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How much does it cost to adopt a child in Canada?

Liz LeBrun (right) with her children, adopted siblings Maria and Andy, and her husband. (Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption)

When Heidi Pritchard Payne brought home her son from South Africa nine years ago, people shocked her with one question repeatedly: how much did you pay for the child?

Pritchard Payne, who now works with Adopt4Life , an organization for adoptive parents in Ontario, says that while adopting internationally was costly, it should never be thought of as “paying for a child.”

“You’re not paying for the child, you’re paying for the process,” says Pritchard Payne. “It’s a big commitment, if that’s the route you want to go.”

In addition to being a huge emotional and physical commitment, adopting internationally can be a costly endeavor, depending on where the child is from. But international adoption isn’t the only option for parents in Canada looking to grow their family through adoption, and some of the other options cost almost nothing.

There are three kinds of adoption available to Canadians:
• Private infant adoption is defined as an infant being adopted through an agency or adoption attorney within the country;
• Foster care adoption is the adoption of a child who is no longer being cared for by his or her parents due to the termination of their rights;
• International adoption is when a child whose birth parents are from a different country is adopted.

A study conducted earlier this year by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption looking at some of the preconceived ideas people have about adoption found that Canadians thought adoption was more expensive than it actually is, in some cases.

Overall, Canadians tended to assume that adoption is either “somewhat expensive” or “very expensive;” 76 per cent thought international adoption was expensive, 71 per cent thought private infant adoption was expensive, and 30 per cent thought foster care adoption was expensive.

“People believe that no matter what kind of adoption, it’s expensive to adopt,” says Rita Soronen, President and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

The reality is that the price of adoption can range from $0 (for the actual adoption process) to more than $35,000, depending on the kind of adoption parents are interested in.

Common needs

Regardless of the kind of adoption you pursue, there are a few costs adoptive parents will face.

A police check is mandatory for all forms of adoption, and runs about $20-$70, depending on the region.

Depending on the province of adoption, you may also require a mandatory training course. In Ontario, parents must complete nine weeks of PRIDE training, which costs about $1,500 per couple, or $900 for a single person. If you are adopting through the foster care system, the cost of the training is likely covered. If you opt to do a private course, however, you’ll be paying out of pocket.

“There’s a public option for everything,” says Kimberly Sanzo, a mother of two who adopted her children through the foster care system in Ontario. “But if you want to expedite it, it’ll cost you.”

All prospective parents also require a home study, when a public social worker or representative from the private adoption agency will assess the appropriateness of a family’s home and life. The process takes places over three or four visits as part of the home study, during which the worker studies your home, your parenting style and identifies an age group that would best fit with your lifestyle. 

Sanzo and her partner opted to expedite their home study, and paid $3,500 to do so. For international adoption, the home study is arranged through the adoption agency, and can cost more due to the file management fees and associated expenses. 

Parents must also undergo a medical exam, which can cost about $50-$150 and is also only valid for two years.

International adoption costs

The most expensive route for adoption is international. According to Soronen, international adoption can cost $20,000-$30,000, or more depending on the situation.

“When I talk about these individual differences, it’s not to say that one [form of adoption] is better, it’s simply the structure under which these children exist and the embedded cost,” says Soronen.

The international adoption process must be done through an agency that works within the country the prospective parents wish to adopt from.

For Pritchard Payne, the costs began with exploring other avenues to having children first. After a failed private adoption match and looking into fertility treatments, her family elected to grow through international adoption instead. She brought home her son in 2008, and her daughter in 2013, both from South Africa.

The fee Pritchard Payne paid of around $26,000 to the agency covered the agency’s fee, lawyers’ fees and the adoption fee. It also covered line items like the $2,500 registration fee (which includes a one-day mandatory seminar) and the “child proposal coordination,” a meeting with a private adoption practitioner from the agency to determine the child that would best fit with your family, which ran about $3,500 in 2013. Other miscellaneous costs include file forwarding, care for the child while you’re out of the country and administration fees for the program.

Once the initial costs of the adoption were covered through her fee to the agency, Pritchard Payne had to pay out of pocket for actually traveling to South Africa. Depending on the country parents are adopting from, the requirements for how long they must stay in the country varies. For her first adoption, Pritchard Payne was required to be there for three weeks, but for her daughter, she needed to be there for six. She estimates that for their six-week stay, she and her family spent about $9,000 on airfare, accommodations, attractions, food and souvenirs — and that was a pretty budget-conscious trip, she says.

