Nova Scotia

N.S. mom pushes for longer leave to give adopted kids 'best possible chance'

A Wolfville, N.S., mother is joining parents from across the country who are advocating for better leave benefits for adoptive parents during those first crucial months.

'Their ability to thrive and succeed will do much better if they have the additional time to bond'

Laura Eggertson with her three youngest children, Miigwin, Alexis and Alisha. She's currently on parental leave. (Keith Collins)

A Wolfville, N.S., mother is asking the federal government for more time to spend with her adopted children during those first crucial months with the family.

Laura Eggertson is joining parents from across the country who are advocating for better parental leave benefits.

"The reason that we're asking for this additional time is not even so much for the parents as it is for the children," she told CBC Radio's Information Morning. 

"Their ability to thrive and succeed will do much better if they have the additional time to bond with their new families."

Right now, adoptive parents are eligible for the same amount of leave — 35 weeks — as biological parents. But unlike biological parents, they don't have the additional benefit that's given to women who are recovering from pregnancy and childbirth.

A group of Ontario researchers wants to change that.

A group of Western University researchers including Carolyn McLeod, far left, met with several MPs in 2018. (Submitted by Carolyn McLeod)

They were in Ottawa late last year lobbying MPs for an additional 15-week "attachment" leave.

Eggertson is on leave now with her three youngest kids, and said it's an important time for both parent and children to bond. 

There are specific challenges that come with caring for a child who's been moved around foster homes, she said.

"They're hurt. They're grieving. Sometimes they're angry, they're bewildered and they don't really believe when they're first placed with you that that's the place they're going to stay because why should they?"

Families can break down without supports

She said the average age of kids in foster care is between six and 12, which can be just as exhausting as parenting a newborn.

"These kids are often up in the night. You're just as fatigued, if not more, and it doesn't matter really that they're not tiny babies," said Eggertson, who became an adoptive parent for the first time 20 years ago as a single mother.

Carolyn McLeod, a professor at Western University and chair of the board of Ontario's Adoptive Parents Association, was in Ottawa last year to meet with MPs. 

Her group also sent a survey to nearly 1,000 adoptive parents across the country. She said the response was very clear — 94 per cent want the "attachment" leave, while 75 per cent say their current leave isn't long enough.

"In dire circumstances it could mean that the placement just breaks down," said McLeod. "That does happen. Of course, that's the worst possible outcome and no one wants that to happen."

Her group is working on a final report they hope to bring forward to the legislature in April. 

'Attachment' leave just the first step

Eggertson sees extended parental leave benefits as the first step, but said what's really needed is a "suite of supports."

"What we also need to do is better support these families and children so that the children have the best possible chance. And we actually owe that to them. That's their human right," she said.

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning

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