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Adoption of a child

Adoption of a child


The decision to adopt a child is very unique for each and every couple. For many, thinking about or commencing adoption procedures often comes after many months (or years) of trying to conceive a baby (either naturally and/or through fertility treatments).

Why adopt?

For some, the decision to adopt is made after careful planning, because one or both partners are aware of physical conditions that prevent them from having a child of their own. Occasionally, a couple will consider adoption if they are aware of carrying a debilitating genetic condition that may be passed on to a potential biological child.

A few people will make a conscious decision to adopt children even if the are able to have healthy children of their own. This may be motivated by the desire to give another child a more positive life or to adopt the child of a relative. Other couples may already have their own children, but decide to adopt a child into their existing family.

The decision to adopt a child because of infertility in one or both partners in a relationship is often preceded by many hours of soul searching. For most couples, considering adoption involves a great deal of introspection and talking at length with each other and perhaps close friends and family and/or others who have adopted. Issues such as what adoption means to you, both as an individual and as a couple, and how you feel about adopting a child that is not biologically yours, can create mixed emotions. For some people, having a biological child is more important than parenting someone else's child, and perhaps a reason not to apply for adoption.

Emotional reactions

The first thoughts when considering adoption will often be accompanied by a true acknowledgement of not being able to conceive a baby with your partner (or perhaps using donor eggs or sperm, if these options were considered). For women, it can mean facing the raw reality of not experiencing a pregnancy, giving birth to a child and/or breastfeeding. Emotional reactions to these thoughts will vary from person to person. However, many have described this time as one of intense grieving with feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, disappointment, despair, resentment and for some, depression. These reactions are all very common and normal, because infertility is a major life crisis.

Coming to terms with not being able to have children usually means acknowledging and accepting an enormous loss. The importance of this loss cannot be underestimated. However, infertility is an ongoing situation often accompanied by a continuous glimmer of hope that things may change (through a successful fertility treatment or conceiving naturally). Unlike experiencing a miscarriage or a stillbirth (although many couples trying to conceive a baby will also experience these), infertility does not have a tangible point in time marked by a significant event to physically grieve over. Yet the loss of a potential baby through infertility is just as real and traumatic for couples, as it is for those who lose a baby after conceiving.

Preparing yourself for the adoption process

Preparing for adoption does entail couples working through their grief to an acceptance of the loss of a potential biological child. This is a major emotional step, but one that adoption agencies and social workers are very aware of when screening prospective adopting parents. Parenting a child born to someone else usually involves making peace with the grief associated with infertility. Therefore, understanding and being clear about your motives for wanting to adopt a child is important, because adoption is not the answer to unresolved feelings about infertility.

The decision to adopt a child also makes your infertility very public. This can also trigger an array of emotions for both people in the relationship as well as other family members and friends. Communicating how you are feeling, having a supportive network, and/or seeking professional counselling may help to assist you both during this period of acceptance and adjustment.

Because of the ongoing nature of infertility (which often creates a level of perseverance to 'succeed'), many couples will take a long time to reach the point of deciding that 'enough is enough' before feeling able to move into making other plans for their lives, and perhaps considering adoption. Be aware that although you may not feel ready to apply for adopting a child, it may be worthwhile looking into waiting list times and age limits for adoption procedures, to avoid not being able to adopt a child because you have left it 'too late'. Although in most cases, adoption agencies will not accept applications from couples pursuing fertility treatments.

How the adoption process works

Adoption can be a very lengthy process with many steps and stages and no guarantees. As one couple shared, "The process was often filled with feelings of vulnerability, as someone unknown to us held the power to decide whether we would become parents or not." (It can take at least 2 years to adopt a child from overseas.)

Prospective adopting parents are individually assessed in relation to their suitability to adopt. They are asked many questions and have background searches performed on them. They undergo numerous assessment processes, which can seem intrusive and arduous. The criteria are strict, with the importance of favourable assessment being made for the benefit of the child. Adoption agencies have a responsibility to place every child into a safe, secure and beneficial environment. Social workers employed by the agencies usually explain the process and make it clear that the application procedures are done with the child's well-being in mind.

For prospective adopting parents, the experience of being 'investigated' and placed under a microscope can feel intimidating and frustrating. This, along with the often lengthy time frame and the financial costs involved (particularly with overseas adoption) can make the process extremely stressful. However, for parents determined to see it though, when they finally have their new child in their arms, the seemingly never ending 'waiting' and 'doubting' dissipates into the joys of having a baby!

