Struggling Victoria adoption agency elects new board that intends to keep it open

The previous board announced that Choices would close May 31

Aaron and Patricia Pearson are pictured with their two-year-old biological daughter Emma are shown in a photo taken in December 2018 by Coastal Lifestyles Photography. The couple was in the process of adopting a sibling for Emma through Choices Adoption and Pregnancy Counselling Agency in Victoria, B.C., but the agency has announced it will shut down as of May 31, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO- Coastal Lifestyles Photography- Shea Michelle Long)

A Vancouver Island adoption agency that was set to close due to declining foreign adoptions will keep its doors open after all.

Supporters of Choices Adoption and Pregnancy Counselling in Victoria gathered at a special meeting Wednesday night where a new board was elected and a motion was passed unanimously to reverse the planned closure.

Vice-chairwoman Victoria Mitchell said the new board is committed to fundraising activities and bringing on local sponsors, and there is also a growing community of supporters who want to help.

“There are dozens of people who want to get involved in our committees that we will form for various areas, looking at funding and grants, fundraising activities, public relations, community engagement, events with the membership, you name it,” Mitchell said.

READ MORE: B.C. couple one of many left in limbo after Victoria adoption agency shutters

“We have quite the little army forming.”

The previous board announced on April 3 that Choices would close May 31 due to changes in international policies that have resulted in fewer children being available for adoption.

The closure would have left British Columbia with only two private adoption agencies. Another agency, Family Services of Greater Vancouver, closed in November for the same reason.

The announcement shocked some of the 140 families enrolled with Choices, as well as others with long-standing ties to the organization. Mitchell, who put her son up for adoption through the agency 25 years ago, launched a petition to keep Choices open that garnered more than 1,300 signatures.

Mitchell said Choices enabled her to maintain a relationship with her son and his adoptive family. Throughout it all, staff have always been there for her, as well as for thousands of other families and children, she said.

“They support too many people to just go away,” she said.

She said the plan is to continue to provide service to the 140 enrolled families and to also begin taking new clients soon. Existing staff members are expected to continue working for the agency, she said.

“It’s been an emotional roller coaster for the team at the office as well, but they’re all just delighted that we’ve won. When I spoke with them last night, there were many, many hugs, many, many smiles,” she said Thursday.

Statistics provided by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada show that international adoptions have been declining for several years, as more countries aim to place children with local families that share their culture and language.

The number of foreign adopted children who became Canadian citizens declined 35 per cent between 2013 to 2018, from 693 to 453, and the number of foreign adopted children who became permanent residents fell 46 per cent, from 341 to 183, the statistics show.

Former board chairwoman Jane Cowell said international adoptions have always been cyclical, with programs coming and going, but Canada’s decision last year to stop issuing visas for babies from Japan was devastating.

“In 2017, 22 out of 29 placements (at Choices) were from Japan. That’s a lot of our annual business,” she said.

“But we wish (the new board) all the best and hope they can manage.”

Barbara Scott, the new board chairwoman, said she’s very confident it can steer Choices out of the red. She also said last year was an anomaly because of the loss of Japan and new international programs are set to open up.

Children’s Minister Katrine Conroy said in a statement that the ministry’s focus continues to be with the families, ensuring that the services to them — whether through Choices or other agencies — are seamless.

“The decline in international adoptions is a global trend and Canada, like all countries, must adapt to that social change. Countries increasingly prefer to keep children at home within their own cultures,” she said.

Patricia Pearson and her husband, Aaron, are one of the 140 families enrolled with Choices. She said she was feeling cautiously optimistic about the agency’s future. They are on the waiting list for a South African child.

“Certainly, we’re really excited about the potential of staying with Choices and not having to try and find another agency or another option. But we do realize that Choices is operating in a deficit,” she said.

“But we’re also hopeful that we now know there’s such a large community that’s willing to help.”

— By Laura Kane in Vancouver.

The Canadian Press

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