Family Helper > Adoption > Conference 2002

Conference 2002
The Best From Toronto
Edited by Robin Hilborn

First edition, 2003
$12 / ISBN 0-9733470-0-7


Highlights of the National Adoption Conference in Toronto, November 2002

Marie Adams on breakdown
Patricia Martinez Dorner on searching
Pat Fenton on birthparent services
Perlita Harris on U.K. post-adoption
Robin Hilborn on intercountry adoption
Mary Hopkins-Best on toddlers
Carol Lamb on open adoption
Brenda McCreight on older child adoption
Charlene Miall on public attitudes
Karen Moore on the willful child
Roman Mukerjee on multiculturalism
Joyce Maguire Pavao on family therapy
Adam Pertman on media skills
Wendy Robinson on transracial adoption
Debbie Rolfe on a birthmother's stories
Elspeth Ross on fetal alcohol effects
Natalie Proctor Servant on Ontario history
Statistics: Intercountry adoption, 2002
Judy Stigger on transracial adoption
Nancy Umbach on disabilities
Sandra Webb on theraplay therapy

A word from the editor

Conference 2002 commemorates the Ontario Adoption Community Conference held Nov. 21-23, 2002 in Markham, Ont., just outside Toronto.

To assemble this edition I invited conference presenters to submit articles which summarized their workshops. The 20 responses represent a good cross-section of a conference which covered the gamut of adoption issues, both pre-adoption and post-adoption. (For details on all 59 workshops, see For completeness I've added statistics from 2002, on intercountry adoptions to Canada.

Don't miss the introduction, as the irrepressible Leceta Guibault tells how she made it through the conference without shedding too many tears.

Reading the presenters' summaries is just like attending their workshops. Conference 2002 brings together the big names of adoption in the U.S. and Canada, such as Marie Adams, Patricia Martinez Dorner, Mary Hopkins-Best, Carol Lamb, Charlene Miall, Joyce Maguire Pavao, Adam Pertman and Nancy Umbach. Excerpts from some of them are below.

If you couldn't make it to Toronto for the conference, go for the next-best thing: Conference 2002: The Best From Toronto.

How to order Conference 2002

Conference 2002 presents the key ideas of prominent adoption experts of our day ... see below for

To order a copy, fill in this form and send with your cheque to: 220 Summerhill Rd., Southampton, Ont. N0H 2L0 Canada.

Please send me one copy of Conference 2002: The Best From Toronto, No. 41 I enclose a $12 cheque to "Robin Hilborn"
  Street address:

Price in Canada is Can$12.   In the U.S., US$12.   Elsewhere, US$18.
Cheques and post office money orders are accepted.  Sorry, no credit cards (so no need to reveal your card number).
No tax ... we are tax-exempt. Online orders include shipping and handling.
Robin Hilborn is editor and publisher of the Family Helper series (now incorporating Adoption Helper and Post-adoption Helper).

Conference 2002 is also available (no. 41) at a discount ($9) when you order four or more titles from the Family Helper series. See the form at Family Helper, and choose the editions you'd like to order.

Excerpts from Conference 2002

From "An Appreciation" by Leceta Chisholm Guibault:

Nov. 28, 2002 -- I just returned from Toronto after three exceptionally educational and emotional days attending the "Planting the Seeds of Change" adoption conference. ...

... On Thursday afternoon I found myself, once again, teary-eyed in a workshop by Dr. Michael Trout. At least I was not alone! I was with two other adoptive mothers pretty much lost in a sea of social workers and other professionals except for the sounds of our whimpers. Again he focused on how a lack of attachment can sometimes lead to disruption of an adoption, a development of "a false self" and other changes in social behavior throughout life. Dr. Trout shared with the group a number of case studies and we viewed two different videos. All were heart breaking. ...

From "When Adoptions Break Down" by Marie Adams:

In 1973 Marie and Rod Adams, brimming with idealism and keenly aware of the plight of disadvantaged aboriginal children, adopted Tim, a young Cree boy, two-and-a-half years old. Tim began displaying severe behavioural problems almost immediately, problems that, despite their efforts to find help, only became worse over the years. He left home at the age of 12 and died on the streets of Toronto when he was 21. Devastated by their loss, the Adams began to search for answers as to why things had gone so horribly wrong. ...

From "Understanding the Search" by Patricia Martinez Dorner:

In keeping with societal norms, which promoted closed adoptions, a veil of secrecy was considered vital for the well being of all concerned, especially the adoptive family. Secrecy would prevent the birthparents from intruding and would allow the family to integrate into the larger community as though the children had been born to the adoptive parents. Thus, an adversarial model was created where in order to join a family by adoption, one had to obliterate the family by birth. ...

From "Are you ready for a toddler?" by Dr. Mary Hopkins-Best:

Every toddler without a family is ready for a placement, but not every prospective adoptive family is ready for a toddler. The good news is that the vast majority of parents who have the ability to be effective adoptive parents can develop the skills to parent an adopted toddler, but there are unique concerns and issues that need to be considered.

Who are the best candidates? --Prospective parents who feel entitled to parent a toddler, have experience with toddlers, have deliberately chosen to adopt a toddler, have an extended support system, have prepared by reading about toddler adoption and networking with other adoptive parents, have a minimum of other stressors in their lives, and are willing to accept the unique challenges of toddler adoption. ...

From "How do people see adoption? " by Charlene Miall:

What does the Canadian public think of adoption? If adoption professionals better understood this, they could more effectively recruit adoptive parents, and educate the public and policy makers.

