Intercountry Adoption in Australia
Abstract and Keywords
Australian research on intercountry adoption in Australia is reported with particular reference to social work, divergent and competing interests of various stakeholders, and the highly political and contested nature of its practice in Australia. The practice of intercountry adoption in Australia is examined from its diffusion into Australia in the 1970s to contemporary times. Government approved Australian intercountry adoption programs began operation in the 1970s and although always small in number, the recent decline is consistent with global trends. Intercountry adoption in Australia is regulated by state and federal governments and social workers are integral to its practice. Controversies surrounding intercountry adoption in Australia have historically been linked to pressure from lobbyists and the support of some politicians. In 2014, Australia was at a crucial juncture with changes to how intercountry adoption is structured under review by the federal government.
The emergence of modern, intercountry adoption as an organized, globalized phenomenon is attributed to the establishment of U.S adoption agencies in South Korea during the Korean War (1950–1953), their subsequent spread throughout Southeast Asia, the demand from receiving countries that drove expansion, and the presence of other conditions such as man-made or natural disasters, poverty, and colonization (Bergquist, 2009; Brookfield, 2009; Choy, 2007; Hübinette, 2005; Rotabi, 2013; Sarri, Baik, & Bombyk, 1998; Strong-Boag & Bagga, 2009). Although there were early adoptions and information exchange between U.S. adoption networks and Australian individuals, government-supported, intercountry adoption programs did not begin in Australia until the 1970s. Operation Babylift, the airlift of children from Saigon in April 1975, set the precedent for the establishment of intercountry adoption programs in Australia and paved the way for formal government to government arrangements (Fronek, 2012). Legislation, policies, and formal practices were developed in response to children coming into the country without a protective framework and were developed in Australia’s unique cultural and political context and a research vacuum (Boss, 1992; Picton & Calder, 1982; English, 1990; English, Henninger, Hood, & Jarvis, 1990; Fopp, 1979; 1982). Child welfare, the responsibility of state governments, meant the work of social workers within child protection departments extended from the management of domestic adoptions to include adoptions from overseas albeit in distinct departmental units.
Little Australian research on intercountry adoption existed prior to the 2000s. The few studies were limited to single studies on Vietnamese children, older children, policy analyses, adoptive parent perspectives and experiences, racial awareness, and adoption disruptions (Calder, 1979; Good, 1978; Harper, 1986; 1994; Harper & Bonanno, 1993; Harvey, 1982; 1983). The small but growing body of contemporary, peer-reviewed, Australian literature spans disciplines (for example, social work, sociology, history, law) and can be loosely grouped into three domains—research on prospective and adoptive families including their adopted children, adults who were adopted into Australia as children, and the socio-political aspects of the practice inclusive of its history and child welfare practices. Similar to overseas, much of the Australian research in the first two domains has been conducted by researchers with a personal stake in intercountry adoption, usually adoptive parents and more recently researchers who were adopted as children contributing new and alternative perspectives. Studies on Australian families are small and generally find good outcomes for participating families and their adopted children and have not reported post-adoption problems experienced by adoptive families (Gray, 2009; Willing, 2010; Willing & Fronek, 2014; Young, 2012). In contrast, research on adults adopted as children do raise post-adoption issues related to identity, culture, racism, and the limited voice given to adoptees about matters that concern them such as policy development (Armstrong & Slaytor, 2001; Walton, 2009; 2010; 2012; Willing, 2006). Young (2011), in her study of 24 prospective and adoptive families in one Australian state, reported that first-time prospective parents, anxious to complete the application, were unhappy about the length of time the adoption process took while couples who were already adoptive parents were more pragmatic and understanding of the process.