Options for adoption

Since the early 1970's the number of infants placed for adoption within Australia has dramatically decreased. This is due to a combination of many factors such as more reliable contraception, the social acceptance of younger and/or single women keeping their babies from unplanned pregnancies and welfare income support for these women, and the availability of safe termination of pregnancy. In the year July 1999 - June 2000, there were 566 adoptions in Australia. Of these, 265 were local children within Australia and 301 were of children outside Australia.

The lower trend of adopting local children is mirrored in many other affluent countries such as the United States, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and many parts of Europe. The decline in the number of local babies available for adoption has meant there is now a growing trend to adopt babies from other countries such as South America, Africa and parts of Asia and Eastern Europe. This is known as 'Intercountry adoption'.

Adoption agencies and government departments (in the case of overseas adoption) screen prospective adoptive parents thoroughly, using strict criteria (including preset age limits for the adoptive parents). The specific criteria vary from agency to agency, state to state and country to country. If you are adopting a child from another country, the country from which the child originates from will also have its own set criteria. Couples intending to adopt a child from overseas usually need to find out what is required by the various adoption agencies and determine the other country's criteria. This avoids many hours (or months) of frustration and disappointment.

Approved applicants are placed on a waiting list. The list is usually reviewed every 12 months to ensure that the prospective parents have ongoing suitability. This also identifies any circumstances that no longer meet the criteria. (For example, when the adoptive parents pass acceptable age limits.)

The following is a brief overview of the options for adoption in Australia (and a basis to work from if you live in another country). They include:

Local adoption

Local adoption means adopting a local infant or child within your own country (for example, an Australian couple adopting an Australian child). Local adoption can be carried out with various adoption agencies within your state and/or country. In Australia, all states have a Department of Community Services (DOCS), or equivalent, acting as adoption agencies. There are also privately run agencies, often attached to church organisations (for example, Centacare, Barnardos and Anglicare). Adoption laws in Australia are state-based. Therefore, it is essential that couples apply for adoption within the state they live. Bear in mind that each agency has slightly different eligibility criteria and you will need to contact individual agencies for more specific information.

Known child adoption

Known child adoptions are also local adoptions , except the child has a pre-existing relationship with the adoptive parents. Children may be adopted by a relative, step-parent or carer. These children are usually only available for adoption by the known adoptive parents. Of the 265 local adoptions of children in Australia in July 1999 - June 2000, 159 (or 60%) were 'known' child adoptions.

Intercountry adoption

Intercountry adoption means adopting an infant or child who was born in another country. Most intercountry adoptions are governed by the "Hague Convention on protection of children and co-operation in respect of intercountry adoption (29th May, 1993)". Australia ratified this convention in December 1998. The convention places obligations under bilateral agreements on both the child's country of origin and the receiving country. This aims to protect the fundamental rights of children and prevents the abduction, sale and trafficking of children. The Hague Convention establishes uniform procedures and provides protection for families who wish to adopt through the Intercountry Adoption Service, in that they can be assured that the child is legally available, usually because there are no local families available for the child in his/her country of origin.

However, not all overseas adoptions are 'Hague' adoptions. For example, China is not currently a party to the convention but a bilateral agreement was signed by Australia with China in December 1999. This allows Australian residents to adopt children from China and for these adoptions to be fully recognised in Australia. During the year July 1999 - June 2000 there were 301 intercountry adoptions, of which 66 were 'Hague' adoptions and 235 were 'non-Hague' adoptions.

In Australia, intercountry adoption comes under the relevant state or territory's Adoption Act as well as the Commonwealth's Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act 1946. Therefore, intercountry adoptions can only be arranged through the appropriate government departments.

Other intercountry adoptions can include Australian citizens who have lived overseas for more than 12 months and who have adopted a child through an overseas agency. In this case, the adoptive parents need to prove to the Australian department of immigration that they were not living overseas for the purpose of bypassing the legal requirements for the entry of an adopted child into Australia and that they have full, legal parental rights of the child. There were at least 75 adoptions of this type in Australia in the year 2000.

Overview of local and intercountry adoption procedures

The following is a brief overview of some of the more common procedures involved with 'local' and 'intercountry' adoption. This information is based on Australian adoption guidelines. There may be different procedures in place depending on where you live and where you intend adopting your child from.

