By political reporter Latika Bourke
Posted Tue 6 May 2014, 10:05am AEST
Australian couples wanting to adopt could soon do so from a string of new countries if the recommendations of a new report investigating the hurdles to overseas adoptions are adopted.
The new countries include Cambodia, Vietnam, the US, Kenya, Bulgaria and Latvia, but prospective parents may have to be more open to adopting a child with special needs.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has already announced action on two other recommendations – opening a new adoption program with South Africa, allowing Australian couples to adopt a child from that country.
And he is establishing a new federal system to make the process of adopting a child from overseas faster, cheaper and uniform across the states and territories.
Currently Australians can adopt children from China, Chile, Colombia, Hong Kong, Lithuania, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand, but adoptions from Bolivia, India and Fiji are all on hold.
The former Labor government closed down Australia’s adoption program with Ethiopia in 2012 after suspending them in 2009, because it was no longer confident the system could protect the best interests of the children involved.
After watching close friends wait years to adopt a second child, Mr Abbott set about reforming the system soon after becoming Prime Minister.
Late last year he commissioned an intergovernmental committee to report back to him on the impediments to inter-country adoptions that Australians face.
It has made eight recommendations to the Government, primarily aimed at increasing the number of adoptions from overseas.
The committee notes Australia has one of the “lowest in the world” rates of overseas adoptions, with only 129 inter-country adoptions in 2012-13.
Internationally, inter-country adoptions have been decreasing since 2004.
But the report says Australia’s rate of inter-country adoption on a per capita basis was one of the lowest in the world before the decline, at a rate of 1.1 per cent per 100,000 population, compared to 8.8 per cent in New Zealand.
Hurdles to overseas adoptions
The report says the main hurdles for Australians wanting to adopt are average waiting times of five but sometimes up to 10 years, the cost, and different application processes in each state.
Mr Abbott eventually wants to see potential parents told within 12 months of lodging their applications to receive a child whether they will be successful or not.
High costs reaching tens of thousands of dollars are another factor being blamed for deterring prospective parents from adopting children from abroad.
In July 2013, changes introduced under Labor forced new parents adopting siblings to pay $2,370 in visa fees per child, instead of the single fee, regardless of the number of children.
The report also recommends boosting support services for couples during the adoption process, and crucially, after a successful adoption.
Lack of adequate post-adoption support services is a recurring theme in the committee’s report, which quotes one couple criticising the processes as more of an “assessment” than “support”.
The report also noted the perception both domestically and internationally that Australia is poor at facilitating international adopting and says a “communications strategy” is needed to address “misconceptions about inter-country adoption” that exist within Australia.
Low levels of adoption for special needs children
Mr Abbott says immediate changes, like opening up the new program with South Africa, will offer “significant new hope” to families.
Traditionally, Australian parents have adopted more children from Asia compared to any other region, with 84 per cent of adoptees coming from Asia in 2012-13.
But the committee identifies the “most notable” growth in adoptions has been from Africa, rising from 5 per cent in 2003 to 22 per cent in 2010.
“Africa is the only continent of origin where inter-country adoptions have increased progressively since 2004,” the committee said.
Another area where demand for adoptive parents is increasing is in the area of special needs.
Australia has one of the lowest rates of adopting children with special needs – which could range from mental, emotional or learning difficulties – and children who have become institutionalised due to more serious disabilities or medical ailments.
The committee says the reasons for Australia’s low level of inter-country adoption of children with special needs “are not clear”.
Some of the reasons include parents becoming reluctant to adopt a child which would provide more challenges, and authorities actively discouraging families from taking on special needs children.
The report also says there is a perception in Australia and in source countries that “immigration health requirements” restrict parents from adopting special needs children.
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