Adoption reform push gathers pace
The government is moving towards making adoption easier, but actor and advocate Deborra-lee Furness says it's not moving quickly enough. Courtesy ABC News24.
Even when she was a child, Deana Jones* always dreamt of having a large family.
"My mother always said I was born wanting to be a mum," the teacher from western NSW said. "From the age of three, my life goal was to have children."
So when she and her husband Matthew couldn't conceive, it came as a devastating blow. The couple underwent fertility treatment for nine years, including 10 cycles of IVF, creating a total of 70 embryos.
"We made beautiful embryos but for whatever reason they didn't want to stick around," she recalled. "We did acupuncture, reiki, Chinese herbs, some yellow liquid from Queensland ... we did all of that and did not have a pregnancy at all. It was pretty gutting."
The pair, who both work in education, had always thought about fostering children and volunteered to become carers with the Department of Family and Community Services once they had finished fertility treatment.
After undergoing screening and training, the couple were approved as foster carers and Deana resigned from her job, telling the boss: "I'm going to be a mum. I don't know who to or for how long but I'm going to be a mum."
Those questions were answered in 2011 when Sharni, then six, and David, 12 months, came to stay. A few weeks later Deana was reading a bedtime story to Sharni who revealed her birth mother was expecting another baby.
"Six weeks after that beautiful Jacob was born," Deana recalled.
"I remember sitting there with Matthew, Sharni and David and looking at Jacob, thinking, 'We nailed this; we smashed it.' The moment that Jacob was placed in my arms, I had the most amazing feeling of calm and certainty. We were going to be OK. We had our family – and our family was perfect. That was our entry to fostering. It was three kids in three months."
Deana and Matthew formally adopted all three children in March, with the consent of the birth parents, who cannot be identified.
The couple have formed a close bond with the children's birth family, so much so Deana laughs that she "adopted" them along with the children.
"Blended families are so common," she said. "You see people being forced to choose sides. We were very, very conscious that [the children] would never have to choose. We wanted the children to have all of us.
"We're a great team, the four of us. They were the world's best baby makers. They have created three extraordinary children. We were pretty bad at that. They had some trouble looking after them but that's the bit we have got going on. We're good with that."
Deana and Matthew, who has a step daughter Chloe from a previous relationship, feel they owe an enormous debt to the couple who relinquished their youngsters.
"I wouldn't be a mum if wasn't for them," Deana said. "Our greatest joy in life comes from their greatest heartache yet they still choose to accept it, they still choose to celebrate our love for the kids. They are amazing people for what they have done.
"One of their greatest strengths is their graciousness in acknowledging the love we have for the kids. We recognise that they also love the kids. They find it hard but they are not angry ... that's a wonderful sign of their love for the children."
Deana acknowledges that adoption is an emotionally charged issue but is sharing the family's story to demonstrate "where it's gone so right".
Adoption rates in Australia are at an all time low with 278 adoptions finalised in 2015-16. Figures from the NSW government, which is encouraging adoption as a way to provide a stable home for children who cannot live with their parents, show 92 adoptions have been formalised in the current financial year.
"Adoption provides the safety, security and permanency that all children deserve and I am delighted that we are on track to reach more than 100 adoptions from out of home care by the end of this financial year," Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward said.
"Open adoption of children currently in care or coming into care is a priority for the NSW government."
For Deana and Matthew, establishing their family has been a "15-year odyssey that has been worth every second".
"Every embryo that didn't work, gee I'm glad they didn't," Deana said. "If they had, things would be different and I don't want a single thing to change."
*Surname has been changed.