What is adoption?
When you adopt a child, you become the child’s legal parent and the child becomes a member of your family.
Your adopted child has the same rights as any biological child. For example, they can take on your surname and have the right to inherit your property. The child’s biological parents and extended family give up all legal rights to and responsibilities for the child.
Adoption is a legal process, and it’s permanent.
The adoption process in Australia
The adoption process is long and complicated. It involves police checks, medical checks, working with children checks and other things to assess your suitability. You also have to go to training and information sessions before adopting.
The process can differ across states and territories, so check state or territory government websites for more information.
Adoptions of Australian children are much more common than adoptions of children from other countries. When Australian children are adopted, it’s usually by someone they already know, like a family member, step-parent or carer.
Benefits of adoption
When you adopt, you give a child a permanent home and family, along with a sense of belonging, security and identity. Adoption is better for children’s development and emotional wellbeing than temporary care arrangements.
Adopting a child also has benefits for you and your family. If you haven’t been able to have biological children, adoption gives you the chance to love, care for and raise a child as part of your family.
It’s a good idea to give your child developmentally appropriate information about their adoption as early as you can. This can help your child develop a strong sense of identity from a young age. It also means your child’s adoption won’t be a surprise to them when they get older.
Building relationships with adopted children
Strong family relationships help all children feel secure and loved. You can build strong relationships in your family in the same way as all families do – by spending quality time with each other, communicating in positive ways, showing your appreciation of each other, and working as a team.
All families navigate challenges as their children grow and develop. But as an adoptive parent, you might have extra challenges – for example, when or if your child wants to know more about their biological origins.
Here are tips for building your relationship with your adopted child, both before and after your child knows about the adoption:
- Reassure your child that you love and care for them very much and that they’re a permanent and valued member of your family.
- Be patient and help your child understand their emotions. It’s natural for children to feel all kinds of emotions in this situation.
- Talk and listen to your child about their adoption. Your child is likely to have a lot of questions, so be open and honest and answer questions in an age-appropriate way.
Through relationships, your child learns about themselves and their world. For example, your child learns that they’re loved and who loves them. This helps them feel safe and secure. As you build a strong relationship with your adopted child, you’re helping your child to grow and develop well.
Open adoptions: connections between adopted children and birth parents
Open adoptions are recommended because they can be good for children when done safely and with support.
In an open adoption, the adopted child grows up understanding they’re adopted. The child, adoptive parents and birth parents can contact and know each other.
If you have an open adoption, it’s important to help your child have safe contact and positive relationships with their birth parents. Your case worker can also help you manage these relationships.
Preparing for contact or reunions with birth families
Your child might want contact or a relationship with their birth parents, if they don’t have this at the moment. Or your child’s birth parents might contact your child.
There’s no right and wrong way to plan and manage a reunion between your child and their birth family. But it’s a good idea to discuss it with your case worker, who can let you know what to expect and guide you through it.
You can also prepare for a reunion by:
- helping your child have realistic expectations, especially about the possibility that their birth family might have a different lifestyle from them or different expectations about the reunion
- including your child in the planning, if they’re old enough – for example, letting them choose the date and location
- listening to and talking through your child’s thoughts and feelings about meeting their birth family
- helping your child understand the painful feelings the birth family might have, including fears of being rejected
- helping your child and the birth family work out the kind of relationship and level of contact they want to have.
Most reunions with birth families are positive. And even when the situation is challenging or awkward, the people involved are usually keen to make things work.
Connecting adopted children with their culture
If your child has a different ethnic or cultural background from you, it’s good for your family to learn about your child’s background.
It’s also good to get involved in your child’s culture. For example, you could regularly cook your child’s cultural foods and attend cultural events and celebrations. And you could look for cultural organisations or communities online or in your area.
If your child was adopted from overseas and your family can afford it, you could visit your child’s birth country. It can also help to connect with other parents who’ve adopted children from that country. This can give your child an additional support network.
Trauma and adoption
All adopted children experience some trauma because they’ve been separated from their birth families. Some adopted children might experience more trauma than others, particularly if they were adopted at an older age. For example, they might have experienced abuse or neglect in their birth families.
Your child might have some emotional, behavioural or developmental problems because of their traumatic experiences.
You can help your child recover from trauma by:
- talking with them about their traumatic experiences
- using family routines to help them feel safe and secure
- reassuring them when they feel frightened.
Patience and understanding will help as your child gets used to their new family. Feeling safe can also help them adjust to new situations.
Adoption support organisations
These organisations provide advice, information, counselling and other support for adoptive parents and adopted children.
- The Australian Government’s Intercountry Adoption website has information about inter-country adoption support organisations.
- Care Leavers Australia Network provides support for people who grew up in orphanages, children’s homes, missions, foster care and other child welfare institution.
- Create Foundation supports children and young people aged 0-25 years who are currently in or have experienced foster care, kinship care, permanent care or residential care.
- The Australian Government Department of Social Services – Forced Adoption Support Services webpage has information for people affected by past forced adoption policies and practices.
- Relationships Australia’s Intercountry Adoptee and Family Support Service is a free and confidential service for intercountry adoptees and their families.
- Adoptive, Kinship and Fostering Families Association
- Barnardos Australia – Canberra Children’s Family Centre
New South Wales
The Benevolent Society – Post adoption services
- Permanent Care and Adoptive Families
- Victorian Adoption Network for Information and Self Help (VANISH)
State and territory government adoption agencies
Visit these government websites to find out about adopting a child in your state or territory:
- ACT Community Services – Adoption
- NSW Government Communities and Justice – Adoption
- Northern Territory Government – Adoption
- Queensland Government – Adoption
- SA Department for Child Protection – Adoption
- Tasmanian Department for Education, Children and Young people – Adoptions and permanency services
- Victorian Department of Families, Fairness and Housing – Adoption Victoria
- Western Australia Government – Adoptions services