“Australia’s child-protection system keeps applying the same, flawed strategies which basically means children are harmed by the very system that’s meant to protect them. It puts an over-emphasis on family preservation prolonging the time children are kept with highly dysfunctional families. When, as a last resort, they are finally removed they are churned through unstable foster care and returned to their families where the reunification is likely to break down. For many children, they spend almost all of their childhood and adolescence in care and never get a permanent and safe family for life. Many of these children could have, should have, been adopted.” — Dr Jeremy Sammut*
Over 40,000 Australian children are currently in government-sponsored care. Approximately 30,000 have been there for more than 2 years. Less than 200 were adopted.
The first question that must be asked is, ‘Why are so many children cycled in and out of government care?’ And second, ‘Why are there so few adoptions in Australia?’
Compared with similar countries Australia has very low rates of adoption.
It seems the chief barrier to increasing the rate of adoptions in Australia are state and territory government child protection authorities. In South Australia for example, the inquest into the death of toddler Chloe Valentine revealed the abject squalor of the environment the child was forced to endure, an environment authorities were well aware of. An anti-adoption culture appears to be ingrained in state and territory child protection authorities.
19th Century English philosopher and parliamentarian John Stuart Mill was one of the first to declare that “Children have independent rights as future citizens. If parents fail in their obligations to fulfil those rights then the State should step in”.
Regrettably, the rights of abusive parents seem to outweigh the rights of abused children.
It has been nearly 50 years since the introduction of the single mother’s pension by the Whitlam Government. This policy helped end the practice of forced adoption as the provision of taxpayer-funded income support gave women who became pregnant out of wedlock the option of keeping their children. The unintended consequence however, has been that welfare for single mothers has led to the very social problems forced adoptions were designed to prevent – the inability of many single mothers to properly care for their children. The right to welfare became a pathway to welfare dependency which has contributed significantly to the scale of the child protection crisis confronting Australia today.
In 2019, the Federal Government’s House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs Report ‘Breaking barriers: a national adoption framework for Australian children’, stated that the best interests of children should be at the centre of child protection systems.
For children who are unable to live with their biological parents, adoption has been internationally proven as the best way to provide a safe, stable and loving family life.
While it has been argued that adoption robs children of their identity, modern, ‘open adoption’ models which are specifically designed to maintain children’s connections to their cultural heritages and birth families disprove such claims.
It has also been claimed that adoption will steal children all over again. Again, NSW adoption reforms disavow such claims.
That adoption is a socially unacceptable and illegitimate practice based on past practices such as forced adoptions and indigenous experiences is a taboo which must end. There can be no meaningful change or end to the cycle of intergenerational dysfunction until that taboo is broken.
*Dr Jeremy Sammut is the author of several research papers and the book, ‘The Madness of Australian Child Protection: Why Adoption will Rescue Australia’s Underclass Children’. Dr Sammut’s ground-breaking research on Australia’s child protection crisis has led the national debate about adoption over the past 10 years. His research influenced reforms which were passed in 2018 by the NSW Parliament.