The third body of literature constitutes the majority of empirical research on intercountry adoption, and adoption more generally in Australia—a four-year research project, The History of Adoption Project, funded by The Australian Research Council that investigated intercountry adoption in Australia within the wider, historical context of domestic adoption (Quartly, Cuthbert, & Swain, 2012; Quartly, Swain, & Cuthbert, 2013); a selection of work published in Spark and Cuthbert (2009); and research by the author of this entry on the emergence, diffusion, and continuance of intercountry adoption into Australia (Fronek, 2009a, 2009b). The early polarization of lobbying interests against government authorities’ responsibilities over intercountry adoption practices, political opportunism, and the dominance of lobbyists’ perspectives in public discourse have meant the practice from its inception has been contested and influenced by individuals and organizations with vested interests and partisan ideologies. Therefore, Australian literature on intercountry adoption practice in Australia features the politics that has governed, defined, and shaped it at policy, practice, and family levels.
This entry uses Australian peer-reviewed, academic literature and government reports to provide an overview of Australian intercountry adoption with particular reference to the role of social work and discusses: legislative and policy frameworks, historical context; divergent and competing influences on its practice; and the significant structural changes currently proposed within a radical, neoliberal political environment.
Legislative and Policy Frameworks
The Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 lays out a range of children’s rights including a right for children to be raised in their own families and culture as the first priority and participatory rights in decisions that affect them. Australia ratified the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 in 1990. However, the Commonwealth of Australia has not yet implemented this convention into Australian law. Some states—the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria—have addressed some rights in specific legislation that have limited protections for children. Australia ratified The Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption 1993 (The Hague Convention) on August 25, 1998, and it entered into force on December 1, 1998. The Commonwealth of Australia implemented the convention via the Family Law (Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption) Regulations (1998) and the Commonwealth-State Agreement for the Implementation of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Bojorge, 2002; O’Neill, Ban, & Swain, 2014; UNICEF, 2014). The Commonwealth-State Agreement for the Continued Operation of Australia’s Intercountry Adoption Program was signed by some state ministers in 2008. The Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption allows for the facilitation of intercountry adoption and sets minimum standards that safeguard against the trafficking of children.
A clear description of the relationship between international conventions, Australian law, and practice that is grounded in the principle of finding families for children, not children for families, is provided by Mike Reynolds, the then Minister for Child Safety in Queensland in a submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Human Services Inquiry into Overseas Adoption in Australia conducted in 2005. He said:
One aspect of adoption process and practice that is clearly consistent across all Australian jurisdictions is the paramountcy given to the welfare and interests of the child. The principle is reflected in all Australian adoption legislation, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Council (Australian) Social Welfare Minister’s National Minimum Principles in Adoption 1993 and The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children in Respect of Intercountry Adoption . . . Importantly this principle recognises that: adoption (including intercountry adoption) is a service to provide permanent care for children who would not otherwise have a permanent legal family, and as such, relies on the recruitment and assessment of suitable prospective parents, and: no person has a right to adopt a child (House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Human Services Overseas Adoption in Australia 2005, Submission 204, pp. 2–3).
The Australian regulatory framework is a mix of commonwealth, state, and territory responsibilities. Similar to other federal political systems, responsibility for child welfare lies with Australian states and territories. Prior to 2005, Australian states held responsibility for the liaison and management of overseas intercountry adoption programs as well as the delivery of services. For example, New South Wales managed the intercountry adoption programs with South Korea, and Queensland managed the programs with Ethiopia and India. One outcome of the federal Inquiry into Overseas Adoption in Australia in 2005 (HRSCFHS, 2005) driven by consumer sentiment shifted greater responsibility for intercountry adoption to the federal government. In 2014, the federal government, the Central Authority as required by the Hague Convention, is responsible for: (1) intercountry adoption policy and its overarching management by the Attorney-General’s Department; (2) establishing and managing intercountry adoption programs by the Attorney-General’s Department; and (3) immigration and citizenship laws by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (Australian Government, 2014).
