Public domestic adoption refers to any adoption arranged by a public or government agency such as the Children’s Aid Society. In the old days, most adoptions were done this way. In the last few years, however, the pendulum has swung the other way and today private adoptions–especially those from overseas –outnumber public ones by a large margin.

The Process

Adopting through a public agency is much more tightly controlled than going through a private agency. As a prospective adoptive parent, you have fewer choices. The focus of public agencies is on the safety and welfare of the child. As a result, the priority is in finding the right set of parents for a child rather than the right child for a set of parents. At the end of the day, you don’t have a big say in the matter.

The process varies, depending on the agency you choose. However, there are some basic steps you’ll need to follow, no matter where you go:

  • Attend an information session
  • Complete police clearance and medical report
  • Attend adoption classes
  • Complete family and social histories and provide references
  • Get adoption practitioner assigned and complete home study
  • Have a child placed with you
  • Probationary period (follow-up visits from adoption practitioner)
  • Submit post-placement report to ministry in charge of adoption
  • Receive adoption order from court

Time Line

Depending on the type of child you’re after, the timeline can fluctuate considerably. Typically, the information sessions and home study can take upwards of a year. As for the placement, a lot of that will depend on you. If you’re interested in a special needs child–a child with a development, physical or mental handicap or who is part of a sibling group or of a different race–you could have one placed almost immediately. If, on the other hand, you’ve set your sights on a healthy newborn, you’re looking at a wait of at least eight years. Yup, eight years. That’s no typo.

The Costs

There are usually no costs involved in adopting through a public agency.


The biggest advantage is the cost, which is usually nonexistent. If you’re anxious to adopt and willing to take on the responsibilities of raising a special needs child, the other big advantage is the time frame, which compared to other types of adoption, is very short.

The vast majority of children available for adoption are wards of the state, so you don’t run the danger of a birth mother changing her mind.


The biggest pitfalls of adopting publicly are the constraints and restrictions regarding a placement, the type of children available, and the wait.

Because the focus of public adoption is on meeting the needs of the child rather than satisfying the desires of the adoptive parents, you usually don’t have a lot of latitude in the decision-making process. And neither, for that matter, does the birth mother–that is, if she’s still even involved in the placement.

One of the reasons there’s such a long waiting period for a healthy newborn is because very few birth mothers place their babies with public agencies. They find the private system easier to deal with and more responsive to their needs. If a prospective birth mother already has a child, she may have had a run-in with a public agency in the past, which might have soured her on it. Or she might worry about being judged and that her parenting skills may be put on trial. And in smaller communities, there’s the privacy issue–the fact that she’ll never know who could have access to her file.

Many waiting parents underestimate the challenges of adopting an older child. Because neglect and abuse may be part of the picture, these children come with some unique challenges that will test anyone’s parenting skills. Unfortunately, some couples don’t realize this until after their child is placed with them. Prior to that, everything is abstract. The key is to collect as much information as you can beforehand and to speak to others who have gone through the process. If you’re interested in adopting a healthy newborn–unless you’ve got all the time in the world to wait–you should look elsewhere. When you’re ready to become a parent right away, eight years is an awfully long time.

Ten Common Mistakes Adoptive Parents Make When Adopting Publicly in Canada

  1. They let their emotions cloud their judgments.
  2. They don’t take the time to research their other options.
  3. They think that because there’s no fee involved and a short waiting period, it’s a snap.
  4. They take on more than they can handle.
  5. They don’t pay enough attention to establishing a proper support system.
  6. They don’t seek help when they need it.
  7. They don’t balance their needs against those of their child.
  8. They underestimate reactions from family and friends.
  9. They underestimate the strain their child will have on their lifestyle and relationship.
  10. They believe that love and kindness can conquer everything.