ABC News 24

Interviewer:

Johanna Nicholson

E&OE

Johanna Nicholson: A new report reveals adoptions in Australia this year have plummeted to just 278, the lowest on record. The research, conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, shows the figure is down 5% on last year, yet according to the not-for-profit organisation Adopt Change, there are thousands of children in urgent need of adoption. To talk more about this is Senator Zed Seselja, Assistant Minister for Social Services, who joins us now from Canberra. Senator, thanks very much for your time.

Minister Seselja: Thanks very much for having me.

Johanna Nicholson: Why are the adoption rates in Australia so low? Is it a matter of a lack of demand, of people not wanting to adopt, or are people wanting to and for one reason or another aren’t able to?

Minister Seselja: Well it’s very much the latter Jo, there is certainly no shortage of people out there who are willing and able to adopt children, but in most parts of Australia the processes make that exceedingly difficult. We have around 43,000 kids in out of home care at the moment in Australia; we have around 30,000 of those who have been in out of home care for more than two years, yet domestically only 196 adoptions occurred in the last financial year. Now that is, I think, a national tragedy, and what I would say is that this needs to be a wake-up call for the states and territories to take the kind of action that would see more children able to be adopted. Some of the type of actions that we’ve seen in New South Wales, not just announced over the weekend but indeed there’s been a reform agenda underway for a number of years.

Johanna Nicholson: Why is Australia particularly lagging behind on this issue, what’s the main roadblock here?

Minister Seselja: Well the roadblock is partly legislation and partly policy, so the legislation in many cases makes it relatively difficult to adopt, but we also see attitudinally, I think what we’ve done as a nation to be frank, is that we’ve put, often, the interests of adults ahead of the interests of children. Now there is no doubt that reunifying children with their families should be a priority, but we also know that for tens of thousands of Australian children that simply isn’t possible and that’s why the courts are making orders until a child is 18 but the problem is that many of those kids go through multiple foster care placements, so there might be an order until they’re 18, but many children will go through 6 or 8 placements and then many of those will progress onto residential care which we’ve seen a little bit about in recent times and then some end up in youth justice and various poor pathways. The South Australian Coroner, after the Chloe Valentine case, recommended making adoption more available but we aren’t seeing it in most jurisdictions. New South Wales, as I said, is the standout at the moment, there are more adoptions in New South Wales last financial year than in the rest of Australia combined.

Johanna Nicholson: So you’re speaking more about domestic adoptions, what about overseas adoptions?

Minister Seselja: Overseas adoptions are also low numbers and certainly the government, when we came in in 2013, took some actions to streamline some of the processes, the challenge we face is in relation to source countries, the challenge is nations and the restrictions they place. There are changing attitudes to overseas adoptions in a number of those nations but we certainly continue to look for opportunities because we know that there are children overseas who do need a home and in the end whether or not it’s a child overseas who needs a home, if that can be provided in Australia under the right circumstances, that’s a good thing. But we’ve also got 43,000 of our own children here in Australia who are in out of home care and 30,000 of those have been there for two years. So we have to look in our own backyard as well as looking at those opportunities to look after kids from overseas as well.

Johanna Nicholson: What sort of support is there to change adoption laws, both in regards to international adoptions and local adoptions, from within parliament but also from others as well?

Minister Seselja: Well when I was, before I was a Minister, I was a backbencher and I initiated a motion which was passed through the Senate and the House of Representatives, calling for more adoptions, calling for adoption reform. Amongst ministers we’ve agreed to work on more permanency options so it’s now time that was put in place. I’d say in terms of the community attitudes, I saw a poll recently which showed overwhelming support for adoption and I think that we should listen to that. So there’s overwhelming community support, the parliament of Australia has expressed a will towards it, the ministers have said they would like to see it happen, I think it’s now time that we took these numbers as a wakeup call and said we need to put these good intentions into concrete actions because, in the end, there are tens of thousands of kids who are not getting the kind of stability that they deserve, that all of the science says that they need, and if I can give you a brief comparison, in the UK there are around 6,000 adoptions per year, the UK has about three times our population, so that’s, proportionally, about 10 times the rate of adoptions in Australia. We know in other Western countries it’s a similar story. We can do better, I think we absolutely need to, and I think that these figures should be used as an absolute wake up call to make changes in policies so that more kids get the permanent home that we know that they need.

Johanna Nicholson: All right, Senator Zed Seselja, really appreciate your time.

Minister Seselja: Thanks very much for having me on Jo.