Adoption is a term used to describe the process where legal rights and responsibilities for a child are permanently transferred from the child's birth parents to adoptive parents. In Queensland, this is administered by the Adoption Act 2009.
The adoption process
In Queensland, the Adoption Services Queensland unit, within the Department of Communities, arranges all legal adoptions. The unit will not consider an application for adoption until after the baby is born. However, if adoption is being considered during the pregnancy, there are a number of organisations that can provide information, support and counselling.
Birth parents can sign an adoption consent form from 30 days after the birth. There are requirements for several counselling sessions for the birth parents to undergo before this consent form can be signed. The Department will make every effort to obtain the consent of both parents; however, the birth father's consent is not required in cases where there is a risk of violence to the woman or child, he cannot be identified, or incest is involved. After providing consent, either birth parent has 30 days to revoke this consent (like a cooling off period). Following the revocation period, the adoption is legal and the child will be placed with adoptive parents.
Once the adoption order has been made, the birth parents are unable to regain the right to parent the child. Since February 1 2010, the adopted child and the birth parents have the right to access identifying information once the adopted child turns 18 for all previous adoptions.
For more indepth information, see our section for women and couples considering an adoption.
Adoption rates in Queensland are very low; generally between 8 and 12 infants born to Queensland mothers are adopted each year. These are referred to as 'local' adoptions - there are higher numbers of 'known' adoptions, where a step-parent, foster carer or other adult formally adopts a child who is already known to them and who has usually been already under their care for some time. Inter-country adoption also accounts for some of Australia's adoptions.
In 2013-14, there were 317 adoptions finalised across Australia, the lowest annual number on record .
The decrease in adoption rates
The number of adoptions in Australia has declined steeply since the 1970s due to a rise in the acceptance of, and government financial support for, single and unmarried parents, and improved access to contraceptives and abortion services. The 1970s also saw the beginning of the end of the forced adoption practices that created long-lasting harm for pregnant unmarried women and their children.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's Adoptions Australia 2013-14 report states:
"The long-term fall in numbers can, in part, be attributed to legislative changes, such as the increased use of alternative legal orders in Australia, and improvements in local adoption practices in countries of origin, as well as to broader social trends and changing social attitudes, which have made it easier for children to stay with their family or in their country of origin...
Adoption was once regarded as a solution for illegitimate babies, the risk of impoverishment for single mothers, and the needs of infertile couples. A high degree of secrecy characterised past practices, based on the notion that, among other things, those involved needed to be protected from the social stigma of illegitimacy. However, over the past few decades, raising children outside registered marriage has become more accepted, and more support has been made available to lone parents. These changes have reduced the pressure on unmarried women to give up their children for adoption (Kenny et al. 2012) ."
It is estimated that around 150,000 babies were adopted between the early 1950s and 1975; many of them born to unwed single mothers and forcibly removed at birth.
A federal senate inquiry into forced adoption was held in 2011-12 and received over 400 submissions on the effect of these practices . Many of the submissions were from women recounting their own experiences:
"I was 18 years old but I think my emotional maturity level was about 14 years old. I did what all the other girls did in my situation. I will feel forever sad and sorry that I didn’t have the gumption or strength of character to be able to stand up for myself and my daughter. This is how you felt. You were so bad, so troublesome, so undeserving. What would a frightened, downtrodden and shamed young girl have to offer her child, where would she start? I could not fight my family or the society’s values at that time. I was also emotionally distressed that my relationship had also broken up in such awful circumstances."
- Anonymous submission to the Federal Senate Community Affairs Committee's Commonwealth Contribution To Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices inquiry.
For more information on forced adoption, see the National Archives of Australia's Forced Adoptions History Project.
Impact of regulations or 'red tape' on adoption rates
Some groups ideologically opposed to abortion sometimes argue that 'adoption red tape' should be reduced or removed in order to make adoption 'more attractive' to pregnant women as an option.
From over 40 years of experience in talking to pregnant women about their options, we know that adoption is usually the first option women rule out when considering an unplanned pregnancy. However, this is not because of the regulation of adoption. Concern for the potential child is usually the key motivating factor; women say things like 'I don't want a child growing up feeling like it was abandoned'. Women who do talk to us considering adoption are usually (although not always) those who are not able to access an abortion, either because their gestation was too advanced by the time the pregnancy was confirmed or because they could not afford a termination procedure. A small number also consider adoption because they have personal or religious beliefs which oppose abortion.
Furthermore, we know that the processes referred to as 'red tape' by anti-abortion groups are actually there in order to support the pregnant woman and make sure she is certain of her choice to place her child for adoption. These processes include multiple counselling sessions and stages of consent, and include a cooling-off period after an adoption to give women time to change their minds if they wish (in Queensland this is a period of 30 days). Anecdotally, we know that some women will embark on the adoption process and then find, as a result of the support they receive through the process, that they feel better equipped and able to care for the child themselves, and so choose not to place the child for adoption and instead remain a biological family unit.
1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2014. Adoptions Australia 2013–14. Child welfare series no. 60. Cat. no. CWS 51. Canberra: AIHW. Available online at http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=60129549876.
2. Kenny P, Higgins D, Soloff C & Sweid R 2012. Past adoption experiences: national research study on the service response to past adoption practices. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
3. Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices. Terms of reference, submissions and hearings, and final report by the Senate Community Affairs References Committee all available on the Australian Parliament Website at http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completed_inquiries/2010-13/commcontribformerforcedadoption/index.