Private adoptions are not permitted in Australia and applications must be processed through the Central Authority, the Attorney-General’s Department with delegation to the states. Expatriate adoptions where a person lives overseas and adopts a child as resident of that country are possible. These adoptions must be approached with caution because they may not meet the requirements of Australian migration or family laws. Intercountry adoption is regulated by Australian states and territories; therefore there are eight different sets of legislation. The lack of harmonization between states and territories means variation exists between jurisdictions such as fees, single person adoptions allowed in some states and not in others, and difficulties transferring cases across state borders. Same-sex couples are excluded from intercountry adoption primarily due to eligibility exclusions of sending countries while domestic adoption laws are silent on the issue of gay adoptive parenting (Riggs, 2009). The variations between states and territories have been a source of discontent for prospective and adoptive parents. For some years, working parties and the Attorney-General’s Department have sought cross-government cooperation and consulted with adoption communities to address, where possible, harmonization between states, a complex issue. Generally, a mixture of state and territory laws and eligibility criteria from sending countries determines the eligibility of prospective parents to proceed with adoption applications. State and territory government agencies are responsible for the adoption process including processing and approving applications, prospective parent education and home studies, and post-adoption reports. Some components of the adoption process are contracted to providers in some states.
Australia has a number of intercountry adoption programs. Most intercountry adoptions have occurred with non-Hague countries operating on bilateral arrangements rather than bilateral agreements. For example, a bilateral agreement has never been signed by South Korea. Many of these adoptions occurred within programs with South Korea and China prior to their commitments to the Hague Convention. National statistics were not kept prior to the 1990s and exact numbers are difficult to determine. Quartly et al. (2013) reported from Rosenwald (2009) that 10,221 children were adopted into Australia between 1970 and 2008, 80% from Asia. The main sending countries were South Korea, Sri Lanka, India, the Philippines, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Columbia, and Chile. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) now publishes yearly statistics on adoptions in Australia. Peter Selman, at the University of Newcastle, collects and publishes world statistics on intercountry adoption including Australia and reports a global decline in the numbers of children legally available for intercountry adoption (Selman, 2012). The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report there were 129 intercountry adoptions in Australia in the 2012–2013 period, a 77% decline in the last 25 years (AIHW, 2011). Despite peaks and troughs the numbers of intercountry adoptions into Australia has always been small and account for the largest number of Australian adoptions.
Australia in the 1970s was a period of significant social change and the growth of the welfare state. The last remnants of the White Australia Policy that restricted immigration according to race were dismantled in favor of multiculturalism attributed to the actions of academics and social workers (Lopez, 2000). The position of women in society was changing, contraception in the form of the oral pill and income support for mothers were introduced. Domestic adoption reached a peak of 10,000 in 1971–1972 after which the numbers declined dramatically (Kelly, 2000). Income support enabled more women to keep and raise their children and practices now known as forced adoptions were diminishing (Quartly et al., 2013). These factors meant there were fewer children in the domestic adoption system.
No legislative framework existed to allow intercountry adoption and individuals broke and challenged laws to bring children into the country (Picton & Calder, 1982), a situation similar to those reported in other countries (Brookfield, 2009; Choy, 2007; Hübinette, 2005; Strong-Boag & Bagga, 2009). Individual adoptions before 1975 were few in number, the result of the actions of well-connected individuals who often lived and/ or worked overseas and intended to adopt particular children (English, 1990). One government informant in Fronek’s (2009a, p. 142) study recounted that it was not uncommon in the 1970s for “people like defence personnel, bankers, diplomats to go overseas and be so moved by the circumstances that they see children in, that they feel so moved that they want to bring them into the family and adoption is the way to go.”
As reported by Quartly et al. (2013, pp. 102–103), intercountry adoption was first brought to public attention on May, 29, 1972. A woman called Elaine Moir landed at Sydney airport with five Vietnamese children aged between sixteen months and three and half years. Moir was determined to “smuggle” the “waifs” into Australia, despite being refused entry visas by the government. One of the receiving parents, Mrs Stewart, was quoted as saying, “I’ve got my little baby and that’s all that matters . . . If the Australian authorities try to take my baby away now, I think I’ll kill myself.” It is worthy of note that Stewart and her husband had tried to adopt domestically on twelve occasions and had been refused on each occasion. This is just one example of Australians prepared to break laws and appeal to the media in order to bring children from overseas. The actions of Moir and others in the 1970s forced the government to act. Legislation was developed as a reactionary measure to provide safeguards for children and their adopters and legal status for children. It is only in the last few years that citizenship for all children brought into Australia by the backdoor has been resolved.
