In 2012-13 there were 339 adoptions in Australia with more than a third of these adoptions from overseas. In 1971-72 there were 9,798 adoptions. That is a decline of 96.6% in the number of adoptions in the last 40 years. This dramatic decline has meant that Australia now has one of the lowest rates of adoption in the developed world.
At the same time there are nearly 40,000 children in out-of-home-care. Nearly 27,000 of these children have been in out-of-home care for more than two years after having been removed from their birth parents because of physical, sexual and emotional abuse or neglect. These children desperately need the kind of stable and permanent home that can be provided through adoption into a loving family.
So why is adoption apparently so difficult in Australia?
Women's Forum Australia's latest research report, Adoption Rethink, has found a range of reasons including broader acceptance of single mothers and increased access to welfare support, increased use of the foster care system, institutional hostility from some in academia and welfare departments who influence adoption policy, access to legal abortion, negative attitudes in Australia arising from past practices and the emotional and financial costs involved.
Based on the evidence from this research, Women's Forum Australia firmly believes that the optimal outcome for women and their children is when children are raised in a safe, loving and stable household with their birth parents. Sadly this is not always possible and the evidence suggests a large percentage of children passing into care away from their birth parents spend extended periods in that care.
There are long-term damaging consequences for children and society when children are left to flounder through the foster care system, in some cases for years, while waiting for the courts to resolve their future. The outcomes for children in institutions, foster care and other out of home care are far inferior to adoption. The cost to society and governments in caring for these children and mending the traumatic consequences of their situation is enormous. By contrast, adoption, appropriately managed, can provide better outcomes for all involved - birth parents, adoptees, adoptive parents and the broader community. Adoption enhances stability, a sense of security, belong and firm attachments.
Adoption can also provide an alternative to abortion for women facing a difficult or unplanned pregnancy. Adoption, appropriately managed, can work out well in by far the majority of circumstances and should be a realistic choice for birth parents who are unwilling or unable to parent their own child.
It is clear from the evidence that adoption is a viable alternative for women, children and families in need. A new legislative approach from State and Federal Governments, the involvement of Non-Government Organisations in providing adoption services and a change to the hostile attitudes towards adoption that have developed within the various bureaucracies in recent years is necessary. This must be underpinned by a comprehensive evidence-based education campaign to inform the community about the benefits of adoption for women, children and families, particularly in comparison to other arrangements.
Australia needs an adoption rethink.
To download your copy of Adoption Rethink click here.