Adoption failures and agonising waits put off prospective parents

Fiona Court and her husband adopted a baby girl from China, which took three and a half years. They are also foster parents to a six year old boy who they have tried to adopt however continue to experience difficulties in the domestic system. Photo: Peter Rae Greens senator Rachel Siewert Photo: Supplied

Fiona Court and her husband Dale Bartley waited three years to adopt their daughter from China and are desperate to do the same with the son they began fostering in Australia two-and-a-half years ago.

But they they face an agonising, years-long wait to adopt Jimmy*, now 6. They have heard of other foster families waiting up to seven years.

Ms Court and her family are prepared to wade through the red tape and uncertainty. Adoption is “the most rewarding thing possible,” she said. But the Sydney mother added that many people are put off by the lengthy and complex process, which is run by state governments and adoptions agencies.

“A lot more good people will step forward if they could feel that ‘permanent care’ could mean permanent care,” she said.

On Wednesday, the advocacy organisation Adopt Change will release research on attitudes towards adoption in Australia. A national survey of more than 1000 adults found that 17 per cent of those polled had given serious thought to adopting, but 87 per cent of that group did not go ahead with adoption.

This comes in the face of historically low adoption figures. In 2013-14 there were just over 200 children adopted locally in Australia, with about 114 adopted from overseas. The small number of domestic adoptions compares with about 43,000 children in out-of-home care (alternative accommodation for those who can’t live with their parents).

Adopt Change says that more than 18,000 of these children have been in the system for more than two years.

Despite the number of children looking for a permanent home, focus group research conducted for Adopt Change found potential parents were put off by how hard adoption is. One 42-year-old woman said: “My husband and I desperately want to have children, we have tried for over 10 years. By the time we realised it wasn’t going to happen for us, we were too old to adopt.”

Adopt Change chief executive Jane Hunt said the number of children stuck in the out-of-home care system was “worrying”. While she noted some children would be returned to their biological parents or be cared for by guardians or family members, thousands were being bounced around the system.

On average, children experience six placements during their time in care. In Jimmy’s case, he had 20 moves before he came to Ms Court and Mr Bartley. “The biggest fear for a foster child is that their world will crumble at any moment,” Ms Court said.

There is no national data for the time it takes for local adoptions. Anecdotally, it can take anywhere between about 18 months and more than six years.

The Adopt Change research follows a call from Coalition senators last week to make adoption of local children easier in Australia, as part of a Senate inquiry into out-of-home care.

But Greens senator Rachel Siewert said that adoption would not solve the issue of escalating rates of children coming into care.

“There is so much to do to ensure children aren’t coming into care in the first place,” she said.

*Name withheld