The introduction of television in Australian states and territories between 1956 and 1962 ensured the circumstances of women and children in the Vietnam War (1950s–1975) became a vivid reality for Australians. In this same period, parent groups began to form from 1973 by adoptive parents who had successfully adopted children from overseas. Groups aimed to assist other parents to do the same and to lobby governments to make intercountry adoption easier (Calder, 1979; Gray, 1997). Today, not all parent groups are lobbying groups and provide support to prospective parents and adoptive families, provide cultural activities, and some overseas aid (Willing & Fronek, 2014). Intense lobbying of governments and persistent power struggles have remained characteristic of the relationship between governments (and social workers) and lobbyists since the 1970s (Fronek, 2009a, 2009b; Quartly et al., 2013).
Operation Babylift, the airlift of children from Saigon in April 1975, was the beginning of government-sanctioned intercountry adoption into Australia. Individuals and organizations were motivated to do something to help and to open Australia to intercountry adoption, and had been lobbying governments about Vietnamese children for some years. Individuals, many who had already adopted Vietnamese children, wielded influence to fast- track adoptions with the looming invasion of Saigon by the North Vietnamese. Those of influence included Rosemary Calder of the Australian Adoptive Families Association (AAFA) who advised the government of her intention to bring twelve Vietnamese children into the country, members of Prime Minister Whitlam’s cabinet and political party, and some organizations such as World Vision. Other religious and welfare organizations expressed concerns about the circumstances in which many children were being taken from Vietnam. Whitlam announced he was sending planes on April 2, 1975, to evacuate ‘“orphan’” children. In effect, it was the actions of lobbyists, politicians, prospective adoptive parents, some churches and aid organizations, the attention of the media, and the mobilization of the armed forces and Qantas (Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service) airlines that forced Whitlam’s hand and culminated in Australia’s participation in Operation Babylift in April 1975. The planes could not be filled as many children already in the adoption process and children with families had been flown out of Saigon to the United States, Canada, and Europe to be adopted. Operation Babylift and the emptying of orphanages in Vietnam have been criticized for many reasons including: poor organization and execution; being a hunt for babies; allegations of child-buying; the destruction and falsification of records; the reality that many children were only temporarily in orphanages; and that no attempts were made to trace the families of these children. For detailed accounts of Australia’s role in Operation Babylift see Chapter 5 of Quartly et al. (2013), Fokert (2012), and Fronek (2012).
Adoptions from Vietnam to Australia ceased after Operation Babylift. The removal of children was contentious and not supported by the Vietnamese people or the government. However, adoptions from Vietnam to the United States did continue, attributed to postwar relationships—postwar reconstruction and aid provided by the United States. International trade relationships and intercountry adoption programs are often linked. Economic relationships can be used to enable the establishment of programs intended to satisfy pressure on governments from parent groups. Sweden, the United States, Australia, and other receiving countries have responded to such pressure (Choy, 2007; Hübinette, 2005; Strong-Boag & Bagga, 2009). Even though the Hague Convention makes it clear that receiving countries have no role in pressuring countries to send their children, there is no record of any nation’s government asking another country to adopt their children (Cantwell, 2014).
A Commonwealth Inter-Departmental Committee was established in 1975 to address intercountry adoption and in 1978 and 1979, the Council of Social Welfare Ministers sent a delegation (from Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, and Western Australia) to eight Asian countries to investigate adoption practices, facilitate intercountry adoption arrangements and to position Australia in a climate of competition with other countries vying for children. Following Operation Babylift, refugees began to arrive from Vietnam. In response to extensive media coverage, Australian child welfare departments received large numbers of inquiries about whether these children were available for adoption. Two years after Operation Babylift, on December, 5, 1977, an inward cablegram to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Canberra, from Seoul announced the impending arrival of Korean children in the first government-sanctioned program to Australia. The first children arrived in Sydney on December 1977 escorted by Qantas crew. The children were distributed to each state for allocation to adoptive parents (Fronek, 2009a; Quartly et al., 2013). Other intercountry adoption programs soon followed. Social workers in state child welfare departments organized in special adoption units became responsible for the adoption process from liaison with the sending countries, processing applications, conducting homestudies, placement offers, and follow-up.
