Adoption in Australia
Adoption is the legal act of permanently placing a person under the age of 18 with a parent or parents other than the birth parents. Australia allows local adoptions (placement within the country), known child adoptions (adoption by relatives, stepparents or carers), and intercountry adoptions (adoption of children born overseas). Adoptions are handled by state and territorial government agencies, such as Adoption Services Queensland and the Department of Human Services in Victoria.
There has been a substantial decline in the number of adoptions in Australia since the early 1970s. In 1971–72 there were 9,798 adoptions, which declined to 1,052 in 1991–92, and 576 in 2005–06. A report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics attributes this decline to the introduction of welfare for single mothers, increased legal access to termination of pregnancy, family planning services, access to child care and improved participation of women in the workforce. Forced adoption of tens of thousands of Aboriginals and the children of single mothers continued until the early 1980s.
As the table below demonstrates, Australia has a significantly lower rate of adoption than the United States and the United Kingdom:
|Country||Adoptions||Live Births||Adoption/Live Birth Ratio||Notes|
|Australia||502 (2003–2004)||254,000 (2004)||0.2 per 100 Live Births||Includes all adoptions|
|England & Wales||4,764 (2006)||669,601(2006)||0.7 per 100 Live Births||Includes all adoption orders in England and Wales|
|United States||approx 127,000 (2001)||4,021,725 (2002)||~3 per 100 Live Births||The number of adoptions is reported to be constant since 1987.|
Low rates of domestic adoptions are attributed to the low number of children who need placement. Low rates of international adoptions are attributed to long wait times (from two to as much as eight years) and high cost (up to $40,000). The following table shows the most recent adoption figures, from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare:
The Stolen Generations (also Stolen children) refers to those children of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were removed from their families by the Australian Federal and State government agencies and church missions, under acts of their respective parliaments. The removals occurred in the period between approximately 1869 and 1969, although in some places children were still being taken in the 1970s.
The earliest introduction of child removal to legislation is recorded in the Victorian Aboriginal Protection Act 1869. The Central Board for the Protection of Aborigines had been advocating such powers since 1860, and the passage of the Act gave the colony of Victoria a wide suite of powers over Aboriginal and 'half-caste' persons, including the forcible removal of children, especially 'at risk' girls. By 1950, similar policies and legislation had been adopted by other states and territories. According to the Bringing Them Home inquiry into the forced separation of indigenous children from their families, less than 17% of the children were adopted. The majority of these adoptions occurred after 1950 when authorities began promoting the fostering and adoption of Aboriginal children by white parents.
While the first adoption legislation in Australia in the 1920s fostered relatively "open" adoptions, a second wave of legislation passed in the 1960s had emphasised the importance of a "clean break" from birth parents and enshrined the principle of secrecy around the adoptive status of children, who were to be raised by their adoptive parents "as if born to them". This principle was meant to provide adoptive parents with heirs without fear of stigma or interference from the biological parent/s, but also operated to allow the unmarried mother, her child, and her family, to be shielded from the shame of an "illegitimate" birth.
Subsequent revelations decades later of the history of the treatment of "removed" children, whether indigenous, white Australian, or the British children who travelled to Australia in imperial forced migration schemes well into the twentieth-century, had a profound impact on public perceptions of adoption. The notion of "coming home", mobilised with great effect by indigenous Australians to account for their experiences of separation from family into institutions or adoption, came to stand for the adoptive experience generally. This concept stigmatised adoptions in general as entailing loss, removal from roots, and pain while at the same time idealised the birth family, minimising if not shutting out the role and experiences of the adoptive family.
Recognition of the damaging effects of previous adoption policies had burgeoned in the 1970s and 1980s. Beginning in the mid-1970s, all Australian states and territories reviewed adoption legislation and embarked on initially cautious reversals of previous (secretive) practices throughout the 1980s. National Adoption Conferences, convened in Australia in 1976, 1978 and 1982, brought together people affected by adoption with professionals and researchers. These conferences served as important for a for activism and agitation on adoption law reform. Workers in the field began to tend towards the view that children should be with their biological parents where possible. Sociologist Rosemary Pringle suggested as late as 2002 that adoption in Australia had lost virtually all social policy credibility.
Then, in 2005 and again in 2007, in two significant reports from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Human Services, adoption appeared to reemerge on the political agenda as viable social policy. The 2005 report endorsed not only intercountry adoption, but suggested that adoption, rather than foster care and other out-of-home-care, might also be in the best interests of many Australian-born children. It also reversed the Australian tendency towards non-interventionism in family matters. The Standing Committee stated that it had concluded it was "unequivocally in support of intercountry adoptions as a legitimate way to give a loving family environment to children from overseas who may have been abandoned or given up for adoption". This is contrasted with the negative attitudes to adoption found within the state and territory welfare departments responsible for processing adoption applications at the time. These attitudes ranged "from indifference to hostility".
