“Financially irresponsible and obviously neurotic need not apply”: Social Work, Parental Fitness, and the Production of Adoptive Families in Ontario, 1940–1965

  • Patti Phillips


A discourse on adoption emerged between 1948 and 1965 in which the fitness of parents was given primary emphasis and was measured by new tools of psychological assessment. The postwar years were characterized by new attention to mental health and a revitalized family imperative. Social workers fought to establish their own authority over adoption practices, against the private, “grey market” arrangements made by doctors and lawyers. Social workers attempted to do this in two ways: by shoring up responsibility for the “home visit”, the technique by which they could assess “proper” motivations and fitness of parents; and by linking the fitness of parents to the postwar project of nation-building. The plight of “unadoptable” children presented a public challenge to the discretionary, regulated practices established by social workers, however, and they redoubled their efforts to find homes for hard-to-place children. In the process they contributed to the creation and maintenance of particular visions of Canadian identity and otherness.