With international adoption, depending on the country, there are also costs when the child comes home. Follow-up reports must be conducted by a representative of the agency twice a year for the first three years, then an annual report for the next two years. Parents need to cover the cost of the worker visiting the country.

Pritchard Payne says that while it was a costly undertaking to adopt overseas, it was well worth it, both for connecting with her children and for the experience overall.

“We were paying for this amazing trip is the mindset we had going into it,” Pritchard Payne says.

“Yes we took on some debt to be able to do that, but we’ll look after that in the coming years.”

Private adoption costs

In Canada, private adoption often runs parents about $10,000-$20,000, depending on the agency, the counseling involved and other factors.

That fee paid to a private agency covers the agency fee, attorney fees and support for both the adoptive parent and the parent surrendering the child.

The huge variance in cost depends on how long it takes for a successful placement to occur, according to Canada Adopts. Most of the fee you pay goes towards the administration fees and legal fees for the adoption, with a portion going towards the travel costs and accommodation for the mother. In Canada, no money can be paid directly to the mother, nor can the adoptive family give her any gifts.

Timelines in the private adoption process are hard to predict, ranging anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years, depending on how many infants are available for adoption and how picky the prospective parents are. Mothers carrying the babies up for adoption also have the option to change their mind during the process and keep the child, which can extend the timeline for prospective adoptive parents, too.

Sanzo says the significant cost deterred her from pursuing private adoption in Canada, because she knew there would be other costs she would incur later.

“If we went the private route, we’d use a lot of our savings to bring a child home,” Sanzo says.

Foster care adoption costs

Sanzo, who also works for Adopt4Life, opted to expand her family by adopting a sibling pair in 2015 through foster care.

“We thought, why do it twice when you can only do it once?” says Sanzo.

According to ABBA Canada, about 2,000 children were adopted in Canada last year, most of them internationally. Right now, there are an estimated 30,000 children waiting to be adopted in Canada.

The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, which focuses on promoting foster care adoption, stresses that many of the costs which people associate with adoption can be paid for by the adoption agencies.

“Because these children are crown wards, the costs to adopt tend to be absorbed be the agencies,” says Soronen.

“The cost ranges from nothing to, quite honestly, about $3,000.”

Parents who want to expedite any of the required checks or mandatory training will be paying out of pocket to do those things privately, instead of through the agency.

Lisa Lebrun, who adopted her two children eight and three-and-a-half years ago, says she only spent about $200 on the whole process.

“The only other expenses that would come up are the cost of going to visit, I had some driving to do, but it was within an hour,” says Lebrun. “I don’t know how it would work if you were adopting out of province. For me it was within a reasonable travel time.”

Lebrun said she was pleasantly surprised to discover just how insignificant the financial barrier would be to expand her family.

“It’s not an expensive process at all,” says Lebrun. “If that’s a myth people are dealing with, that piece shouldn’t be a worry at all.”

For parents who are adopting through foster care, many of the costs come after the actual adoption is finalized. Because parents don’t know the age of the child they will be adopting, chances are they’ll have to buy age-appropriate toys, furniture, clothes and other necessities in short order.

There may also be special needs that the child will need to have addressed, too.

“Particularly when we’re talking about foster care adoption, there may be some structural things that people don’t think about,” Soronen says. “[For example] if it’s a child with special needs, they may need a special van.”

Sanzo says the best thing to do is prepare to have those unexpected costs and have money set aside for when they inevitably come up.

Financial Assistance

Regardless of the form of adoption, parents in Canada qualify for assistance from the federal and provincial governments.

At the federal level, adoptive parents can claim up to $15,453 of eligible adoption expenses for any child under the age of 18 (but the amount you can claim changes annually). This is a one-time tax credit available in the tax year that the adoption process concludes.

Financial support bursaries are also available to families who adopt, and these often follow children throughout their childhood, offsetting the cost of raising a child. To find out about what bursaries are available, contact your provincial adoption agency or a national organization like the Adoption Council of Canada.

The reality is, no matter what kind of adoption a family chooses to pursue, a lot of the real costs come once that child comes home, just like when parents who give birth to their children bring them home from the hospital.

“It’s sort of like pregnancy and birth, they’re so focused on those nine months,” says Soronen. “I think it’s the same thing with adoption. Getting through the cost of adoption, you’re then presented with the cost of a child.”

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