Australian adoption rates are at their lowest ever, a new report has shown.
According to adoption and surrogacy lawyer Stephen Page, this is due to overseas countries clamping down on adoption versus the ease of becoming a foster carer in Australia.
The report, released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), revealed that last financial year had the lowest number of adoptions on record with 292 adoptions -- down by eight percent from the previous year.
While adoption rates are down, the proportion of these children adopted by carers is rising.
The report noted 32 percent of all adoptions were 'carer' or 'known' adoptions, whereby children were adopted by foster parents or other non-relatives who had the responsibility for making decisions about the daily care and control of the child for the relevant period before the adoption. This figure rose to 94 adoptions in the last year, compared to just 21 in 2005-06. A further 20 percent of children are adopted by step-parents or other relatives.
AIHW spokesman, David Braddock, said, “While adoption numbers overall have declined over time, known child adoptions by carers are increasing.”
“The rise in carer adoptions has been driven by New South Wales, where recent reforms have facilitated adoptions by known carers."
Page said there are a number of contributing factors affecting the overall drop in adoption rates. “There are restrictions with kids coming from overseas; mothers are hanging onto children because of Centrelink benefits and they are no longer ashamed to have children out of wedlock; and children in care are generally not being made available to adopt,” said Page.
“I have lost count of the number of my clients who have said their preference is to adopt but they aren't allowed to or there are no children available.”
More flexibility in the adoption system is needed, according to Page. New South Wales is currently the only state to have changed regulation to make it easier for carers to adopt. “These children in care can go through six to 12 placements in their childhood. These children should be given stability and adoption should be much more available for carers,” said Page.
The report indicated that the number of intercountry adoptions had dropped by 27 percent from the previous year. Page said this outcome is no surprise because of structural problems. "Countries aren't making their children available due to a rise in prosperity and nationalism. This is a problem that has been brewing for a very long time, so the outcome is no surprise,” Page said.
The Huffington Post Australia spoke to a foster parent in New South Wales, who said the red-tape around fostering had been lifted.
“The NSW state government is trying to make it easier to become foster carers. We just had to do the training and sign up with an agency.”
The foster parent disagrees with the nature of adoption, "Kids shouldn't be owned, but they should be cared for. The rewards are amazing. Seeing a nine-year-old swim in the ocean for the first time is pretty life-changing."
Despite the increase in carer adoptions, the foster carer said adoption should not be the natural progression for carers. "For me as a foster carer, I'm not desperate to adopt those children, I just want them to be safe and happy and have contact with their birth family and know where they come from.
“When you take kids away from their birth family and community it can be really damaging. It’s wrong,” she said.
Greens spokeswoman, Senator Rachel Siewert, made a statement on Thursday urging the government to change the legislation on children’s out of home care.
"The Coalition seems to have an obsession with adoption and I'm concerned that this blinds them to the issues that need to be addressed to improve out-of-home care. There are about 43,000 kids in out-of-home care. Adoption is not going to place all these kids.
"The Government needs to realise that there are serious problems in the out-of-home care system and address them,” said Siewert.