by Krista Lamb, Communications Specialist
In 2011, CCAS Adoption Worker Dina MacPhail approached one of our Legal Counsel, Robin Vogl, with a dilemma. She had a foster family who wanted to adopt their children. However, four of those children were now young adults – past the age where the Society could provide free legal services. Each child would need independent legal counsel, as would the parents – adoption was important to the kids and Dina wondered if there was anything Robin could do.
Never one to turn down a challenge, Robin began asking family lawyers she knew if they might consider donating their time. Five agreed, and in April 2011 the family celebrated their adoption – altogether seven foster children joined the family permanently, cementing legally what everyone already felt in their hearts.
Word of the adoption spread and at an event CCAS held to celebrate the family, Pro Bono Law Ontario (PBLO) expressed interest in working on a proposal to grow the program. PBLO is a charitable organization that promotes access to justice in Ontario by creating and promoting opportunities for lawyers to provide pro bono (free) legal services to persons of limited means. Much of the work they do involves helping charitable organizations and programs relating to children.
There are often foster parents who wish to adopt their foster children, especially as they reach adulthood and prepare to age out of care. In many cases, financial considerations make that process difficult or impossible for the families. This project could potentially allow families to access the services of pro bono lawyers who can assist them with the adoption process.
Adult adoptions aren’t common, so CCAS and PBLO have worked together on adapted forms and on studying applicable case law decisions. Our legal team also partnered with PBLO on a draft proposal, which has been positively received.
An official launch is now scheduled for June, when PBLO will hold a training session for lawyers from the Association of Corporate Counsel. “The Association is made up of in-house corporate lawyers and was very interested in getting involved with meaningful pro bono work,” says Yonit Fuhrmann, Deputy Director of PBLO, “They loved the idea of using their legal work for family formation and creating stability for youth.”
Fuhrmann’s team will lead a year-long pilot program in which a dozen pro bono lawyers will be trained and then partnered with interested families – a project she hopes will result in many successful adoptions. Vogl too hopes this is the beginning of a long and successful partnership, “We hope that this starts modestly with the GTA and that perhaps in time it will spread across the province,” she says.
The project holds a special appeal for Vogl, herself an adoptive parent. “We hope it will grow and that more children will be eligible. We hope that children ordered into custody or who have grown up in the care of custodians or family members may also be eligible for legal services where all parties are wanting to adopt,” she says.
Right now, the program is still very much in its infancy, but there is excitement about the possibilities it holds for creating stronger families and providing young adults with permanent, loving homes. “It’s very exciting to see that this began here and may someday be a province-wide service to meet a need,” says Vogl.