Single people could soon have the same rights to adopt children as married couples, under the most dramatic shake-up to Victoria's adoption laws in more than 30 years.
Decades after the state's Adoption Act was introduced, the Andrews Government is preparing to revamp the legislation after conceding it no longer reflects "the modern family".
The proposed re-write is based on a Law Reform Commission report tabled in Parliament on Wednesday, which recommends widening eligibility requirements, giving children more access to information and support, and improving the way a person's identity is reflected in their birth certificate.
"At the time of its introduction, the Adoption Act represented a significant change in Victorian adoption policy, as it brought in open adoption," says the report, which was commissioned by the government in 2015.
"However, it is now over 30 years old, and in many respects out of step with modern understandings of the needs of children and contemporary law in relation to family and community."
In order to be eligible for local adoption in Victoria, one must either be married, in a registered domestic relationship, or in a domestic relationship for no less than two years.
Since September last year, same-sex couples have also had adoption rights.
Single people, on the other hand, are only allowed to adopt in "special circumstances" – which has traditionally limited adoption to children with special needs – and have also been unable to adopt infants under the age of 12 months.
However, the Commission's review found that singles should have the same adoption rights as couples, pointing out that "marital status is not relevant to the safety, wellbeing and interests of a child to be adopted".
It also suggested that the law should not "require or imply" that couples in a domestic relationship must live together in order to adopt.
The Commission's 358-page report makes 88 recommendations, including:
- That adopted people have access to integrated birth certificates that show the names of both their natural parents and adoptive parents.
- The appointment of an independent children's lawyer for every child who is adopted, as well as a court-approved adoption plan with details about contact arrangements, information exchange and other aspects of the adoption.
- A new "access to information" scheme that would make it easier for children and relatives to get details about their adoption.
- More support for adopted people throughout their lives, such as counselling, mediation and financial grants.
- That carers who look after a child for at least two years under a permanent care arrangement have the option to adopt them if it's in the child's interest.
Figures show that between 1971-72, there were almost 10,000 adoptions in Australia, compared with 45 in 2015-16, following a wave of social changes such as the availability of contraceptives, safe access to abortion, and the growing acceptance of children born out of marriage.
However, the report points out that while the numbers are relatively small, "each adoption is of profound significance".
"Adoption laws must adapt to represent the needs and values of modern families," said Families Minister Jenny Mikakos.
She said the government would now consider the review closely, "to bring adoption laws into the 21st Century".
Law Reform Commission chairman Philip Cummins said the recommendations would help to ensure "that adoption is voluntary, consent is freely given and informed, and the best interests of the child are paramount".