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Adoption not a simple issue but best interest of children is paramount

Published: 17 December 2015

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Report, adoption rates are at an historic low. This has resulted in a call by Social Services Minister Christian Porter for State Government child protection agencies to shift their attitudes towards adoption.

Australian Association of Social Workers' (AASW) President, Professor Karen Healy, however, is urging governments to adopt a careful approach to this issue, taking into account that adoption and removal of children due to abuse and neglect are two different and complex issues.

"Adoption without the consent of families and children, risks repeating the problems of the past, which resulted in bipartisan apologies for Forced Adoptions in 2012 and for the now well recognised issues of the Stolen Generation," said Professor Healy.

There are key principles that should inform the placement for children in care, she said. These include that no parent should be coerced to give up their child either directly or indirectly due to poverty or other external factors; decision making needs to occur in consultation and collaboration with the child and family members; planning for care should be informed by thorough professional assessments and planning should be culturally appropriate, especially given the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in state care.

"Planning and decision making needs to occur within a timely manner and children’s long-term stability should be a key objective in any case plan," Professor Healy said.

International research shows between 6-11% of adoptions from the out-or-home care system fail, though some studies show much higher rates. Children over two years are at increased risk of adoption placement breakdown.

Professor Healy said although adoption seems like a simple solution, it is one that is not necessarily in the best interests of children.

"The majority of children in the out-of-home care system are older and those children are more likely than infants to experience adoption failure," said Professor Healy.

“In the first instance governments have a responsibility to concentrate efforts and services on creating environments in which families are supported so that the various factors that increase the likelihood of child abuse and neglect are substantially reduced.

"It is vital that the voices of children are heard in decision-making. Many children and adults who have experienced adoption indicate a strong wish to stay connected to their original families even if they cannot live with them. As adoption can involve the permanent severing of family ties, it may not be a solution for those who wish to maintain family identity and frequent contact."

The AASW represents over 9,000 professional social workers from around Australia many of whom work in the area of child protection.

To organise an interview with AASW National President, Professor Karen Healy please contact Stephen Brand, Senior Manager Policy and Advocacy, 02 6199 5016, 0418 682 011

AASW - Australian Association of Social Workers