Intercountry adoption in Australia first began in 1975 during the Vietnam War when 292 Vietnamese orphans were transported to Australia in 'Operation Babylift'. An average of 330 intercountry adoptions were finalised each year for the ten years between 1998 and 2008. The rate of children being adopted from China has increased faster than any other country from 0.3% in the 1999–2000 period to 30.9% in the 2006–07 period. In the 2007–2008 period, the majority of intercountry adoptions have come from, in descending order, China (63 children, 23.3%), South Korea (47 children, 17.4%), Philippines (41 children, 15.2%) and Ethiopia (35 children, 13.0%). As of August 2009, Australia has open programs with Bolivia, Chile, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Hong Kong, India, Lithuania, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Thailand. Countries with whom adoption programs have closed include Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and Romania.
The Australian Government Attorney-General's Department has primary responsibility for developing and maintaining intercountry adoption arrangements with other countries. This responsibility is shared with the State and Territory authorities, which assess applications, facilitate adoptions, provide advice and assistance, and provide post-placement support and supervision. Applicants must meet the eligibility requirements set by the Australian State or Territory in which the application is being lodged. Each overseas country also has eligibility criteria that applicants must meet. Intercountry adoption can be a lengthy process, usually taking at least two years in Australia, requiring multiple assessments of the continued suitability of prospective parents.
Intercountry adoption practices comply with the principles of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, which came into force in Australia on 1 December 1998. It is implemented by the Family Law Act 1975 and the Family Law (Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption) Regulations 1998. The Australian Citizenship Act 2007 simplified the process of obtaining Australian citizenship for children who were adopted overseas in accordance with the Hague Convention.
- Family Law (Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption) Regulations 1998
- Australian Citizenship Act 2007
In 2012 the Australian Government closed its adoption program with Ethiopia. It did so at a time when no Ethiopian children would be disadvantaged as no Ethiopian children were available for adoption by Australian parent(s).
Known child adoptions
Family law in Australia with regards to children is based on what is considered to be in the best interest of the child. Family laws contain a strong preference for retaining ties to biological parents, and a general presumption against making a known adoption order because an adoption order severs the legal relationship between the child and one of the child’s birth parents. Due to the serious consequences of an adoption order, all stepparent adoption laws contain a strong preference for dealing with new parenting arrangements through a parenting order rather than an adoption order. Stepparents and other carers may apply to the Family Court of Australia for a parenting order, as ‘other people significant to the care, welfare and development’ of the child. It provides an important "status quo" if the birth mother were to die, so, for example, other family members could not come and take the child.
Same sex couples
Adoption for same-sex couples is currently available in Australian Capital Territory (since 2004), New South Wales (since 2010), Western Australia (since 2002), and in Tasmania (since 2013). In Queensland, Northern Territory, Victoria and South Australia, same-sex couples cannot legally adopt a child under their adoption legislation, but can become foster parents. Single LGBT people may adopt in all states/territories (except in South Australia and Queensland, which have bans on single people registering for an adoption), but individuals seeking to adopt are considered less of a priority than couples and lengthy waiting lists for adoption make it virtually impossible. Individuals may usually only adopt a child with special needs or in cases of exceptional circumstances. Only South Australia is considered legislation allowing the adoption of children for same-sex couples after elections won by the Labor party, which promised to "review" the adoption legislation.
Western Australia became the first Australian state to allow same-sex adoptions when its Labor government passed the Acts Amendment (Lesbian and Gay Law Reform) Act, 2002 which in turn amended the Adoption Act, 1994 (WA). This allowed same-sex couples to adopt in accordance with criteria that assesses the suitability of couples and individuals to be parents, regardless of sexual orientation.
Australia's first legal gay adoption, by two men, occurred in Western Australia in June 2007. Subsequently, on 2 August 2007, the federal government under Prime Minister John Howard announced it would legislate to stop same-sex couples adopting a child from overseas, and would further not recognise adopted children of same-sex couples. The federal Coalition’s proposed Family Law (Same Sex Adoption) Bill would amend the 1975 Family Law Act and override state and territory laws that currently cover international adoptions. The bill was due to be introduced in the spring 2007 session of parliament, but has been taken off the agenda following the 2007 federal election.
Each State and Territory also has its own legislation governing local and intercountry adoption matters within that State and Territory. In addition to the adoption acts, each state has corresponding regulations. As of 2011, Tasmania and South Australia are currently undertaking parliamentary reviews of their adoption laws.
- ACT: Adoption Act 1993
- NSW: Adoption Act 2000
- NT: Adoption of Children Act 1994[dead link]
- QLD: Adoption Act 2009
- SA: Adoption Act 1988
- TAS: Adoption Act 1988
- VIC: Adoption Amendment Act 2000
- WA: Adoption Act 1994
- Foster care in Australia
- LGBT rights in Australia
- Family Law Act 1975
- Stolen generations
- Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence — a novel and film about the kidnapping and forced adoption, as wards of the state, of mixed-blood aborigine children in Western Australia
- "Adoption Fact Sheet". Children by Choice.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics. "Australian Social Trends, 1998".
