New Ontario safeguards for foreign adoptions

International adoption agencies operating in Ontario will now have to provide a clear picture of their financial status to have their annual licences renewed.

International adoption agencies operating in Ontario will now have to provide a clear picture of their finances to have their annual licences renewed.

The province said Wednesday that agencies will have to submit an audited financial statement, an annual report that's made public and a report from the board of directors outlining agency operations and activities.

In a release, Minister of Children and Youth Services Deb Matthews says the steps will help ensure families seeking to adopt internationally are better informed and protected.

The changes follow the bankruptcy of a Cambridge, Ont., adoption agency that left more than 400 clients in limbo.

Imagine Adoption will be revived under new leadership and an infusion of new cash after clients backed a restructuring plan last week.

The province also said Wednesday it will extend the period for Imagine Adoption's clients to complete in-home assessments. Those clients whose home studies expire before April 2010 will be granted a six-month extension.

More risk awareness

The new rules also require international adoption agencies to ensure prospective adoptive families understand the licensing process, the responsibilities of licensed agencies and risks associated with international adoption.

The ministry says it has requested that a working group of licensed agencies examine ways to establish an insurance plan to protect prospective parents in the event of an agency's collapse.

"I'm very pleased that many families involved with Imagine Adoption will be able to continue their adoptions," Matthews said. "We're taking steps now to ensure that families seeking to adopt internationally — an already lengthy and emotional process — are better informed and protected."

Under Imagine Adoption's restructuring plan, clients will have to pay an extra $4,000, plus any outstanding fees, to set up a new board of directors and a new executive director.

A Kitchener court approved the restructuring plan Tuesday.

Started in 2005, Imagine was licensed annually by the provincial government. It charged fees of about $15,000 to adopt children from a variety of countries, mostly Ethiopia.

Sixteen international adoption agencies and one individual are currently licensed in Ontario under the Intercountry Adoption Act to facilitate international adoptions.

Since 2000, an estimated 6,900 Ontario families have had home studies for international adoption approved by the ministry.