Australia Observations

Australia and adoption

Last night’s news included a brief story on adoption in Australia. My ears pricked up at the mention of the word ‘adoption’ because I’ve spent 6 years working in communications at leading fostering and adoption charities in the UK, so I was very interested to find out about the situation in Australia.

It turns out Hugh Jackman and wife Deborra-Lee Furness are calling on the Australian government to urgently overhaul an adoption process they say is destroying children’s lives. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Furness has ‘slammed Australia’s ”anti-adoption culture”, saying the country’s inaction on the global orphan crisis is a disgrace’.

She also said it was ‘a ”disgrace” that, with 18,000 children in foster care in NSW needing a family, only 65 were adopted’.

Adoption is always a tricky topic, but this story is particularly interesting because it seems to be trying to tackle the low adoption rate of Australian children within Australia, alongside a call for more adoptions of international orphans. But surely these are two very different areas that are hard to compare?

Take Furness’s comment that the number of orphaned children across the world is increasing, while adoption is decreasing, and her statement that:

“It’s a crime, what happens to these abandoned kids. They end up institutionalised and then have developmental delays and mental health issues, the human conditions, the kid on the street who becomes prey to predators, it is rife with danger and these children are vulnerable.” Read the whole article.

Of course, what can and does happen to vulnerable children on the streets across the world is horrific, and we should all do whatever we can to fix it. Adoption isn’t the only answer though – thanks to aid organisations like Save the ChildrenOxfam, and Plan International, there are many options for people who want to make a difference (and thanks to these charities’ infrastructures, the difference they make is on a large scale).

But the thing is, the situation in Australia is very different. Most of the children who come into the care system are not orphans on the street for whom adoption is the only option – in reality they often need a new home because of issues such as parental substance abuse and neglect. And most of the time severing all legal ties through adoption isn’t the right answer.

Instead thousands of children in Australia and the UK can and do benefit from the incredible work of highly trained foster carers and social workers. The child has a safe home for as long as they need it, while their birth parents receive support and learn better parenting skills, so they can be reunited later on if things work out. If the child can’t go back to their birth parents then there’s permanent fostering or an SGO to consider. These types of social care probably aren’t seen much in the developing world, if they even exist at all.

It’s a highly complex area, and I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand it. I think the main thing to consider is that there are vulnerable children desperately in need of help everywhere – whether it is an orphaned toddler from a worn-torn country, or a neglected teenager from your own city. Adoption can be one way to fix things, but it’s not the only way. Thanks to aid organisations, local charities and foster care providers, there are many things we can do to help at home and away.