Social Work in Contemporary Australian Intercountry Adoptions
While some state departments have maintained the presence of social workers in intercountry adoptions, other state welfare departments have shifted away from the employment of social workers to the employment of officers under the broad human services umbrella that includes teachers, nurses, police officers, psychologists, human services graduates, and other social sciences degrees in addition to social workers. Because of this trend, outsourced services such as home studies are no longer necessarily carried out by social workers. As there is no Australian research on the role of social workers in contemporary Australian intercountry adoption, there is no information on the extent social workers are involved in the contemporary practice. Structural reforms to intercountry adoption led by a neoliberal federal coalition are due to be introduced in 2015. These reforms are likely to shift services away from governments to private (for-profit and not-for-profit) agencies.
The Politics of Divergent and Competing Interests
Internationally, knowledge about intercountry adoption in receiving and sending countries has increased considerably in the last two or more decades and the voices of adults who were adopted and increasingly of mothers who lost their children to adoption are now heard through research. Most researchers and academics in intercountry adoption understand intercountry adoption as a complex matter that requires a more sophisticated analytical framework than is provided by child rescue narratives. However, rescue discourse by some commentators persists. They promote intercountry adoption as the first and only priority in a universal approach to poverty and institutionalization minimizing other concerns. “The Debate” between Elizabeth Bartholet and David Smolin in Gibbons and Rotabi (2012, pp. 233–251) provides a good overview of competing discourses evident in receiving countries around the world including Australia.
Bartholet (Bartholet & Smolin, 2012), a U.S. lawyer and proponent of intercountry adoption, argues against alternative care of unparented children and asserts that despite significant problems in intercountry adoption such as child trafficking, intercountry adoption should be prioritized as a preferred option to create families. Bartholet adopted two children from Peru after years of infertility treatment and ultimately being too old to adopt domestically (Jones, 2010). Smolin (Bartholet & Smolin, 2012), also a U.S. lawyer and adoptive parent, raises human rights issues concerning child rights, the existence of children’s immediate and extended families and communities, and how practices of intercountry adoption are mechanisms of power imbalance, opportunities for profit and corruption, and presents a more complex picture than is often portrayed. Smolin adopted two children from India who were discovered not to be orphans and to have been stolen from their families.
In Australia, rescue discourse concerning orphans took hold in the 1970s and has continued to feature strongly in the dialogue of pro-adoption lobbyists who promote easier, faster, and quicker adoptions in Australia today. Lobbyists contend there are millions of children in the world who should be adopted, and that intercountry adoption is a win/win situation where there are no losers. These messages have spread throughout receiving countries around the world and have remained consistent since modern intercountry adoption began. These perspectives are limited as they are essentially beliefs that are selective and personal, don’t incorporate new knowledge or acknowledge issues such as the existence of family, structural factors that contribute to the separation of children and families, problems with corruption, and pressure from receiving countries that drives intercountry adoption over other alternatives (Fronek, 2009a, 2009b; Quartly et al., 2013).
From the early days of intercountry adoption in Australia, some governments, policy makers, and social workers maintained a cautious approach and from the beginning had a strong focus on the interests of children rather than the interests of prospective adoptive parents. The following excerpt from the Queensland Children’s Services’ Annual Report 1972 encapsulates some early concerns.
Likewise with enquiries received regarding the adoption of children from foreign countries, the Department must exercise extreme caution in this area because of the high risk of applicants being motivated by sentiment. It is also doubtful if sufficient knowledge has been acquired regarding the effects of such children being removed into another culture and that the solution of their problem by adoption may only lead to further disruption and trauma for the children involved (Department of Children’s Services, 1972, p. 9).
