15 Adoption support

Introduction

  1. 15.1 In this chapter, the Commission reviews the provision for adoption support in the Adoption Act 1984 (Vic) and whether it sufficiently reflects the need for support required by people affected by adoption.
  2. 15.2 In the past it has been considered that support after an adoption order is made is unnecessary. There is now a realisation that ongoing support is needed to help all parties to adoption manage its effects at a range of times and key points in their lives.
  3. 15.3 This chapter examines the lifelong, intergenerational effects of adoption, the changing views on the need for post-adoption support, and how that need can be better reflected in the Adoption Act. The Commission considers the role that the state should play in providing post-adoption support.
  4. 15.4 This chapter also discusses the lack of comprehensive data and research on adoption services, which means that little is known about the long-term success and effects of open adoption.

Adoption support in Victoria

Current law and practice

  1. 15.5 There is limited provision in the Adoption Actand Adoption Regulations 2008 (Vic) for support services after an adoption order is made.
  2. 15.6 The main provisions for support are the Adoption Act’s information provisions.1 Other support provisions include:
  • support for an Aboriginal agency to facilitate contact between an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child and relatives or members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community2
  • financial or other assistance in limited circumstances.3

Financial assistance

  1. 15.7 The Adoption Act allows the Secretary to:

make grants or provide other financial or other assistance on such terms and conditions as the Secretary determines to a person or persons with whom a child of a prescribed class has been placed for the purposes of adoption or to an adoptive parent, or adoptive parents, of a child of a prescribed class.4

  1. 15.8 The Adoption Regulations define the prescribed classes of children as:

(a) children with a physical, sensory, intellectual or emotional disability;

(b) children of a family group who have been adopted by the same adoptive parent or parents, or placed with the same person or persons for the purposes of adoption;

(c) children who the Secretary considers have unusual or difficult circumstances.5

  1. 15.9 DHHS policy considers that payments to families may be appropriate when:
  • adoption is the preferred legal framework in which to place a child and the unavailability of payments would prevent an adoption from proceeding
  • the child has special needs, including ‘developmental delay; intellectual or physical disability; forms part of a sibling group’ or is ‘otherwise not able to be placed’.6
  1. 15.10 These provisions reflect an understanding that post-adoption support is only needed in special circumstances, at the discretion of the Secretary.
Support for adopted children with special needs
  1. 15.11 The 1983 report of the Adoption Legislation Review Committee, which led to the implementation of the Adoption Act, considered the factors limiting the placement of children with special needs. They observed that at the time there was little funding available, and time dedicated, to finding a home for children with special needs.7
  2. 15.12 That Committee recommended that a system of ‘subsidised adoption’ be developed in Victoria to facilitate the placement of children with special needs with families who may otherwise be unable to afford to care for these children.8 The Committee supported the approach to subsidised adoptions in the United States.9
  3. 15.13 Since the Adoption Act was enacted, there has been little amendment to the provision for financial assistance.10
  4. 15.14 Post-adoption support provided in other Australian jurisdictions is varied.11 In Queensland, a guiding principle under the Adoption Act 2009 (Qld), is that:

the same protection, support and resources should be available to an adopted person regardless of whether the adoption was a local adoption, intercountry adoption or adoption by a step-parent.12

Other assistance

  1. 15.15 The Adoption Act empowers the Secretary to provide ‘other assistance’ on terms at its discretion and in special circumstances, but the nature of that assistance is not made clear.13
Support during placement
  1. 15.16 During the child’s placement with the prospective adoptive parents, the Secretary or principal officer, as the child’s guardian, has legal responsibility for the child’s welfare. Adoption agencies monitor and supervise the placement.14
  2. 15.17 An adoption worker may make home visits to the adoptive parents to ‘assess the adjustment of the child and parents, to check whether the developmental needs of the child are being addressed and to address any issues arising from the placement.’15 During this period, contact between the child and their natural parents may occur. It is seen as the role of the adoption agency to facilitate this process and ensure that contact is positive for all parties.16
  3. 15.18 The need to support prospective adoptive parents following the placement of the child is well established:

Research suggests that access to adequate services and supports for both the adopted child and the adoptive family is essential for positive outcomes, especially for intercountry and special needs adoptions. Pre-adoption preparation and ongoing support programs have been identified as important factors that contribute to successful outcomes. Emotional support provided to adoptive parents by family and friends is also important for the success of an adoption.17

