The Belonging Network (TBN) programs prove that, in many cases, there are people in a child’s existing network who are willing to adopt the child. Social workers Kirsty Stormer and Anne Melcombe explain how these programs work.

Ed. Note: Two of the Belonging Network’s social workers are funded by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption through their Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program; one of those recruiters is Kirsty Stormer. Anne Melcombe is not currently with the Belonging Network.

“You mean I have 50 people who are actually related to me! All these people are my family!” — Eight-year-old foster child who is shown his family tree after extensive research was done to uncover it.

When a child is referred to either of our programs, our first job is to do an extensive search for the child’s birth family. It’s amazing how many contacts we do find. When going through the bulging file there may not be too many details about family members but, with just a few current phone numbers, we can locate many more.

The good news is that there are often healthy, extended family members who are very excited to hear from us and who are interested in establishing a relationship with the child. We ask them for photos, details of the birth family’s medical history, and any other useful, positive, information that we can pass on to the child. This often helps the children understand more about who they are and the family they have come from. It can also start or reignite a relationship with family members or other connections we find.

If the child we are working for is First Nations, the next place we turn to is their Band to ask what they may be able to offer the child. Most First Nations people consider it an honour and responsibility to care for another’s child and to pass on their cultural traditions, customs, and values. If neither of these routes work, we then look to the foster family. Foster parents are often very attached to their foster children and, with a little encouragement, may consider adoption.

The next place we look is the child’s extended network of people. Maybe the foster family has a relation, friend from church, or close family friend that knows and loves the child. Perhaps the child’s one-to-one worker, football coach, tutor, counsellor, piano teacher, dentist, or best friend’s mother, has a soft spot for the child, yet has no idea that he or she is available for adoption.

Last, but certainly not least, we look to families that have completed the adoption application process and are approved MCFD families. One of the benefits for approved families is that once we contact them they know that we have thoroughly explored other options and that they are the best option for the child.

You may wonder why we go through this process rather than looking straight to approved MCFD families. There are several reasons:

  • When children are familiar with the person that adopts them, the transition to a new family is often much easier.
  • The children that we are trying to find families for can have a long list of labels attached to them which often scares people off. People who already know and love the child have already looked past those and know the child for whom he or she really is.
  • Ministry policy states that, if possible, it is mandatory for a child to be adopted by a safe and appropriate biological family member or Band member.
  • If an adoptive family is not found through the biological family search, it’s still worth the effort just to establish those important connections for the child.

Once we have found a suitable family, and the child’s worker is in agreement, we have what is called a match. Following this, we do a lot more work preparing the child, overseeing the transition into the new home, and helping the adoption move through to finalization.

Both our programs have good relationships with the MCFD social workers. Many social workers simply don’t have the time to do the intense child-specific work that we do. It’s great when workers team up with us—it can make such a difference to a child.