The differences between a cautious, professional perspective and that of lobbyists led to the early polarization of intercountry adoption in Australia. Adoption lobbyists use a range of tactics adopted from overseas lobbyists to influence how intercountry adoption is perceived. For example, individuals (including adoptees) are labeled as anti-adoption if a wholly positive view of intercountry adoption is not presented, risks such as trafficking are minimized, and governments are identified as anti-adoption, as presenting obstacles to the opening of new programs and access to millions of children around the world, and a threat to prospective parents. These perspectives were found to dominate in two independent analyses of the 2005 House of Representatives’ Inquiry into Overseas Adoption in Australia brought about by the lobbying of conservative politicians (Fronek, 2009a; HRSCFHS, 2005; Quartly et al., 2013). However since the inquiry in 2005, conservative politicians have made their intentions clear—to shift the focus of potential adopters away from intercountry adoption to the adoption of Australian children from care in support of an ideological position of reducing welfare spending in Australia (Fronek, 2009a; HRSCFHS, 2005; Quartly et al., 2013).
Anti-adoption voices do exist in Australia. Some mothers, fathers, and adoptees affected by forced adoptions that continued until the early 1970s oppose intercountry adoption because of the similarities between their experiences and many families overseas who have no voice in Australia. An apology was offered by the Australian government to those affected by forced adoption in March 2013. This apology followed other apologies for the treatment of children and their families through forced separations. These were apologies to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of the Stolen Generations in 2008 and the Forgotten Australians and Lost Innocents, former forced imperial child migrants and institutionalized children in 2009. In 2013, Australian academics wrote to the Chair of the Reference Group drafting the apology for forced adoptions. The letter canvassed the need to include intercountry adoption in the apology for forced adoptions based on contemporary research but this did not eventuate (Fronek & Cuthbert, 2013).
Social workers in Australian welfare departments work toward ethical and legal adoptions that meet the needs of children. A government controlled system with high standards pertaining to all aspects of adoption and the commitment and skills of adoptive parents have meant that children adopted into Australia generally appear to have good outcomes though research is scarce. Although official statistics are not collected, anecdotally the rate of adoption disruption appears low compared to other countries. Harper’s (1994) early examination of seven placement disruptions (two and a half to nine years after adoption from overseas) of children (aged approximately four to twelve years of age) highlighted the impact on the children and families. Two of these children were removed for emotional abuse. In four cases, the parents asked for the child to be removed and in one case the child sought help and asked to be removed from the family. Reasons provided by the families included the child was older than desired, not enough background information was provided, the first encounter was negative, the child’s history created attachment problems, the child did not relate to the parents or family, he or she was not the child they had prepared for, and the child was angry or oppositional. The children attributed the disruptions to inadequate pre-adoptive preparation, couldn’t relate to the mother, did not like the family, felt rejected by the family, did not know what the parents wanted, always felt different, did not want to come here, and lack of autonomy within the family. Under legislation current until 2014, government obligations and responsibilities cease when post adoption reports are completed and adoptions are finalized twelve months after the child’s arrival so very little is known about disruptions beyond this point unless child protection reports or self-presentations occur.
Government control of adoption and the lack of prioritization of the needs of prospective parents attract criticisms of the Australian system by lobbyists. Despite stringent safeguards, trafficking has been a problem in Australian intercountry adoptions where, for example, some children from India and Ethiopia were stolen or sold into intercountry adoptions. In 2008, these scandals affected families in Australia, the United States, and Scandinavian countries (Claire, 2012). The Australian government is unable to police the practices of overseas countries and the Hague Convention gives no guidance on criminal justice matters. Therefore disclosures of trafficking and corruption are likely to continue to be an issue into the future. These problems highlight the importance in how programs are established in the first instance, the maintenance of highest professional standards in service delivery, and the need for research, particularly longitudinal studies.
Post-adoption support, as distinct from support for couples going through an adoption process and post-adoption placement visits, is provided by not-for-profit agencies in Australian states or by private providers such as social workers, psychologists, and doctors. Stakeholders, particularly adult intercountry adoptees, are concerned about access to services and the level of post-adoption support available to families and children as well as older adoptees (Walton, 2012; Willing & Fronek, 2014). Despite post-adoption support being resource poor and disruptions devastating, some lobbyists have moved to negatively influence independent research on post-adoption support for older adoptees. Post-adoption support is particularly important given the decline in the numbers of available children and the likelihood that children available for adoption in the future will be older or with special needs representing a significant change in the type of child that has been adopted into Australia. The Australian government is not addressing this unmet need in Australia (Australian Government, 2014).
