OPINION: More adoption needed for Australia’s forgotten children

While activists lobby to help minors in Nauru and Manus island, there are thousands of displaced children closer to home who receive far less attention. 

This week is National Adoption Awareness Weekwhen we are reminded nearly 40,000 Australia children have been living without a permanent home for more than two years. 

These children were removed from their birth family, by government, because they were being abused or neglected. 

They were placed in foster care – which is supposed to provide temporary shelter for the children until they are returned back home. 

The problem is, many never leave foster care. On average, a child remains in this “temporary” care for 12.5 years, and often gets shuffled between 10 or 20 different houses like pieces of furniture. 

But last year, just 70 children were adopted from foster care, including 68 from NSW and 2 from all other states and territories combined. 

While many foster carers do a fantastic job, out of home care does not provide the stability and sense of belonging every child deserves. 

A child in foster care knows that at any point in time, they can receive a knock on the door by someone who might take them away. 

Bureaucracies constantly interfere with their lives, and the children face stigma and isolation in their schools and community. 

Rocked by unstable childhoods, it’s no surprise most young people end up either homeless, unemployed, pregnant or in jail within a few of years of leaving care. 

Australia’s shameful adoption history – when Aboriginal and single mothers had their babies taken away from them without consent – is a reason why current policy makers are reluctant to promote adoption. 

But it is wrong to punish today’s children to atone for past adult mistakes. 

As Yenda’s Gibbs family has shown – adoption as practiced now is very different from the past. Adoption is now “open”, meaning birth parents remain involved in their child’s life wherever possible. 

The Gibbs’ adopted son Damien is educated about his history, and remains in regular contact with birth mum Dianne Fletcher. 

While adoption won’t work for everyone in foster care – children must at least  be given the choice of permanency and stability if they want it. 

For too long, families have been frustrated by bureaucracy and inaction. 

But as our new state member Austin Evans reminded us this week, the NSW Government is currently pursing reforms to make adoption easier.

This is a welcome development, and we can only hope other states follow their lead.