Adoption laws must change

Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Adoption laws must change

Six years ago adoption laws in this country were condemned by both sides of politics.

A bi-partisan federal government committee uncovered a myriad of problems across jurisdictions that were causing immense pain to many families across Australia.

And, six years on, it is a pain that is still being experienced on every side of this debate and there is almost zero interest in tackling the problem at a federal level.

In pictures: The Weekly's adoption breakfast

It means that even though the number of orphans in the world continues to rise, the number of inter-country adoptions in Australia goes down.

In the last ten years, according to figures from the government Australia accepted just 330 children from orphanages overseas.

And yet the political interest in this subject is almost zero.

Yesterday the mother of two adopted children, Deborra-lee Furness launched National Adoption Awareness week at a breakfast in Sydney.

And not a single member of the Federal Government attended.

Ten members of Julia Gillard’s government were invited and they all declined the invitation.

All direct approaches to the key minister Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland were largely ignored.

Attempts to engage the Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd were also met with silence.

A call to the Attorney-General's department to find out who in the office is directly responsible for adoption failed and still remains a mystery to organisers of National Adoption Week.

An invitation to attend the breakfast was never even acknowledged by Mr McClelland or, for that matter, the Prime Minister's office.

In fact most politicians failed to even respond further cementing the view among NAAW organisers that our government has no time for this issue despite all the rhetoric about "families".

This simple experience with adoption mirrors the problems couples involved in the adoption process face.

This is about a breakfast but in the real world it is about the fate of orphans around the world and desperate couples wanting to provide a child a loving home.

Couples seethe with frustration at their inability to even reach anyone on the phone.

They say they can't even to find answers to questions as simple as whether the adoption program they have been applying through for years is still active (programs with different countries are often suspended or closed with little explanation).

Deborra-lee and husband Hugh Jackman adopted their children (Oscar 11, Ava, six) in the United States when their attempts in Australia were bogged down in red tape.

Oddly, this stable, successful couple was not considered a good candidate for parenthood in this country.

Of course, adoption should be a last resort when it comes to ensuring the welfare of a child.

However when the precautionary principle becomes the defining characteristic of policy rather than a finely balanced element of it, there is often an unsatisfactory outcome.

In this instance it means extreme misery for everyone caught in the mire.

Countless numbers of legitimate orphans languish in institutions during the most crucial years of child development.

Of course, the particularly evil trade in babies demands extreme caution when processing inter-country adoptions.

No family wants to adopt a child who has been wrongly identified as an orphan.

No child wants to be ripped out of its country where there is still family who can possibly give fulfil the role of a parent.

But equally there is evidence to suggest there is a desperate need for reform to eliminate the personal distress caused by lengthy delays, confusing laws, and expensive outlays for no result.

While the actual issue is overseen by Mr McClelland each state and territory presides over the details of the adoption process.

The federal government committee that investigated the issues six years ago concluded there was need for substantial reform.

There has been change but very little.

That report found the laws needed to be harmonised between various jurisdictions.

But alarmingly it also found there was outright hostility to inter-country adoption among officials in government departments and agencies in various jurisdictions.

Related: An international adoption success story

Thankfully, there is one jurisdiction showing interest in the form of the new NSW Minister for Social Services Pru Goward who since taking on the difficult portfolio of Family and Community Services has shown genuine interest in reform.

Unfortunately, I am not confident her lead will be followed.

Helen McCabe is the editor-in-chief of The Australian Women's Weekly which is a sponsor of National Adoption Awareness week.

Your say: Do you think Australia should make it easier for people to adopt orphans from overseas

Video: Deborra-lee Furness' adoption battle

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