Thank you, Madam Chair. I would like to thank you for inviting us and giving us this opportunity to speak to you about federal supports for adoptive parents.
With me today is Louis Beauséjour, Acting Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Skills and Employment Branch, who will be able to answer the committee's questions on employment insurance. I also have with me today, François Weldon, Acting Director General of Social Policy, who will be able to take any of the committee's questions on federal supports available to families with children more generally.
The government recognizes that getting the best possible start in life is crucial to ensuring that children reach their full potential. That is why a broad range of initiatives has been put in place to support families with children, such as tax support for Canadian families and transfers to provinces and territories for programs and services. Families adopting children would be eligible to apply for benefits such as the Canada child tax benefit, including the national child benefit supplement, the universal child care benefit, and the child tax credit.
The Government of Canada currently has a number of support measures available to adoptive parents and their adopted children. These include recognition, through the adoption tax credit, that adoption expenses reduce the ability of adoptive parents to pay income taxes, and there's also the employment insurance parental benefit for 35 weeks.
My remarks will especially address the federal government's involvement in intercountry adoption and the complementary parental benefits available to adoptive parents through the employment insurance program.
I have to state at the outset that adoption in Canada is a provincial and territorial responsibility and that each province and territory has its own rules and regulations on all aspects of adoption, including the adoption of children into Canada. Provinces and territories or licensed adoption agencies are responsible for case management.
International or inter-country adoptions are probably the most complicated adoptions, as there are many layers involved—provincial/territorial adoption laws, federal immigration laws and the laws of the child's country of origin. Even the best prepared parents can find such a process fraught with unexpected financial, cultural, legal and other considerations. They need to know about adoption policies in a country they're dealing with. And they want reassurance that the child offered to them is legally adoptable; in other words, that he or she has not been a victim of exploitation or trafficking.
To help ensure that parents have access to the most current information at all times, HRSDC's Intercountry Adoption Services website provides an overview of the intercountry adoption process, as well as alerts about Canada-wide adoption suspensions.
The federal government plays an important role in ensuring that adoption into Canada is done in accordance with related federal laws and regulations and international treaties. For example, Canada is a signatory to both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. These international conventions are intended to protect children's fundamental rights, provide safeguards that ensure that intercountry adoption takes place in the best interests of the child, and establish a system of cooperation among states to prevent the abduction, sale, or trafficking of children.
Our departments facilitate communication and cooperation between adoption authorities in Canada at the federal, provincial, and territorial levels and foreign authorities. It also collects information and data on intercountry adoption, facilitates research, and disseminates information on legislation, policies, and current adoption practices in other countries. As well, it facilitates issue resolution and the development of a pan-Canadian response to matters such as unethical or irregular adoption practices.
While HRSDC is the lead federal agency under the Hague Convention, three other departments are involved and have specific roles. All four departments work very closely to ensure seamless support to the provinces and territories, which in turn, of course, work directly with adoptive parents to complete the adoption process. The Department of Justice is one of them. Foreign Affairs and International Trade and of course Citizenship and Immigration Canada also have specific roles in the process. We will have more information about this in a few seconds.
As stated earlier, the federal government provides access to parental benefits, through the employment insurance program, to Canadian parents who wish to adopt a child. In 2008-09, adoptive parents received almost $24 million in EI benefits. Over the same period, according to the 2009 Monitoring and Assessment Report, adoptive parents used, on average, more than 26 of the 35 weeks of benefits available, without factoring in sharing. On average, they received a weekly benefit of $408.
In recognition of the contributions to the Canadian economy of 2.6 million self-employed Canadians, the government introduced Bill C-56, which received royal assent last December. That legislation permits self-employed Canadians to opt in to a program that provides parental benefits as early as January 2011, if they want to adopt a child.
That concludes my remarks, Madam Chair. My colleagues and I will be pleased, of course, to answer your questions.