Support after the adoption
  1. 15.19 After the adoption order is made, generally families are advised that they can seek the assistance of their adoption agency regarding issues relating to contact, if future problems arise.18 However, support can be limited, as agency funding is not expressly allocated to provide this service.
  2. 15.20 Support is also provided by agencies which are established for that purpose. For example, VANISH assists people searching for adoption information and for people from whom they have been separated by adoption, and provides support services to those affected by adoption.19 Permanent Care and Adoptive Families provides services and opportunities for families involved in permanent care or adoption to share their experiences and seek information and support.20
  3. 15.21 An adoption order may include conditions relating to ongoing information for natural parents21 about the child and conditions for ongoing contact with the child.22
  4. 15.22 Conditions relating to the exchange of information envisage an ongoing role for adoption agencies, as they require the Secretary or principal officer to facilitate information exchange until the child turns 18.23
  5. 15.23 A 2000 research study aimed at understanding successful contact in Victoria and how it is facilitated, found that contact can work best when there are outreach mechanisms to facilitate relationships:

The challenge for social work practice in open adoption, given the centrality of the needs of the child for healthy identity formation, is to develop support and outreach mechanisms which facilitate positive relationships between families from pre-placement onwards, for an indefinite period.24

 
Factors relating to a breakdown in contact arrangements
  1. 15.24 Dr Phillipa Castle’s research showed that of the natural mothers she spoke to in Victoria, three (20 per cent) experienced a complete breakdown in their contact with their child. One mother opted to cease contact. The other two mothers had experienced a breakdown in contact despite requests for contact.25
  2. 15.25 DHHS policy explains the reasons that contact arrangements in an adoption order may break down, including:26
  • Natural parents may struggle with contact, either avoiding contact or demanding more, related to them mourning for the loss of the child.
  • Natural parents may struggle to maintain contact—it may cause an intense emotional reaction and activate feelings of guilt, shame and loss.
  • Adoptive parents may change their view about ongoing contact—they may be reluctant to share information or be unsympathetic towards the natural parent.
  • The adoptive person may struggle with issues relating to their identity, loss or feelings of rejection by their natural parents.
  1. 15.26 DHHS policy allows for people to approach the adoption agencies for assistance when contact breaks down and agencies may refer them to appropriate services.27 However, ongoing support or facilitation of contact arrangements by adoption agencies or other professionals is not provided for in adoption law.

Changing views on post-adoption support

  1. 15.27 There is wide recognition of the lifelong effects of adoption.28 The immense grief and trauma experienced by people affected by past forced adoption practices was acknowledged in the 2012 Victorian Parliamentary apology for past adoption practices29 and in the 2013 national apology by the Australian Government.30
  2. 15.28 The Australian Government made a commitment to providing access to specialist counselling and support services to those affected.31 In Victoria, Relationships Australia (Victoria) is the Australian Government-funded provider of support services for past forced adoption practices.32
  3. 15.29 Issues in adoption are not limited to those affected by past forced adoption practices. Adoption is a ‘lifelong, intergenerational process’.33
  4. 15.30 Following the making of an adoption order, the state has limited involvement in the lives of adoptive families. Adoptive parents are seen as accepting full responsibility for a child and their future needs.34
  5. 15.31 The state’s withdrawal after the making of an adoption order has traditionally meant that ‘the focus for service provision was on the pre-adoption stage; once an order was made then no further professional intrusion was generally either available or wanted’.35
A need for support
  1. 15.32 Post-adoption support has been identified as a critical element of a successful adoption arrangement.36
  2. 15.33 The need for ongoing support after adoption is reflected in both the National Principles in Adoption37 and in the Victorian Standards in Adoption.38
  3. 15.34 The National Principles recognise that ‘counselling and support services should be available to children and their family’.39 The principles specify that:
  • Openness in adoption should be achieved with the least possible state intervention, but professional support and advice should be available to families.40
  • Counselling and support should be available to natural parents throughout the revocation of consent period41 and post-adoption counselling and support services should be available to natural parents.42
  • Post-placement support is a crucial part of the adoption process.43
  1. 15.35 The Principles do not limit these obligations to children with special needs.
  2. 15.36 Nor do the Victorian Standards in Adoption limit the expectation of support to children with special needs. However, the Standards observe that after the granting of an adoption order, the ongoing role of adoption agencies should be minimal. An objective of the Standards is to enhance the capacity of community services and self-help groups to assist adoptive families and to create a climate where parties do not require agency involvement.44
  3. 15.37 Though the Commission is considering adoption support under a system of open adoption, research into the effects of forced adoption is of some relevance to the lifelong experience of adoption and the service needs of adopted persons.
  4. 15.38 An Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) study on past adoption experiences ‘found that the majority of adoptees had lower levels of wellbeing and higher levels of psychological distress compared with Australian population norms’.45
  5. 15.39 In 2015, the AIFS developed good-practice principles for service providers working with people affected by forced adoption practices and family separation. It identified that good practice involves service delivery models that can respond to the needs of adopted persons, are attuned to the complex needs of those affected, provide a range of services (mental and relationship health, physical health, social and economic wellbeing), provide intensive and ongoing counselling (both psychological and psychiatric) and provide flexible and individually tailored care.46 An integrated, trauma-informed approach to service delivery was recommended.47
 
