April 6, 2018


Explainer: how hard is it to adopt in Australia? Are barriers to adoption really a bad thing?

Patricia Fronek, Griffith University

When politicians and lobbyists call for adoption reform in Australia, they often argue adoption should be easier and quicker. Adopting a child in Australia can be difficult, but whether barriers to adoption are always a bad thing is up for debate.

The numbers

Local and intercountry adoptions are the two main types of adoption in Australia.

The federal government is the central authority for intercountry adoptions, ensuring Australia complies with the Hague Convention on intercountry adoption and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. States have responsibility for all adoption services.

The wait for intercountry adoptions depends on the country, and takes between three and five years. Of the 315 adoptions finalised in Australia in 2016-17, 69 were adoptions from Asian countries such as Taiwan, the Philippines and South Korea. The majority of children were under five years of age.

There are no waiting time statistics available for local adoptions, but we do know that 42 local adoptions were finalised in 2016-17. Most local adoptions were of babies, maintaining the trend for young children.

Same-sex couples can now adopt locally in every state and territory in Australia, with the Northern Territory parliament legalising same-sex adoptions last month. Single people can adopt in most states. For intercountry adoptions, the country of birth determines who can adopt.

In all adoptions, there is no guarantee that an adoption will take place. Sending countries can close or change their quotas or establish family preservation and domestic adoption programs.

In local adoption, the prospective parents or parent who can best meet the needs of a particular child should be matched. The child’s family should also be comfortable with the decision.

Are other countries doing better?

Policy directions in Australia have not changed since under the Abbott government, which promised to simplify adoptions, was ousted.

Lobbyists like actress Deborra-Lee Furness are still exercising influence to make adoption easier, albeit less in the public eye, and the attention has shifted from intercountry adoption to local adoptions.

Lobbyists lean towards the UK local adoption system and US approach to intercountry adoptions, where adoption services are delivered in the private market. But the English system is badly in need of reform, after years of policymakers promoting adoption as “risk-free in a happy ever after narrative”.

The US is also reforming its very broken system. It has been criticised for incidents of trafficking, child deaths, and rehoming, in which adopted children have been offered to strangers over the internet.

Countries that report higher numbers of adoptions deal with countries that Australia does not – including countries that have not signed the Hague Convention. Among these, the US and Spain estimate high numbers of adoption breakdowns (“disruptions” are short term and “dissolutions” are complete breakdowns).

Most children made available for local and intercountry adoption have families. Adptions that are non-Hague and facilitated in countries that have limited capacity to properly assess a child’s circumstances, and where corruption is rife, are open invitations to illegal and unethical adoptions.

Anecdotally, most adoptions in Australia are successful, but we do not know the true rate of breakdowns. Families are only followed up for one year after an adoption. But we do know there is insufficient support for families, foster families, adoptive families and adoptees.

Adoption is hard for a reason

I have written before about the dangers of adoption-driven systems, in which success is counted in numbers. Adoptions do become easier and faster, but safeguards are reduced. The consequences for children, first families and adoptive families can be lifelong.

Adoptions are hard for good reasons. A sound, ethical process is necessary to ensure a child is legally and ethically available for adoption, consents are free from coercion, and parents are given adequate time to change their minds.

While Australia is bound by international conventions that protect human rights and those of children, there is no right to parent: children are the rights holders in adoption processes. Prospective parents must undergo preparation and assessment on their capacity to meet all the needs of an adopted child to uphold children’s basic rights.

People wanting to adopt must undergo preparation and assessment on their capacity to meet the needs of an adopted child.

Support for family preservation and culturally appropriate placements should always be explored. In recent years, the importance of culture and identity, especially for Indigenous Australians, has been undermined in political rhetoric.

Adoption generally has become synonymous with child protection. Child protection measures are actually interventions such as prevention, monitoring or child removal, which occur well before an adoption takes place.

Consistent with global trends, intercountry adoptions in Australia are declining. This is due to compliance with international conventions to reduce illegal and unethical adoptions and the development of local adoption programs.

Read more:
International adoptions have dropped 72 percent since 2005 – here’s why

Outcomes for children

Support that enables children to stay with their families and within their culture is a positive outcome.

The number of adoptions in Australia is small because not all children separated from their families need adoption, so moral panic and distorted claims about the welfare of children should be resisted.

The ConversationAdoption is a service for children. It is not a service for people to make families – a subtle and important difference. A “hard” adoption process should be embraced, even if it takes a little longer. Making sure adoptions are both legal and ethical is better for everyone, especially the children.

Patricia Fronek, Senior Lecturer, School of Human Services and Social Work, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Share your comments below

  • Unless standards have dropped, the rules used to be very strict. They had to prove that they were able to financially support a child, that their house was suitable including safety and quite a few other criteria. I know a couple who lost their 2nd baby at childbirth and due to internal damage (including to her bladder) she had to have emergency surgery and is not able to have any more children. Her Doctor gave her a sealed letter stating that they were ideal candidates for adoption. They were refused on the grounds that the Dad didn’t earn enough. It had nothing to do with their property. The couple applied to foster her niece and nephew if anything happened to the parents who were both intellectually disabled. They were approved. Family Services makes random visits to check the property is still suitable and that their child is being well cared for.


  • This was a very interesting read. Having gone through fertility issues and almost giving up on having a family of my own I would have loved to adopt a child and provide a permanent loving family life. My husband and I were also hesitant due to complications of adopting from long waiting times and complicated backgrounds.
    We were fortunate to have our first child after 8 years of trying and now have 2 under 3!
    I hope there can be better ways to connect children in need with loving couples or caring people but of course the children’s safety must come first and background and welfare checks are vital.


  • I believe checks should be thorough when it comes to adoption.


  • Adoption takes often years and is expensive. We have 2 permanent foster children under guardianship (which also took 3,5 years) who we would have loved to adopt, but because the financial support would fall away we cannot do that. One of the girls has Down Syndrome and the other has a Reactive Attachment disorder in need for psychological treatment for many years. Even with the financial support we get as guardians, there is still a lot we have to pay ourselves.


  • The process needs to be thorough however that doesn’t necessarily mean takes years and years. There are different debates to be had because you have parents placing their children up for adoption and children who have been removed due to a multitude of reasons. What should always be the overriding reason and point of any changes is the best interests of the children.


  • We have to make sure the child being adopted is going to a good home, a place that they will be looked after, be happy and learn that a stable home is safe.


  • I am with adoption if we research the parents and their background and if they are really genuine and that they are going to offer these children love and a good life and I think the process needs to be hard and time consuming because you need to make sure the child will be treated good


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