Once you have made an initial enquiry regarding adoption (either local or intercountry), you will be sent further information. This may be a written document or a newsletter, or a general information video along with a booklet outlining the many issues and requirements associated with adoption. The next step is to attend an information evening or a seminar. Specific information sessions may be held in the case of adopting a child with special needs or an older child. It is a requirement that both potential adoptive parents attend information sessions. After attending the session or seminar a formal application for adoption can then be placed.

Formal applications usually ask for information about both prospective parents, including their life and medical history (together with any relevant medical reports) as well as character references. Citizenship status is confirmed and a criminal record check is carried out on each person. Some states require the couple to be married, others allow applications form couples who have been in stable defacto relationship for more than 2 years. Single applicants may only be considered under particular circumstances (you will need to check with each agency). Applicants are usually notified in writing about the results of this initial screening. When the initial application and checks are successfully completed, the couple are then able to continue on to a further in-depth assessment.

Assessment procedures usually take place over a 3 to 6 month period. In some cases, the process may take longer than 6 months. The assessments usually involve exploring a couple's residential and financial circumstances as well as undergoing a series of interviews (both individually and together as a couple). This works towards assessing each person's attitudes and emotions and their motivations for wanting to adopt a child. It is a long and exhaustive process with many questions being asked. However, the information is regarded as vital to safeguard each child's wellbeing.

The following is an outline of some of the possible procedures that may follow once an application for adoption has passed the above stages.

Local adoption

All the completed forms, reports and recommendations are taken into consideration to determine an applicant's suitability for adoption. If successful, all approved applicants are considered for each child needing adoptive placement. However, this depends on the child's individual needs. (For example, if a child has special needs such as physical, medical or developmental problems.)

Meeting the needs of the child being placed is paramount. Local children who need to be placed for adoption are matched with parents who can best meet their needs. This essentially means that it is not always a matter of just moving to the top of a 'waiting list'. Rather, the child is placed with a couple best able to meet their individual needs. It is for this reason that local adoption can entail a long wait.

Prospective parents need their details updated every 12 months, and their continued suitability is reassessed. Adoption agencies will generally have an outline of any specific circumstances that you need to notify them about. For example, a change of residential address, medical problems, a change of employment or marital status must be notified to the agency.

Before a child is placed, an interview is conducted with both prospective parents. This is when parents are able to receive all the relevant information available about the child. This information may include details of their birth, their medical history and the circumstances surrounding their placement for adoption. In the case of an older child, or a child with special needs, their medical and social background is discussed at length. It is regarded as important that both applicants carefully consider all the aspects of the information provided before making a lifelong commitment to adopting the child.

Continued contact with the adoption agency (or a social worker) is generally maintained after the child is placed. This helps with the adjustment. Once a period of time has lapsed (about 6 months) couples usually feel ready to finalise the adoption, whereby an 'order for adoption' is made by the courts. Local adoptions have legal agreements made with the birth mother and/or father. Most couples have an 'open' adoption arrangement with contact and information exchange with the birth mother (72% in Australia in July 1999 to June 2000). Some have information exchange only (18%) and a few have no contact (8%). These arrangements are discussed at length with the adopting parents and the birth parents and are monitored closely by the adoption agencies and included in the adoption court orders.

Intercountry adoption

All the completed forms, reports and recommendations are taken into consideration by the government agency to determine both applicants' suitability for adoption. Once approved, the report is referred overseas to the relevant country's adoption authority for their approval. When the child's country approves the application, the prospective adoptive parents must supply any additional documentation (if requested) to the overseas agency.

Children over 2 years are deemed to have particular needs and therefore additional criteria are required. As the child's age progresses (for children 4 or 6 years of age), there may be different criteria and assessments. It is the authorities in the overseas country who solely determine the final decision and approval of an application.

Intercountry adoption can be a lengthy process (at least 2 years in Australia). Prospective parents need their details updated every 12 months, along with assessment of their continued suitability. The local government department who is dealing with the adoption will have an outline the circumstances that require notification. This can include a change of residential address, medical problems, a change of employment or marital status.

Once the Australian department handling the intercountry adoption receives information and details from the overseas agency about a child being offered for placement and the department approves the allocation, the applicants are notified. A further interview is organised to discuss the child and sign additional paperwork. The amount of information supplied about the child will vary from country to country. This depends on the authorities of that country and what is known about the child. In some cases it may only be a little information (such as their name, age and possibly a brief medical history). For others it may be more in-depth, such as supplying a photo and a comprehensive medical and social report about the child.