Charlene E. Miall, Ph.D. and Karen March, Ph.D. published their study "Social Support for Adoption in Canada" in 2002. (See

Drs. Miall and March analyzed the answers of a sample of 706 Canadians to questions posed by telephone between May and July 2000. The data was collected by The Institute for Social Research, York University, Toronto. Here are their findings on how the general public feels about adoption issues.

-- Adoption in general. Over three-quarters of Canadians surveyed strongly approve of adoption as a family form.

-- Biological vs. adoptive parenthood. Over three-quarters think that mothers basically feel the same way about their children, whether adopted or not. About 70% think that fathers also basically feel the same way about their children, whether adopted or not.

-- Who should be allowed to adopt. ...

From "Clinicians make sense of adoption issues" by Joyce Maguire Pavao:

Adoption can be a very positive way to create a family. It is estimated that adoption affects the lives of 40,000,000 Americans. Increasingly, clinicians need to be skilled in working with the unique issues facing adoptive family systems. Marriage and Family Therapists can help these complex families. They can normalize and demystify the process of adoption so that those involved can be treated honorably and be prepared to handle the related issues. Mental health professionals should focus on family preservation when possible, a preventative approach to consultation, and the welfare of the children involved. ...

From "Hone your media skills ... and get your adoption story told" by Adam Pertman:

I think we tend to focus on the negative too often in society in general -- which is certainly what the media does with adoption. That concerns me for lots of reason, but one overriding one: even in this period of unprecedented support for and positive feelings about adoption (in a major way in the U.S. and somewhat in Canada), its treatment in the press is so skewed, driven by aberrational events and uninformed that I fear it could undermine long-term public perceptions of both the process and everyone this institution touches. ...

Here are a few examples of stories relating to adoption. I think it's important to point them out because they show not what we think is important, but what journalists do -- and, as a result, what most people learn about the process and about us.

-- A few stories out of Cambodia, about a dozen young children who had been seized from an orphanage because their impoverished parents were coerced into giving up their infants for as little as $20 apiece. The words "baby selling", "adoption scams", "trafficking of children" and "greedy adoption agents" appeared in each.

-- Several stories about overflowing orphanages in Romania, which cut off adoptions for foreigners. Words like "baby selling", "bribery", "unscrupulous practitioners", "unregulated profits" and "desperate Americans" appeared in these.

-- Two short stories about the so-called Internet Twins, adopted by one couple in California and another in the U.K. The little girls are now in their fifth home in a year of life, living with foster parents while a Missouri judge decides their fate. Both stories alluded to baby-selling, "shady" practitioners, desperate adoptive parents and a birthmother with suspicious motives "at best".

-- And, of course, I found a slew of stories about foster care. An occasional one told of some heroic person or couple who had adopted an especially difficult child. But the clear majority centered on the woeful state of the system, the harm being done to children as they bounce from one home to another, and my favorites -- two stories that referred to the children in foster care as "overwhelmingly damaged".

The common thread among all these stories is that they are aberrations. They tell us nothing about adoption's role in the lives of 99.9% of its participants. But, largely because the media give us so few insights and so little context -- though it is changing some -- we as a society and as individuals assume the aberrational stories tell us much more than they really do.

... That's what we do with adoption, however -- partly because there aren't other stories in the media on a regular basis, except when something sensational happens -- good or bad.

... Okay. So what can we do about this? I'll suggest a few broad strategies I think you can employ, maybe with a little tinkering, regardless of where you are or what you're trying to accomplish. ...

From "Does transracial adoption work?" by Wendy Robinson:

Transracial adoption has been described as more "complex" than same-race adoption. Many people who start out to do a transracial adoption do so because colour doesn't matter to them. But adoptive parents who believe that race makes no difference may not yet be ready to adopt transracially. ...

Joyce Ladner (a black sociologist) in her 1977 study at the Open Door Society found to her amazement that there are whites who are capable of rearing emotionally healthy black children. Zastro in his 1977 doctoral dissertation found the outcomes of transracial placements were as successful as inracial placements. ...

From "Parenting children with disabilities into adulthood" by Nancy Umbach:

When I was growing up in the Kingsway in Toronto, I didn't personally know anyone with disabilities or anyone of colour. Now my husband and I are the parents of seven adult children of different nationalities and backgrounds. We also fostered seven medically fragile children through open-heart surgery from Korea, Ethiopia and the Caribbean, while I was a director for Heal the Children Canada.

In 1981, one year after we moved to Ottawa with six children, one cat, one dog and 14 rooms of furniture, our youngest son, whom we adopted from Vietnam, suffered a massive stroke, losing the use of the right side of his body. ...

How to order Conference 2002: The Best From Toronto


In 1995 Adoption Helper received an Ontario Adoption Award from the Adoption Council of Ontario, "in recognition of its outstanding contribution to the adoption community of Ontario."

In 1997 Jennifer Smart, editor of Post-adoption Helper, received an Ontario Adoption Award from the Adoption Council of Ontario for her work on behalf of adoption causes.

In 2001 Robin Hilborn received an Adoption Activist Award from the North American Council on Adoptable Children for "dedicated work in making adoption information more accessible and providing materials for post-adoptive support".

Robin Hilborn edited and published Adoption Helper, helping people adopt since 1990. His email address is He also published Post-adoption Helper. Both publications are now united in Family Helper.

Infertility Adoption Adoption Resource Central Post-adoption Family Tree
Contact: Robin Hilborn,
220 Summerhill Rd., Southampton, Ont. N0H 2L0 Canada
Copyright 2009 Robin Hilborn. All rights reserved
Updated   Apr. 13, 2009

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