November marks Adoption Awareness Month across Ontario, a time to raise awareness for the thousands of vulnerable kids in Canada’s child welfare system in need of permanent homes and families.

Melee Hutton, an award-winning actress and acting instructor based in Toronto, is familiar with the amazing impact of adoption, having adopted her 5-year-old son through the Children’s Aid Society. While she describes the adoption as a “wonderful journey, the best of my life,” Hutton goes on to explain that many Canadians aren’t even aware such opportunities exist within their own country.

“The first misconception about adoption in Canada is that you can adopt in Canada,” she says.

“When we adopted our son, one of the first questions people would ask is ‘where is he from?’ They don’t actually know that you can adopt children [within Canada]. People want to know what the damage is on the child, like ‘what’s his story, what’s his issue?’ Now if anybody says that, I say: ‘being written at the moment’.”

Another misconception described by Hutton is that adopted children are unwanted or given-up easily. “We have a certain amount of openness with our son’s birth mother, and I don’t like listening to misconceptions about birth mothers and their seeming lightness that they have their children placed with other people; that’s not my experience.”

For those considering adoption, Hutton suggests that they begin by considering adopting locally. “The biggest thing I learned is to start earlier than you think you’re ready. Some people don’t get involved in the process until they feel that it’s really, really for them. But my experience as an adoptive mom is that you don’t even know what you’re up for and all of the great options there are like parenting siblings or special needs kids.”

As an advocate for providing youth in the child welfare system with enriching arts programs, like those offered through the Foundation’s IGNITE THE SPARK FUND, Hutton says: “I feel that the arts can give such a sense of belonging, such a feel for community, so much space for child expression and leadership skills and imagination. The IGNITE THE SPARK FUND particularly struck me because I wondered about my own child, and if he hadn’t been adopted into a family that could afford to give him access to things that he seems to really love [like dance].”

“There are lots of kids in foster care who don’t get that opportunity.”

This sense of giving-back is something that Hutton hopes to instil in her young son. They recently celebrated his birthday through the organization ECHOage which divides birthday contributions, usually given for gifts, between the birthday recipient and a chosen charity — in her son’s case the Children’s Aid Foundation.

“I just find birthdays and Christmas overwhelming with the amount of presents that come through,” Hutton says. “Somebody told me about ECHOage and our son was very excited [about it]. I found that people actually gave more — the average gift was about $50. People wanted to give the $25 that they would have spent, plus money for a donation. I don’t think there was a single parent who didn’t say ‘what a great idea’.”

And it’s not just through birthdays that Hutton has found ways to raise money for kids in the care system. For the past six years, she and a group of other actors have participated in a pay-what-you-can live reading of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. “A woman called Judy Maddren, maybe 16 years ago, started reading A Christmas Carol to her kids and they all loved it and it became a holiday tradition,” she says. “People would come to their house and it got to be quite big all over Canada in different cities. Now, anyone can do it as long as the money goes to one of three charities that Dickens advocated for; one is education, one is children, and one is poverty.”

You can catch Hutton in her own rendition of the Dickens holiday classic on Saturday, December 6 at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto at 8:00 PM.

Find out more about adopting in Ontario here.

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