Political Reform and Intercountry Adoption
The Australian social work profession grew alongside the welfare state that was brought into being to address the five evil giants of postwar period—want, ignorance, squalor, disease, and idleness—via a complex arrangement of government, not-for-profit, and for-profit organizations (Beveridge, 1942; Jamrozik, 2009; Marston, McDonald, & Bryson, 2014). Intercountry adoption and other child welfare practices have historically been delivered as a mechanism of the welfare state. Since the 1980s, there has been a gradual erosion of the welfare state and social policy has increasingly moved toward neoliberal regimes and economic rationalist mechanisms of service delivery.
The federal government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott elected in 2013 adheres to an ideological position akin to neoconservative. Consequently, there are proposed changes in the structure of intercountry adoption service delivery that align with small government and free market principles with the devolution of activities from government to nongovernment agencies and the merging of intercountry and domestic adoptions (Australian Government, 2014). In November 2013, the government abolished the National InterCountry Adoption Advisory Group (NICAAG) to the federal Attorney-General’s Department. This national peak body had been formed to fulfill a recommendation from the 2005 Inquiry into Overseas Adoption in Australia. The committee comprised experienced adoptive parents, adoptees, practitioners, previously a mother of a child who was adopted, and an academic member. On May, 5, 2014, Prime Minister Abbott declared, via the prime minister’s website, that the purpose of intercountry adoption in Australia was to help more people create families, a significant shift from intercountry adoption as a service for children to a demand-led system (Prime Minister of Australia, 2014a).
Just as conservative politicians in Australia have been shown to pursue their own goals in relation to adoption, others recruited by lobbyists have shifted debates to different agendas. Prior to the 2005 inquiry, pro-adoption lobbyists began circulating lists of politicians and other people of public recognition who had some association with adoption to act as spokespersons. Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott was identified as a potential supporter because it had been reported that he had agreed to the adoption of his child while at university. The person eventually recruited was the actress Deborra-Lee Furness, wife of the celebrity actor Hugh Jackman. Furness and Jackman adopted their children through private arrangements while resident in the United States, a system Furness identifies as cheaper, faster, and easier than the Australian system. Furness has been both praised for promoting adoption and criticized within the adoption community for promoting mythologies regarding “orphans” and “celebrity colonialism” (Willing, 2009, p. 253), and her representation of only a small section of the Australian adoption community. Over time, her approach has modified in response to criticism. For example, she shut down her Orphan Angels website, which listed the conservative politician Bronwyn Bishop, who was chair of the 2005 inquiry and in 2014 was a serving member of the Senate, as a friend of Orphan Angels (Fronek, 2009b). Lobbyists, like Furness have rebranded themselves as advocates, millions of corporate dollars have been raised, and a partnership between Furness and the current government has been strengthened to maximize publicity and to enable quicker, easier, and cheaper adoptions through decreasing government involvement in the adoption process (Australian Government, 2014; Fronek, 2009a,2009b; Quartly et al., 2013; Willing, 2009).
How intercountry adoption will be structured and delivered in a new system has been under discussion at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). Although details of proposed changes are yet to be released in full—the federal government has only released forty pages of the eighty-nine page COAG report (Australian Government, 2014)—it has been announced that a new national intercountry adoption service will begin operation in 2015. A series of legislative changes including changes to the Family Law (Bilateral Arrangement—Intercountry Adoption) Regulations 1998 have been proposed. The proposed amendments are intended “to provide for the automatic recognition of adoptions in partner [non-Hague] countries once the adoption is finalised and an adoption compliance certificate has been issued” (Prime Minister of Australia, 2014b). Academics, UNICEF, International Social Services, and the Human Rights Committee in submissions to the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Inquiry held on July 28, 2014, raised serious concerns about the protection of children and their rights with the lessening of safeguards that would come with these changes (Parliament of Australia, 2014).
The extent to which intercountry adoption will be deregulated and responsibilities shifted to nongovernment agencies and the impact on the role of social work in intercountry adoption is yet to be determined.
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