In 2015-16, more than 46,000 Australian children were taken from their parent or parents. Most of these children were under the age of five and, although they were placed in out-of-home care, 60 per cent of them were placed with extended family. During the same period, 278 adoptions were finalised.
That leaves thousands of kids who are bouncing around the foster care system from family to family. Experts say these kids want “forever homes” and the permanency of adoption.
It is estimated that there are 4000 children in foster care who are eligible for adoption. Although child protection and adoption are governed by the states, a federal government inquiry has been announced into whether there are unnecessary barriers to adoption, whether a national adoption code should be established and what that code might look like.
In 2013 Julia Gillard, then prime minister, gave a national apology to the victims of forced adoption. After an inquiry, the government recognised that past practices left perhaps hundreds of thousands of people with deep wounds that would not heal.
It is assumed by many that while closed adoptions are bad, open adoptions are good. An open adoption is where the child knows their biological mother and father, and has regular contact with them throughout their upbringing. Open adoption may be better than closed adoption; however, it may not, and in any case it is hardly a perfect scenario.
It seems impossible to talk about adoption without hurting somebody and incurring backlash. It is even harder as an adopted person to explain to non-adopted people what being adopted is like. The adoption experience is different for everyone, but a fundamental truth is this: a child wants their mother and father. No amount of pretending this isn’t the case will change the facts. Biology matters. Sorry if that offends.
A child-centric adoption system would not erase the identities of children. It wouldn’t abolish their birth certificates and create new ones with new names, in a grand game of pretence. In a child-centric system the child would never be separated in law from their parents, removed from their family tree and lose their rights.
Naturally, in practice they might reside elsewhere for the term of their childhood, and their carers’ need certain rights to bring them up, obviously.
A child-centric system would allow all adult adoptees who have had their identities changed in the past the right to end or annul their adoption and change their identity back, returning in the eyes of the law to their biological family. This should be a “no fault” process and simple for the adoptee to achieve.