NO TWO WOMEN

Adoption In Australia: Everything You Need To Know

It's a complicated process.

13/09/2017 7:41 AM AEST | Updated 14/09/2017 9:26 AM AEST
AleksandarNakic via Getty Images
There were only 278 adoptions finalised in Australia from 2015-2016.

Fact: there are about 46,000 children who are in and out of home care in Australia.

Thirty thousand of those have been in that situation for more than two years and are unlikely to ever return to the permanent care of their biological family.

Devastating, right?

Yet according to Renee Carter, CEO of Adopt Change, adoption rates in 2015-2016 were at an all-time low. And we're not talking a couple of thousand. We're talking 278.

That's right. During 2015–16, there were just 278 adoptions finalised across Australia, and they included 82 inter-country adoptions. (To find out more about inter-country adoptions, head here.)

So, what's the deal with adoption in Australia? And why are the rates so low?

Firstly, the process is complicated.

"Adoption legislation is different in each jurisdiction and it can be very messy and overwhelming for people," Carter told HuffPost Australia.

"It's crazy because in NSW, there are about 50 foster care agencies. It's a lot to try and navigate. If someone is interested in adoption, they first have to figure out what type of adoption could be right for them. There's not just one central body."

Each state and territory has its own rules and regulations -- for instance you have to be over 25 to adopt in the ACT, whereas in NSW it's 21 -- and it's a matter of tracking down the information applicable to your individual situation.

There's also the issue of Australia's troubled past when it comes to closed adoption, forced adoption and, of course, the Stolen Generation.

There is a huge desire to preserve birth families and that's completely legitimate... But the question has to be how long do we do that for at the expense of the child?Renee Carter, Adopt Change

In recognition of past travesties, open adoption is now practiced across Australia, though that in itself can be a deterrent to some prospective parents. (More about open adoption and what it means below).

And while of course birth families should be kept in tact if at all possible, Carter argues it should not be at the expense of the child's welfare.

"There is a huge desire to preserve birth families and that's completely legitimate, we definitely should, always, where possible," she told HuffPost Australia. "But the question has to be how long do we do that for at the expense of the child?

"At the moment we are seeing children left in limbo all these years with multiple attempts at family preservation and reunifying the family, which can often fail.

"Whereas in actuality when you are given a long term order by the court, it's actually been agreed that you're not going to go home."

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I want to adopt. Where do I start?

According to the Adopt Change website, the first step for any prospective parent is to "research which type of adoption or permanent care is possible in your state or territory, and decide which is right for your family.

The basic steps for all types of adoption and permanent care are listed as:

  • contacting the relevant state department or agency
  • attending an information session
  • undertaking assessment and training
  • waiting for matching
  • placement
  • post adoptive/placement support.

For adoptive parent Jodie Chessor, her journey began by picking up the phone.

"I saw an ad in the paper looking for potential adoptees, so I rang the hotline up, which was for Barnados," Chessor told HuffPost Australia.

"They came out and did an interview and asked questions. I went to training -- a couple of weekends it was -- and from there we worked out I was a potential person for this.

"So I went onto their waiting list -- that was after the interviews and the assessments to make sure I matched the criteria -- and I was on that waiting list for about two years.

"Then I got the phone call to say they had a little 11 month old boy and could they come out and tell me more about him? That's how that started, and that's how Braxton came into my care."

Barnados Australia
Jodie and her sons.

"I only took one child on at the start, and eight months later I was asked if I would be in the position to take a newborn into my care, as unbeknownst to everybody, Braxton's sibling had been born," Chessor continued.

"So within a very short period of time, I went from having a toddler to a toddler and a newborn, and I wouldn't change it for the world now."

Can I adopt if I'm...?

LGBTQ

At the time of writing, all Australian states and territories except for the Northern Territory allow adoption by same-sex couples.

Likewise, all states and territories allow adoption by LGBT individuals, though in the NT it has to be ruled as 'exceptional circumstances'.

Single

Most states and territories allow individuals to apply for adoption, with the exception of Victoria. However it's worth noting many states and territories will prioritise a couple before a single person and often individuals are only allowed to adopt in exceptional circumstances.

Open adoption: what it means

It's very important to note that Australia practices open adoption for both domestic and international adoptions.

What this means is that the adopted children are raised with an understanding of their past, and where possible, are encouraged to have a relationship with their biological family.

"Open adoption is absolutely critical for children," Barnardos Adoptions Manager, Lisa Vihtonen told HuffPost Australia.

"Open adoption means children growing up are saying 'I have two mums and two dads', or three mums and one dad or whatever the scenario is.

Being open with the children as young as they are... I think it makes it easier than having that hidden secret until they are 18 and then they are going to resent you.Jodie Chessor, adoptive parent

"Where possible, it means ongoing regular contact with their birth family and photos of their birth family around the home.

"There's no secrecy. Children understand they are in care, and what that means is they have two sets of parents who love them. They know who their parents are and can see for themselves, and through that contact, who their mum and dad are, what their culture is and what their history is.

"We have learnt from the mistakes and injustices of past practices. Closed adoption was never a good idea [for anybody]."

While maintaining a relationship with the biological parents could be daunting for some prospective adoptees, Chessor says it's a non-issue.

"I even still to this day have people saying, 'oh my goodness you have to go and have contact with the birth mother? It can be a real a put off because people don't understand it.

The boys love the time they spend with both families and their other siblings. And if you ask them, they will say they've got two mummies.

"In reality, these children are yours forever. The birth parents see them for a minimal time per year. You can't be selfish. It just sort of works.

"The boys love the time they spend with both families and their other siblings. And if you ask them, they will say they've got two mummies. Being open with the children as young as they are... I think it makes it easier than having that hidden secret until they are 18 and then they are going to resent you."

In terms of the time expected to spend with biological families, Chessor says it depends on what the court rules.

"Now that my boys are adopted it's only four times a year. Two hours, four times a year," she said. "That what the court has deemed for my boys. Others are three times, some are two times, some are more."

Patryce Bak via Getty Images
With the exception of the NT, same sex couples can now apply to adopt in Australia.

Why permanency is so important

"Make permanency a priority" is something Carter repeats several times during her interview, and it's with good reason.

" I know one young woman who is only 19, and she moved 38 times when she was in care. It had a real life impact on her life, as of course it would," Carter said.

"The outcomes of impermanency are nearly always negative, and can include early pregnancy, incidents with homelessness, lower education outcomes, impact on relationships, poorer health... the list goes on.

"A lot of children are actually wanting and requesting that permanency as well.

"But I think [some] of these rules that make it ridiculously difficult [for prospective parents]... it's not like they are rules that are linked to making it safer for the child. What it means is they have been bouncing around the foster care system or living without parents."

Adoption takes time to do, as it should. It's not something and nor should it ever be a quick five minute rubber stamp.Lisa Vihtonen, Barnardos Adoptions Manager

It's important to note that adoption isn't for everyone, however.

"It isn't appropriate for all children. In our adoption program, for instance, we are looking at children under the age of five where restoration with their family has already been ruled out. Those children deserve a family for life, not just care that ends when they turn 18," Vihtonen said.

"Adoption takes time to do, as it should. It's not something and nor should it ever be a quick five minute rubber stamp. So if you are looking at, for example an adolescent, so you might be looking at 10 or 12 year old child who may have really significant connections to their biological family. Even though they are in care and even though know they can't live with their birth mum or dad, they don't want to be adopted by anyone else.

"For those children adoption isn't appropriate and it shouldn't be considered as such."

What next?

For those interested in finding out more, view the relevant website for your state or territory below.

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