Not all domestic adoptions involve healthy newborns. There are thousands of children across Canada who are in need of loving, permanent homes and are available for adoption right now. They’re called “special needs” children, and they’re often difficult to place.

Special needs children require parents with exceptional patience, stability, flexibility and parenting skills. Although some of the children who fall into this category are infants and toddlers, most are older or may be part of a sibling group. They may also be from a racial or ethnic minority or have been exposed to drugs or alcohol. Many have been the victim of parental neglect or abuse and suffer from physical, emotional and developmental problems.

The Process

Special needs children are available through public or private adoption agencies. The process is as follows:

  1. Take part in an information session
  2. Apply for a placement
  3. Get an adoption worker assigned
  4. Complete a formal application with family and social history, references
  5. Complete a home study and medical examination
  6. Receive the approval for the placement
  7. Have a child placed with you
  8. Probationary period (follow-up visits from adoption practitioner)
  9. Submit a post-placement report to ministry in charge of adoption

Receive an adoption order from the court

Time Line

The education and home study period can take up to a year. The actual placement will vary depending on your criteria and the availability of a child that matches it.

The Costs

There is usually no fee involved.


The two biggest advantages to adopting a special needs child is the time line, which is usually no more than a year, and the costs, which are non-existant.

Whatever information is available about a child is out in the open. Nothing in their medical or family records will be withheld from you. In fact, you’ll find you’ll have more information that you know what to do with.


Many special needs children have been shuttled from one family to the next. As a result, they have difficulties forming lasting relationships and find it hard to put their trust in people. Although they have no connection to their parents and may never have known them, they blame themselves for their problems and look for ways of taking out their anger and frustration. At the beginning of their placement there is often a probationary period, during which they’ll put their new parents’ patience, perseverance and parenting skills to the test. They figure they’ve been rejected and moved around so many times, they might as well get this placement over with as quickly as the can.

Although a child’s emotional problems are more difficult to deal with than his/her physical ones, there are ways of overcoming them. The key is to set boundaries early and to establish a structured lifestyle, one that will give a child a feeling of stability and permanence. It also helps to be resourceful, tolerant and to offer your love unconditionally.

Before you consider this option further, it’s important to honestly evaluate yourself and decide whether you’re up to the challenges–and there are many. Among other things, think about how your child will cope after you’re gone.

You may come to the conclusion that this isn’t the route for you. If that’s the case, there’s nothing to feel guilty about. Knowing your limitations is just as important as knowing your strengths. The good news is there are others out there who are better equipped to meet these children’s needs.

Ten Common Mistakes Adoptive Couples Make When Adopting A Special Needs Child

  1. They think that because there’s no fee and a shorter waiting period, it’s a quick “fix”.
  2. They underestimate the difficulty their child will have adjusting to his/her new surroundings.
  3. They underestimate the amount of attention they’ll need to devote to their child.
  4. They underestimate the strain it will have on their lifestyle and the sacrifices they’ll have to make.
  5. They underestimate the reaction from family members and friends.
  6. They don’t realize that finding the right parents for a child is more important that finding the right child for a set of parents.
  7. They believe a child’s physical difficulties are more difficult to deal with than the child’s emotional ones.
  8. They base their decision on pity rather than a desire to parent.
  9. They don’t understand that adoption is a lifelong process, not an event.
  10. They’re afraid to seek help when they really need it.