The rate of adoptions in Australia has risen by 20 per cent in the last four years, according to a new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. The Federal Government report showed there were 334 adoptions in the 2019-20 year, compared with 278 adoptions in 2015-16.
AIHW spokesperson Dinesh Indraharan said almost three quarters of these adoptions were known-child adoptions, as the child had a pre-existing relationship with the adopted parents. This included adoptions by long-term foster carers, stepparents and other relatives.
Mr Indraharan said the recent rise was primarily due to legislative changes in NSW resulting in a higher number of known-child adoptions by foster parents.
The NSW Parliament passed the Child Protection Legislation Amendment Act in 2014, making adoption its most preferred option. Since then, further amendments were made to the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 and the Adoption Act 2000. The amendments mean that foster parents in NSW have a shorter time to wait before they can adopt, compared to families in other jurisdictions.
The report, released in March this year, also found that despite a recent increase, the number of adoptions in Australia has exactly halved over the past 25 years, as there were 668 adoptions in 1995-96. Mr Indraharan said this long-term decline was mainly because of a reduction in children adopted from overseas, also known as intercountry adoptions.
“This is due to a lot of factors, ranging from our policies within Australia to the countries with whom we have adoption arrangements. But there’s also international factors, whether that’s societal or political conditions, in those countries that lead to children being put up for intercountry adoption,” he said.
Mr Indraharan noted the decline did not necessarily mean that adoptions were restricted, but that there may have been a number of countries in which the society had improved, allowing children to be adopted closer to home.
Adopt Change chief executive Renee Carter was pleased to see the recent increase in adoption rates but said more needed to be done for children who could not be raised within their birth family. This would ensure that if a child could not return home, they were given the opportunity to be raised in a family for life.
“We need to prioritise permanency for children who are unable to live at home safely,” she said.
“Children need to be parented by families, not long term by governments. They need safety, nurture and stability. Nationally, we all need to continue to focus on the commitment to permanency and changing the outcomes for children in out-of-home care.”
According to the report, adoptions in Western Australia rose from 31 to 38. Foster Care Association WA director Fay Alford said the number of adoptions in WA was low because there were more special guardianship orders granted than adoptions.
Special guardianship orders are granted by the Children’s Court and can only be made if a child is in the care of the Department for Child Protection and Family Support. A foster carer applies to become a special guardian and, if approved by the Court, becomes the child’s legal guardian. The department steps out, and the child is no longer in its care. In some cases the orders include provisions set by the magistrate requiring that the child remains in contact with their biological family.
Ms Alford chose to become a foster carer because she had been a child in care herself.
“I saw the value of giving a child a home, a place where they’re loved and cared for, and a good life,” she said.
Ms Alford adopted three children. When she fostered her first child, his mother had wanted him adopted and signed the relevant papers. Her second child’s mother became a missing person and Ms Alford applied for adoption without parental consent through the courts. She cared for her third child from a baby to 18 years and the child applied for adoption when she was 18. Ms Alford said foster care for most children was a positive experience.
“It’s one that helps them maintain contact with their biological family, but also remain in a safe and loving environment,” she said.