have challenging behaviours, academic, emotional and/or mental health issues. Many are part of a sibling group. Many have changed foster homes several times, with no notice, leaving them angry, scared, frustrated and unable to trust and attach.

But they’re still children. Are older kids and teens less worthy of love, affection and permanency just because they’re not small and malleable? Growing up poor or disadvantaged should not make anyone less worthy of our concern. Being a sullen teenager who’s been separated from her siblings and lived in six different foster homes shouldn’t render her less worthy of our concern.

In fact, shouldn’t we work even harder to protect and care for those kids?

We can’t sweep these children’s challenges under the rug, and we can’t minimize them. They’re substantial. “Love cures all” is a nice thought, but it’s not always the case (though love is an excellent and essential first step.)

Children are resilient, but after a while resilience fades and is replaced by trauma. That is not to say these kids are beyond help, but rather to explain why many have deep hurts that manifest in negative behaviour.

Most of us believe these children are someone else’s responsibility. Ultimately, it’s our elected officials’ responsibility, but they aren’t getting the job done. So here we sit: with about 30,000 kids across our country waiting for forever homes and the problem doesn’t seem to be getting any better.

That’s 30,000 kids who didn’t celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend.

Doing nothing for these children shouldn’t be an option. Not everyone can adopt, but everyone can help.

May 14 is Children and Youth in Care Day. It was proclaimed into law in 2012 as a way to recognize the contributions former and current foster youths have made to our country, and to celebrate their strength, bravery and resilience in the face of adversity.

On May 14, write your MP or Tweet the Prime Minister. Ask your elected officials what they’re doing to fix Canada’s broken, fragmented and ineffective child welfare system. Ask them why a first-world country like ours can’t do better for its smallest, most vulnerable citizens. Tell them you’re a mother. Tell them you’re outraged. Tell them you expect them to do better.

I’ve written extensively on adoption-related topics, but I’ve never written about the kids who were left behind; the ones still in care, like my daughter’s half-brother who at age eleven lives in a clinical group home environment an hour away from the only people he knows because he hasn’t found a forever family.

I think we can do better for him and for all these children. But first, we need to care enough to take action.

As mothers, we are uniquely capable of speaking for the voiceless and advocating for children. Most of us don’t need a biological connection to feel strongly about protecting and nurturing kids. On May 14 and the days that follow you can use your voice to demand change.

Because if we don’t, who will?




  1. CD on May 14, 2019 at 11:55 am

    I find this Article SEXIST because where is the saying of “father” in it? you do know fathers also play a part in a Child’s development.

  2. Heather Dixon on May 14, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    Hi CD – Are you familiar with Jen’s work on SavvyMom? She is in no way sexist whatsoever, and neither is this article. If you read it again, I think you’ll find that it nowhere states or even implies that mothers are the most important part of a child’s development. Because it’s written by a mother and because Children and Youth in Care Day falls right after Mother’s Day, there are a few mentions of mothers in the article. However, I think right now you’re losing sight of the issue and the topic at hand: Children in foster care and the importance of helping them.

  3. Rose Hamilton on May 15, 2019 at 3:57 pm

    Jen (and anyone reading this) there ARE people who care and there ARE alternatives to the government model which are already in practice in Canada … and around the world. I invite you to visit http://www.sosbc.org and discover the amazing model at work for 20 years in BC – and for 70 years around the world. SOS Children’s Village BC is an official Village and Canadian national program office under SOS Children’s Villages International, the world’s largest non-denominational non-governmental child development agency. SOS BC is entirely locally funded and presently helps 350 kids and over 150 families in the BC Lower Mainland with loving homes and services ranging from therapy to educational supports, transition to adulthood mentoring & housing, and more. SOS BC is engaged with expanding to at least 2 new sites, as well as collaborating with First Nations in capacity building and cultural healing. In addition SOS BC is developing caregiver professionalization certification with a local university which will include trauma-informed response techniques and a strong network of resources and support for foster parents.
    Government is paying attention: SOS BC has been a working model for the 2012 and 2016 Ministry recommendations … since 1999! While working with, and caring for, the most troubled kids from the system, SOS BC has achieved a 100% high school graduation rate for 5 straight years while providing a lifetime commitment to the kids. SOS kids don’t “age out”, they grow into independence with loving support. We know the difference SOS can make. European countries have largely adopted the SOS model, transforming the crisis of post-war orphans (up to 10% of children in some countries) into the lowest rates of children-in-care in the world. Because of the unique, child-centric, generational approach that SOS has, the model is compatible and adaptive to any culture and society.
    Canada has 8 times as many children in care (per thousand) as any other western country. It takes a lifelong commitment to kids to change that, to break the cycles of neglect, abuse, and generational foster care.
    I hope you and your readers will check us out and know that they can turn their frustration into hope and change. Thank you! http://www.sosbc.org

  4. Stephen Cheeseman on July 28, 2019 at 10:29 pm

    Just curious..is there a role technology or innovation could play in improving Foster Care in Canada

  5. Jen on July 29, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    Hi Stephen! YES! Technology has the potential to have a hugely positive impact on the foster care system, or at least the way it is administered. I know of at least one organization currently working on that. Progress is slow but there is work being done, which is encouraging. Ultimately I think government buy in and support from the business / tech sectors are what will make real change. Thanks for your comment! Jen

  6. Peter on November 6, 2019 at 1:59 pm

    Interesting brief article touching on an important issue. Agree with other posts that fathers should get an honorable mention but understand this is focused on Mothers Day and mothers. Hard to keep everyone happy but overall it starts a positive conversation that needs to continue everyday. Yes there are models that work in certain areas, yes some people do great work, however we all need to realize when it comes to our children we are still a struggling country and we should do a lot more. For myself, I am researching becoming a foster parent (father) even though I have estranged children of my own, because I have love and a secure supportive home that should be a resource. Everyone’s circumstances are different but we all know we can all do better.

  7. Jeff on April 20, 2020 at 8:16 pm

    We tried adopting through the public system in Albeta. We did everything to expedite our approval and it still took 10 months. Then after not hearing a peep for a year and a half we were tild there were quwstions about out support system and wxperience with kids. We have a bio kid. We were told wed have to do a bunch of volunteering or there was no real chance even though this hadnt been said for the 2.5 years up to that point. It was thw we decided to close our file. Peopele care about thesw kids but the system is broken.

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