Nicola Berkovic writes:
THE nation’s adoption laws make it too hard for many of the tens of thousands of children in care to find a permanent new home, Australia’s chief family law judges say.
Federal Circuit Court Chief Judge John Pascoe and Family Court Chief Justice Diana Bryant have called for a re-examination of Australia’s adoption laws. They argue that some of the children in foster care and other forms of out-of-home care might be better off if they were adopted.
Tony Abbott has vowed to overhaul the system to make it easier for Australians to adopt from overseas, raising the issue with state and territory leaders and moving to expand the list of countries from which children can be adopted.
Chief Judge Pascoe said he believed it was time for a fresh review of the nation’s domestic adoption laws.
“Let’s have a look at adoption because there are so many children in care,” he said. “Maybe some of them could be adopted and would be better off being adopted.”
Chief Justice Bryant said Australia’s adoption laws had come down a different path to those in Britain.
“We’ve taken the view in Australia that adoption of children who have parents is a last resort and that children remaining in care is preferable,” she said.
“In the UK, they’ve had a very different approach and with the courts’ permission they’ve allowed adoptions against the objections of parents, where children have been in care for some time.
“They’re starting to change their view a bit and perhaps we’ve been too far at the other end of the spectrum … There’s probably room to move both positions.”
Adoption in Australia is covered by a patchwork of state and federal laws. Eligibility rules for would-be parents differ widely regarding partner relationships, age, citizenship and health.
In 2012-13, there were 339 adoptions Australia-wide, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Of those, only 54 were local adoptions, 129 were overseas adoptions and 156 were “known” child adoptions.
In contrast, there were 40,549 children living in out-of-home care as at June 30 last year — 43 per cent of those with foster carers and 55 per cent with relatives or kinship carers.
The chief judges’ call for a review of adoption laws came as they urged governments to crack down on parents who breached the ban on commercial surrogacy, or to legalise it.
They believe overseas surrogacy arrangements have left women and children vulnerable to exploitation and want commercial surrogacy to be legalised in Australia.
Chief Justice Bryant said the tightening of adoption laws worldwide had helped to fuel the surrogacy boom.
“The constraints around adoption which all the countries to the (Hague Adoption) Convention have put in place does protect children from exploitation in adoption, but it’s meant babies are not really available,” she said.