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Although adoption in Australia has dropped dramatically since the late 1960s, nearly 400 families adopt every year. These days far more children are adopted from overseas than locally. Read about one family who adopted locally in the 1980s, and about challenges facing adoptive parents around Australia.

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Kathryn and Patrick are parents to their biological son, Alex, 36, and their adopted daughter, Bianca, 27. They live in Albury, New South Wales.

‘It took three years for me to fall pregnant with Alex, and for many years afterwards we tried unsuccessfully to have another child. It had always been our dream to have more than one child, so when he was around four years old, we decided to register with an adoption agency. 

‘Seven years later we finally got a letter telling us there was a girl we could possibly adopt. The next year was the most gruelling year of my life. The interview and assessment process was unbelievably traumatic and we’d travel to Melbourne for meetings and interviews, not knowing whether we’d pass. There were so many single parents hoping to adopt. But in the end, having Alex worked in our favour as it proved we were capable parents.

‘The moment I laid eyes on Bianca I fell in love with her. She was this 14-month-old bundle of joy and from that day on she became our child and part of our family. She was a very, very easy child until she hit her teens. From day one we were open about her adoption and this wasn’t a problem until Bianca reached her teens. Between the ages of 13 to 16, when Bianca was dealing with all the typical experiences of being a teenage girl and trying to work out who she was, the adoption became an issue.

‘The thing with adopted children is that they need to feel secure and loved just a bit more than other children. If they see any failure in your love towards them, they can take it and run with the idea “you don’t love me because I’m adopted” or “I hate you and you’re not even my real mother”. As a mum it can hurt – it’s like she had extra fuel for her teenage angst. But our strategy was just to respond with love. We always made a point to show her how much we loved her and made sure she felt special, and that she was our child and loved as much as Alex. It was hard there for a while, but by the time she turned 18, things sort of levelled out.

‘Today Bianca is the most wonderful, mature, contented, loving, gorgeous, well adjusted woman. She has an amazing circle of friends, a fantastic career and amazing relationships. I think she’s turned out pretty well!’

Share your ideas and experiences with other adoptive parents in our discussion forums.

At a glance

  • There are far fewer adoptions in Australia than there were before 1968–69, when contraceptives became more widely available and support increased for single parents.
  • In the year 1971–72, there were nearly 10 000 adoptions. In 2010-11, there were 384.
  • In 1979-80, 66 overseas-born children were adopted in Australia (about 2% of all children adopted). In 2010-11, 215 overseas-born children were adopted (56% of the total).
  • In 2010-11, 124 children were adopted by people they already knew – 73 were adopted by step-parents, the rest by carers, foster parents or other relatives.
  • 70% of 'known' adoptions involve children aged 10 years or over.
  • 87% of children adopted from overseas are younger than 5 years old, while 52% of adoptive parents are over 40 years old.

The challenges

All parents have problems raising kids, and the problems of adoptive parents are much the same as those of ‘natural’ parents. The challenges specific to adoption are:
 
Deciding to adopt
We expect to be able to have children biologically, and it’s a great loss when this can’t happen. Researchers and professionals working in this area have come to believe that adoption works best when adopting parents have openly faced the grief associated with infertility and come to accommodate or accept their situation, even if sadness associated with infertility never fully goes away. It seems it’s easier for parents to bond with their adopted child – and also to cope with the child’s natural curiosity about their origins when that arises – if the goal of becoming a parent has become more important than how you become a parent.

The adoption process
Adoption assessment can be very stressful. Being evaluated for suitability to adopt can involve intense levels of scrutiny from an outside agency. It involves a ‘waiting game’ that can lead to parents feeling anxious or low in self-esteem. Some parents may also feel there’s a stigma attached to adoption – that it’s a ‘second-best option’. Others can feel there are fewer role models for adoptive parents compared to biological parents.

Discussing the adoption with the child
One of the biggest issues parents face is discussing the adoption with their child. Parents can worry about when and how to start talking about adoption, and about how the child will deal with the information. As they enter school and get better at figuring things out, children are likely to become more curious about their biological heritage.

Once your child turns 18, he can access records about his birth parents, and birth parents can look at his records as well. Your child won’t need your permission to do this.

Bonding with the child
Research shows there’s little difference in the quality of attachment between adopted children and non-adopted children. The exceptions are when a parent has difficulty accepting the child as their own and feels as though they have a lack of support for the process.

Meeting the challenges
As with all parenting situations, the positives associated with adoption help to buffer the negatives.

Often adopting parents are older. As a result, they may be more financially stable and might tolerate differences in their partner more comfortably than younger couples, which can mean less family conflict. If they’ve struggled for some time to have a child, they can also feel a heightened sense of fulfillment as a result.

If your child was adopted from overseas, it can help a lot for your family to get involved in your child’s culture. If you live in a big city, look for cultural organisations from your child’s birth country. You might like to visit her birth country when she’s old enough to appreciate it. It can also help to link up with other parents who’ve adopted children from your child’s country so she has a support network throughout her life.

Tips for parents facing adoption

  • It’s normal for a child to feel all kinds of emotions when they discover they were adopted. These emotions are often associated with coming to terms with the loss of their biological family.
  • Understanding and guiding your child through his grief can help avoid long-term emotional issues about being adopted.
  • Talk and listen to your child about his adoption.
  • Be positive with your child about his biological origins.
  • Respect his curiosity about his biological heritage.
  • Respect differences between your child’s current environment and his biological origins. Help your child understand and know himself, both as your child and as a child of his original culture.

For further help

Australia-wide

New South Wales

Queensland

Victoria

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  • Last Updated 15-11-2012
  • Last Reviewed 15-05-2006
  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2009). Adoptions Australia 2007-2008 (Report No. 46. Cat. no. cws 34). Retrieved from http://www.aihw.gov.au/publications/cws/aa07-08/aa07-08.pdf

    Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2010). Adoptions Australia, 2008-09 (AIHW Cat no. CWS 35). Retrieved August 23, 2011 from http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=6442468329&tab=2

    Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2011). Adoptions Australia, 2010-11. Child welfare series no. 52, AIHW Cat no. CWS 40. Retrieved September 4, 2012 from http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=10737420776 

    Brodzinsky, D.M., & Pinderhughes, E. (2002). Parenting and child development in adoptive families. In M.H. Bornstein (Ed.), The handbook of parenting: Vol 1. Children and parenting (2nd ed, pp.279 - 312). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Centre of Community Child Health (2004). Parenting information project, Vol 2: Literature review. Canberra:Department of Family and Community Services.