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Adoptions Australia 2003–04, Child Welfare Series Number 35.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics,Population and Household Characteristics
- UK Office for National Statistics, Adoption Data[dead link]
- UK Office for National Statistics, Live Birth Data
- The National Adoption Information Clearinghouse of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, How Many Children Were Adopted in 2000 and 2001[dead link], 2004
- U.S. Center for Disease Control, Live Births
- Bringing them Home, Appendices listing and interpretation of state acts regarding 'Aborigines'[dead link]: Appendix 1.1 NSW[dead link]; Appendix 1.2 ACT[dead link]; Appendix 2 Victoria[dead link]; Appendix 3 Queensland[dead link]; Tasmania[dead link]; Appendix 5 Western Australia[dead link]; Appendix 6 South Australia[dead link]; Appendix 7 Northern Territory[dead link].
- Bringing them home education module[dead link]: the laws: Australian Capital Territory[dead link]; New South Wales[dead link]; Northern Territory[dead link]; Queensland Queensland[dead link]; South Australia[dead link]; Tasmania [dead link]; Victoria [dead link]; Western Australia[dead link].
- Marten, J.A., (2002), Children and war, NYU Press, New York, p. 229 ISBN 0-8147-5667-0.
- Australian Museum (2004). "Indigenous Australia: Family". Archived from the original on 20 April 2008. Retrieved 28 March 2008.
- Read, Peter (1981). The Stolen Generations: The Removal of Aboriginal children in New South Wales 1883 to 1969 (PDF). Department of Aboriginal Affairs (New South Wales government). ISBN 0-646-46221-0.
- In its submission to the Bringing Them Home report, the Victorian government stated that "despite the apparent recognition in government reports that the interests of Indigenous children were best served by keeping them in their own communities, the number of Aboriginal children forcibly removed continued to increase, rising from 220 in 1973 to 350 in 1976" (Bringing Them Home: "Victoria"[dead link]).
- M.F. Christie, Aboriginal People in Colonial Victoria, 1835–86, pp. 175–176.
- Such as the Aboriginal Protection and restriction of the sale of opium act 1897 (Qld), the Aborigines Ordinance 1918 (NT), the Aborigines Act 1934 (SA) and the 1936 Native Administration Act (WA). For more information, see Bringing them Home, appendices listing and interpretation of state acts regarding 'Aborigines'[dead link].
- Kate Murphy, Marian Quartly, Denise Cuthbert (2009). ""In the best interests of the child": mapping the emergence of pro-adoption politics in contemporary Australia". bNet. Retrieved 2 September 2008.
- "History of Intercountry Adoption in Australia". Australian Government Attorney-General's Department. Archived from the original on 28 July 2008. Retrieved 2 September 2008.
- "Current Intercountry Adoption Programs". Australian Government Attorney-General's Department. Archived from the original on 15 September 2008. Retrieved 2 September 2008.
- "Roles of the Commonwealth, States and Territories". Australian Government Attorney-General's Department. Archived from the original on 28 July 2008. Retrieved 2 September 2008.
- "Adoption of a child". Birth. Retrieved 3 September 2008.
- "Adoption Act 1994 – Section 39 Criteria for application". Austlii. Archived from the original on 4 April 2008. Retrieved 1 May 2008.
- "Adoption Act 1988, Section 20". Austlii. Retrieved 1 May 2008.
- ADOPTION ACT 2009 No. 29
- "Same sex couples". Legal Aid Queensland. Archived from the original on 25 March 2008. Retrieved 1 May 2008.
- "Gay adoption 'groundbreaking'". PerthNow. Retrieved 13 May 2008.[dead link]
- "First Legal Gay Adoption In Australia". SameSame.com.au. Retrieved 13 May 2008.
- "Australia’s First Legal Adoption For Gay Couple". efluxmedia. Archived from the original on 21 June 2008. Retrieved 13 May 2008.
- "Australia's First Gay Adoption". ProudParenting.com. Retrieved 13 May 2008.
- "Green Left – Stop the proposed same-sex adoption ban". Green Left. Retrieved 13 May 2008.
- "Gay couples face overseas adoption ban". Sydney Morning Herald. 2 August 2007. Retrieved 13 May 2008.
- Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Fact Sheet 36 – Adopting Children from Overseas
- Australian Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs – Adoption
- Attorney-General's Department – Intercountry Adoption
- Australian Institute of Family Studies Adoption in Australia – An Overview
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Australian adoption statistics
- Adoption.org Adoption agencies in Australia
-  Adoption in Victoria