We are led to believe that adoption in Australia is in crisis. Nationally, adoption rates are at an all time low, the process to finalise an adoption allegedly takes too long, slowed by red tape and driven by an anti-adoption culture and lack of resources. Simply, the adoption system is broken.
Adoption, it is said, is in need of reform, to make it quicker, easier, with less constraints, as it is presented as the ideal solution for the many thousand of children in out-of-home-care.
These are the messages of AdoptChange, picked up and echoed by some Federal and State politicians, that emerged out of National Adoption Awareness Week, the annual November, pro-adoption lobby campaign, now in its ninth year.
Adoption numbers, after steadily falling over several decades, are at an all time low and there is a staggering number of children in out-of-home-care. To believe, however, that adoption is in need of a revival and acceleration as the default solution to the numbers of children in out-of-home-care is overly simplistic and under estimates the full negative effects of adoption.
Adoption may be perceived as a benevolent act but it is not harmless. It comes at a personal cost.
Our adoption system is not broken, many of our families are. That is where the help is most needed – strengthening our families to honour and respect the family unit, and when they struggle, to support them.
Adoption is coercive, punitive and unnecessary in the modern world, as there are other less harmful permanency options to choose from.
There are many misplaced beliefs about adoption that those eager to promote it try to hide.
- the narrow, temporal view that adoption is only applicable to the infant or young child avoiding the blindspot of the the long-term negative consequences that continue to affect the adult who emerges from the child;
- the assumption that there are no longer any lasting harmful effects on the child or their first families as all adoptions are now ‘open’ with the damaging cloak of secrecy removed; and
- because consent can now be speedily dispensed with by a court, efficiency and legitimacy to the process is achieved.
All these elements fail to grasp the foundation factors that continue to make adoption an inappropriate practice and damaging to adopted people over their lifespan.
Adoption is not confined to infancy and childhood – it is a life sentence with many negative, long term consequences.
The adoptive practice of erasing a person’s name, family and heritage and replacing it with another – in a legal context, forever – thereby forcing them to live their lives, and present to the world – through a modified birth certificate – as if born to another, when in fact they know they are not, and their families know they are not, creates a major internal conflict that affects their core sense of who they are and where they fit into the world, that is not without long-term, harmful implications to their health, well being and social connections.
Being forced to live as if born to someone else is inappropriate in the modern world where there is a growing acceptance and respect for blended families and minorities of all kinds.
It is also completely unnecessary when other, less harmful, arrangements are available, for example permanent care orders that offer a child the chance of love, protection and opportunity within a family while at the same time providing full parental rights to the caring adults, without severing the child’s original identity.
Consider who else in the world lives or is encouraged to live with false identities. Spies. Criminals. People in witness protection programs. Why would you bestow on a child an irreversible legacy that moves to negate their true identity in the belief that it is healthy and good for them over the long term?
Children do need love, protection and care and not to languish unnecessarily in long term out-of-home-care. Equally they also have a right to grow up as complete individuals, maintaining their name and family lineage, rather than someone perceived to have a familial defect that needs to be erased forever, simply because their first parents have fallen on hard times.
An ongoing reality for adopted people whether their adoption is ‘closed’ or ‘open’, domestic or intercountry, is that they have to live and deal with multiple paradoxes that are forced upon them – eternally damned to the world of betwixt and between – continually having to navigate the psychological and social minefield of split identities, families and connections that are not without harmful effects.
There is ample evidence worldwide, through research and collective lived experience, to caution against increasing adoptions, and in the face of other less harmful alternatives, to shift adoption to the option of absolute last resort.
Notwithstanding the current practice of ‘open’ adoptions, rarely, if ever, does the adopted person consent to being adopted. Without informed consent, or ever being given the opportunity to provide consent later in their life, adoption remains forced upon the child. This is totally unacceptable given other options available and the life and intergenerational consequences that result from it.
The high numbers of adoption in the ‘closed’ adoption era was to shame unwed mothers and shield their children from illegitimacy by transferring them into the respectable homes of married couples. Illegitimacy or single parenthood is no longer a social stigma that needs to be hidden nor to be ashamed of. ABS data also shows that the number of teenage pregnancies, like adoption rates, are at an all time low.
Adoption as a protective coat against illegitimacy or single parenthood has therefore long lost its relevance and to simply transfer this practice into believing that children in need of protection in out-of-home-care should be stripped of their name, family and heritage in order to be safe and given the love, care and opportunity they deserve, is twisted policy that totally misunderstands the negative long term impacts of adoption.
Adopted children whether they are considered for adoption soon after being removed from their mother at birth or via a broken or dysfunctional home, where they may have suffered physical, sexual or emotional abuse, experience trauma that needs to be acknowledged and addressed.
Bringing up an adopted child requires parenting plus. Finding potential parents with characteristics to survive and flourish under the demands of adoptive parenting does take time often leading to outbursts that processes are too slow or driven by an anti-adoption culture when in fact these checks and balances are essential and practical expressions of due diligence and duty of care.
More effort needs to be put into strengthening families, into foster and kinship care, and a preference for permanent care orders. Given its negative life long and intergenerational consequences adoption needs to be the option of absolute last resort.
In the context of coupling low adoption rates and high numbers of children in out-of-home-care the primary objective must be to reduce the intake of children into out-of-home-care, not increase the numbers of children through the outdated and harmful practice of adoption.
One further adoption myth needs to be dispensed with. In current discourse it is not uncommon to hear that the only adopted people who speak against adoption are those that had a bad adopted experience or received poor adoptive parenting. This is a complete furphy. I, and many of my adopted colleagues, had adoptive parents which we either love or respect, who gave their best, usually without support, in raising their families in safe sanctuaries.
When many adopted people acknowledge they came from good homes and supportive adoptive parents but express concerns about adoption as social policy, this ought to be a signal for policy makers or legal and social practitioners to listen. The character of adoptive parents is not in question here, the hurtful and harmful effects of adoption as a policy and practice are.
Doesn’t it speak volumes that adopted people are not the primary advocates for increasing the speed and rates of adoption. For us, promoting adoption awareness is about coming to terms with our own adopted experience; validating it and finding ways to integrate it into our lives to sustain long term health and wellbeing. Also, to acknowledge our first and second families AND the deep seated trauma and damaging consequences that accompany adoption: the personal cost of having one family legally extinguished and living as if born to another. This knowledge and experience cautions against any rapid increase in adoptions and to consider other permanency options first.
‘Basic Trust‘ sculpture by Berendina de Ruiter at Strathnairn Homestead, Canberra.