Australian families still face a long wait for intercountry adoption

Deborra-lee Furness, pictured with husband Hugh Jackman and children Oscar and Ava, is the founder of Adopt Change.
Deborra-lee Furness, pictured with husband Hugh Jackman and children Oscar and Ava, is the founder of Adopt Change. 

Australian couples wishing to adopt children from overseas still face a lengthy wait despite a federal government push to make the process easier.

While the Dutch government is considering a halt on intercountry adoptions following a report released last week which found children from overseas are effectively being sold into adoption in the Netherlands under current laws, the Australian government has opened programs with a number of new countries in the past year, including Poland, Bulgaria and Latvia. A planned program with the US will not go ahead but the Australian government is continuing to investigate an arrangement with Vietnam, according to the Attorney-General's Department.

The Intercountry Adoption Australia service was launched last year with the aim of assisting couples who wish to adopt a child from overseas.

Liberal senator Zed Seselja says the budget contains "massive investment" in Canberra.
Liberal senator Zed Seselja says the budget contains "massive investment" in Canberra. Photo: Graham Tidy

Intercountry adoptions have gone backwards in recent years with figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare showing they steadily declined from 129 in 2012-13 to 83 in 2014-15. New intercountry adoption figures are expected to be released next month.

Chief executive of adoption lobby group Adopt Change Renee Carter said adopting a child from overseas can take up to five years so it would take time to measure whether the federal government's move was making a difference.

Ms Carter said foreign adoptions are under increasing scrutiny following accusations of child trafficking.

"There has been growing concern about ethical adoption," she said

"There are questions around some orphanages adopting children who aren't genuine orphans so there are concerns about child trafficking."

According to figures from UNICEF, 132 million children have lost one or both parents. Ms Carter said there was a growing international drive to support in-country support for orphaned children where possible.


"The initial step should be adopting a child within their own country but if that can't happen, if all avenues have been exhausted, intercountry adoption should be considered as an alternative to the impact of institutions and orphanages on children," she said.

"It's always about the rights of the child. The long term impact of an orphanage in terms of health outcomes, relationships and development needs to be weighed up."

Adopt Change was founded by actor Deborra-lee Furness, who has two adopted children with husband Hugh Jackman, to promote awareness about adoption. 

Lynelle Long, founder of Intercountry Adoptee Voices and an adoptee from Vietnam, has serious doubts about Australia's intercountry adoption arrangements, particularly with Bulgaria.  

"Historical efforts to make things quicker faster with less red tape at the federal government level mean that the child is the one who suffers and continues to have no rights or say," she said.

"We as adult intercountry adoptees believe if Australia is going to do intercountry adoption to find children for couples, then at least we should have highly ethical and transparent programs." 

Ms Carter called for greater focus on Australian adoptions, citing the ballooning number of children in out-of-home care which has topped 40,000 nationally.

"There is a large number of people who would like to adopt in Australia, often they are foster parents, but there are many barriers to the process," she said.

"The logical conclusion is to streamline the process here, make it easier for local adoptions to take place and fix the problems in our own backyard."

Assistant Minister for Social Services Zed Seselja​ said the instability of out-of-home care could be detrimental to children.

"Far too many children go through too many placements in out-of-home care with no stability and permanency is never a reality," he said. "These children are at significant risk of poor long term outcomes."

Community services ministers will discuss improving permanency for children in out-of-home care at a meeting in Sydney on Friday.