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 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
If you decide to look into adoption in Australia, it’s important to be aware that the application process can be 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.
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’ … But our strategy was just to respond with love.
– Kathryn, mother of two children (one adopted)
There are around 300 adoptions in Australia each year. 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 a child, you give that 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.
Talking about adoption with your child
It’s a good idea to give your child developmentally appropriate information about their adoption as early as you can. Your child will have a strong sense of identity and understanding about who they are from a young age. And it won’t be a surprise to your child when they get older.
Building a relationship with your adopted child
Good family relationships help all children feel secure and loved – it doesn’t matter whether children are adopted or biological. You can build good relationships in your family in the same way as all parents do – by spending quality time with each other, communicating in positive ways, working as a ‘family team’ and showing your appreciation of each other.
All families navigate challenges as their children grow and develop. But as an adoptive parent, you might have some special 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 sensitive to your child’s emotions. It’s normal for children to feel all kinds of emotions about their adoption. If you’re aware of this, you can understand and manage these emotions.
- 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.
Relationships are the foundation of child development. Through relationships, your child learns vital information about their world. For example, your child learns whether the world is safe and secure, whether they’re loved, who loves them and much more. If you build a strong relationship with your adopted child, you’re helping your child to grow and develop well.
Connecting your adopted child with their culture
If your child was adopted from overseas, it’s good for your family to learn about your child’s birth country. You can also get involved in your child’s culture.
If you live in a big city, you could look for cultural organisations from your child’s birth country. If your family can afford it, you could visit your child’s birth country when your child is old enough to appreciate it. It can also help to link up with other parents who’ve adopted children from that country so your child has a support network throughout life.
Supporting connections between adopted children and birth parents
These days, open adoption practices are recommended. So at some point, you might need to support your child as they seek information about or contact with their birth parents. Or your child’s birth mother 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
- 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.
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’re been 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. For example, your child might:
- feel confused or worried, or blame themselves for what happened
- be sad, angry, irritable, guilty or ashamed
- act out, disobey rules, cling to you or avoid other people
- suddenly not be able to do the things they could do before the traumatic event – for example, use the toilet or get themselves dressed
- show physical signs – for example, have headaches or stomach aches or startle easily
- have problems sleeping or concentrating.
Patience and understanding will help as your child gets used to their new family. It might also help to know that family routines, rules and boundaries help children feel safe and secure. Feeling safe can help children 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 state wards, foster children and children who were raised in homes.
New South Wales
- 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 – Adoptions
- NSW Government Communities and Justice – Adoption
- Northern Territory Government – Adoption
- Queensland Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs – Adoption
- SA Department for Child Protection – Adoption in South Australia
- Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services – Adoption and permanency services
- Victorian Department of Health and Human Services – Adoption Victoria
- WA Department of Communities, Child Protection and Family Support – Fostering and adoption