From this point, prospective parents can make a decision to proceed or decline the adoption. If there are concerns, it is important they are discussed with the social worker handling your application. If you agree to proceed an 'Agreement and Undertaking' form is signed saying that you agree to accept and support the child. A letter of eligibility and suitability to adopt is issued, along with an authorisation for your adoption of the child. Both these letters are then taken to the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, where they will then send sponsorship papers (along with other paper work) for the child to the appropriate Australian Embassy overseas.

NOTE: An important issue for prospective applicants is that one partner (or spouse) must hold Australian citizenship prior to the lodgement of an adoption visa application with the Department of Immigration.

The Department of Immigration requires the child being adopted to meet the requirements of the Migration Health Check. This ensures that the child is free of any disease or condition, which would result in the child becoming a significant charge on public funds. The health check usually includes testing for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Hepatitis B, although other tests may also be required. Once all health issues are cleared and everything else is in order the adoptive parents are notified about when to make travel arrangements. This can vary from 1 to 12 weeks once the allocation interview is completed. In some instances it may take longer. After the travel arrangements have been made, arrival details will need to be relayed to the appropriate authorities overseas.

Under the intercountry adoption program, Australia does not provide for 'escorting arrangements'. This is because the adoption of a child from another country is seen as an important and significant process in meeting your lifelong responsibilities and by personally travelling to collect your child, you are being involved with their transfer. This also allows opportunities for parents to take photographs of the orphanage or foster parents and of the country from where the child was born. Adoptive parents are encouraged to respect the child's culture and origin and making contact with that culture helps to build and nurture the child's past history as they grow older and inevitably ask questions about their adoption and where they were born.

Once the child arrives in Australia, parents must follow the 'Post Placement/Order of Adoption' procedures. This involves the child being given 'delegated guardianship' until an Order of Adoption is obtained from the Supreme Court and the child is granted Australian Citizenship. There are also a number of follow up procedures that are usually outlined in information supplied by the government agency handling the adoption.

Things to consider for adoption

It is important to be clear about your reasons for wanting to adopt a child and why you want to be a parent. These issues are very closely monitored by adoption agencies, government departments and overseas authorities. It also helps to know what is involved. Some aspects to consider are:

  • Coming to terms with infertility is assessed and considered very closely by adoption agencies.
  • In most cases, applicants are not considered when the woman is pregnant or pursuing fertility treatments.
  • Single parent applications are placed under close investigation for 'local adoption' and will usually mean that the Supreme Court must be satisfied that 'particular circumstances' exist for an approval to be given to a single parent. This usually relates to 'known adoptions'.
  • When birth parents are involved in the placement of their child they generally request the child be placed with both a mother and a father (although this tends to happen more with 'local adoption'). A single parent application for intercountry adoption will need to ascertain the views of the particular country from which they wish to adopt, as only some countries permit single parent adoption.
  • Today, adoption practises are 'open' - meaning that information and contact with birth parents exists and in most cases encouraged. As the child becomes older, he or she may wish to renew their relationship with their birth parents, or find out more about their history and culture (if from a different cultural background). This can mean a variety of relationships may exist between the child and both the adoptive and birth families.
  • Adopting an older child, or one with special needs under both local and intercountry programs, needs careful consideration by the proposed adoptive parents and the agency or government body handling the application. Older children have gained a more conscious 'knowing' of their history and they usually have much greater unsettled periods of adjustmentcompared to a baby under 2 years. A child with special needs may have physical or intellectual difficulties, therefore adoptive parents will need to think about how this will impact on them and affect any other children already in the family.
  • Prospective adoptive parents may be asked if they are willing to adopt more than one child at a time in their application. Situations sometimes arise where twins or siblings need to be placed and it is not desirable to split them up.
  • If you are considering adopting a child from overseas, you will need to take into account the experiences you will have as a parent of a child from a different culture and ethnicity. Adoption agencies aim to make sure you are completely comfortable with creating a multi-ethnic family that will last your lifetime and for generations to come.
  • Bloodlines are very powerful and they hold ancient memories. Understanding this and sharing a child's cultural history extends and nurtures the child as they grow. An adopted child has two histories, biological and adoptive. These two histories have an equal place in that child's world. As the adoptive parents you need to be prepared to embrace and integrate some aspects of the child's genetic heritage and their culture.
  • Questions will come from the child as they grow older. You and your partner will need to plan how you will answer them. It can help if you find out as much as you can about where your child was born, the type of birth they had (if known) and their birth parents, sharing this information with your child and having answers wherever possible, will continue their knowledge about where they came from and who they now are.

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