Has it become too hard to prospective parents to adopt children?
Federal Circuit Court Chief Judge John Pascoe and Family Court Chief Justice Diana Bryant, who has recently announced her retirement, called on the federal government to overhaul Australia’s adoption laws, saying that current arrangements make it too hard for the tens of thousands of children in care to find a permanent home.The Coalition government has already flagged their intention to make overseas adoption easier, but the nation’s top judges say that domestic adoption must also be made easier. They argue that some children in foster care and other forms of out-of-home care might be better off if they were adopted. Currently adoption laws in Australia are a patchwork of federal and state laws, while eligibility requirements differ widely regarding age, citizenship and health.
In 2014, Chief Justice Bryant said she would like to see Australia take a similar view to adoption as Britain. Australia views adoption as a last resort option, while Britain views adoption as a preferable alternative to long-term care. In 2012-2013, there were 339 adoptions Australia-wide, compared with over 40,000 children in out-of-home care. Chief Judge Pascoe says: “Let’s have a look at adoption because there are so many children in care. Maybe some of them could be adopted and would be better off being adopted.” Chief Justice Bryant also suggests that the tightening of adoption laws worldwide has fuelled the boom has helped to fuel the surrogacy boom, which in turn leaves women and children vulnerable to exploitation. Both judges would like to see commercial surrogacy legalised in Australia.
Current Adoption Circumstances
Since the views of the senior judges were published, the Queensland government has made some changes in adoption. The changes included in the Adoption and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 mainly focus on encouraging a range of people to adopt. Now previously excluded groups of people, including same-sex couples, single people and couples who are undergoing fertility treatment are allowed to adopt. The changes put Queensland in line with most other states and territories – except South Australia and the Northern Territory.
Communities Minister Shannon Fentiman said:
“Expanding the eligibility criteria provides a wider and richer pool of people that we can ultimately find the right home for each child who requires adoption.”
Adoption rates in Queensland remain low. At last count there were 22 local adoptions in 2015-16, nine local and 13 step-parents. Yet the need for foster parents is incredibly high, and most of the children in out-of-home care never get adopted. With 40,000 children between the ages of 0 and 17 requiring out of home care in Australia last year, for the first time since 1998-99 more Australian children were adopted than children from overseas. The 70 adoptions by carers represented a 10 year high for this type of adoption – more than double the 29 adoptions in 2002-03. Barnardos finalised 25 adoptions in 2012.
Jane Hunt, CEO of adoption advocacy group Adopt Change says the figures simply aren’t good enough. “Adopt Change believes every child has a right to a family, and we embrace ethical adoption as a positive and important way of forming a permanent family,” she says in a statement. “The latest combined figures on local and inter-country adoptions are at an all time low. Given the number of children who are in need of a permanent loving family, the findings are not good enough and we must continue to advocate for ethical adoption reform in Australia.”
The Australian Government states that anyone wishing to adopt must fulfil certain requirements. Prospective adoptive parents must be Australian citizens, not be undergoing surrogacy arrangements and not currently have a child that is under the age of 1. Female prospective adoptive parents must not be pregnant. However, if you are undergoing fertility treatment and you fall pregnant, your adoption application will be postponed or cancelled.
The Australian Attorney General’s Intercountry Adoption Branch is responsible for establishing new, and managing existing, intercountry adoption programs with overseas governments. However, you must first undergo assessment by the Australian Government before you can apply to adopt a child. After you are approved, the other country you are wishing to adopt from will also assess your circumstances and will make a decision on your suitability. Assessment is a comprehensive process that involves information being gathered and analysed from a number of sources. Required information for the assessment may include:
- criminal, traffic, domestic violence and child protection history checks
- home visits for assessment interviews
- talking with you, your partner, children and other adult household members and nominated referees if required
- getting information about your health.
No matter how you wish to adopt a child, the process is often time-consuming and daunting. The wait list for overseas countries and adoption services is incredibly lengthy, however, there are numerous children in need of placement within the foster care system. Many professionals and adoption services advocates recommend the changing of all Australian laws to encourage adoption and remove children from foster care.
In the event a step-parent wishes to adopt his or her step-child the Family Court will play a role in the adoption processes by approving the adoption. This means that a step-parent must make two Court Applications – to the Family Court of Australia, then the Supreme Court of Queensland. If you need assistance with adoption, we offer a free, 10-minute phone consultation. Contact us today!