Issues that may arise
  1. 15.40 Shifting views about adoption support recognise that adoptive families may face issues associated with adoption,48 even under a system of open adoption.
  2. 15.41 A 2013 study led by Minnesota psychologist Margaret A Keyes found that a reported suicide attempt was approximately four times more likely in adoptees compared with non-adoptees. She found that:

Although the majority of adopted individuals are well adjusted, adolescent adoptees experience a greater risk for disruptive behavior disorders and, to a lesser extent, internalizing disorders than comparably aged nonadopted individuals. Furthermore, in young adulthood, adoptees have increased odds of being diagnosed with substance use and other psychiatric disorders relative to nonadoptees.49

  1. 15.42 In Victoria, the DHHS manual identifies the issues that most commonly arise for adoptive parents. They include ‘communicating with pre-schoolers about adoption, or dealing with identity issues which arise in middle childhood and adolescence’.50
  2. 15.43 Dr Phillipa Castle’s research focused on the experiences of natural mothers in Victoria. Dr Castle found that:

Relinquishment is an ongoing process. It is not static but exists temporally and developmentally, so the risks continue. Several points of vulnerability along the continuum were identified. Depression was activated (particularly in those with a predisposition) by significant adoption related events. These included the relinquishment itself, the child turning 18 years of age, reunification and the birth of subsequent children.51

Adoption disruption and adoption dissolution
  1. 15.44 The success of adoption in Australia is largely unknown. In some families, an adoption placement might break down.
  2. 15.45 ‘Adoption disruption’ describes the breakdown in a placement of a child with their adoptive parents. ‘Adoption dissolution’ describes the breakdown of an adoptive placement after the making of an adoption order.52
  3. 15.46 If a breakdown occurs, adoption agencies would only become involved if they are approached for assistance.53 For very serious breakdowns, the Adoption Act provides for the discharge of adoption orders.54
  4. 15.47 The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), in its annual reporting of adoption data, noted that data collection on adoption disruption focuses on intercountry adoption and only captures the 12 months following the placement of the child.55 The AIHW suggested:

To understand adoption in Australia, it is important to know how adoptees and adoptive families fare after an adoption is finalised. However, once an adoption is finalised it is difficult to identify an adoptee in administrative data, as they are legally no different from a child still living with their non-adoptive parent(s), and there is no requirement for adoptees to report their adoptive status. This makes gathering data on access to supports by adoptees and their adoptive families difficult. For the same reasons, the long-term outcomes of adoption (such as rates of disruption or levels of educational attainment) cannot be explored.56

  1. 15.48 Of course, a ‘breakdown’ is not the only measure of failure or success. The quality of life or family relationships for people adopted under the Adoption Act is largely unknown. There is no qualitative research or longitudinal studies on this cohort.
  2. 15.49 A number of overseas studies consider the effect of adoption through the lens of adoption disruption. As adoption systems in those jurisdictions differ from Victoria, these studies may have limited application in the Victorian context.
  3. 15.50 In the United Kingdom, a research study by the University of Bristol looked at adoption outcomes. It found that post-adoption, the average rate of formal disruption was 3.2 per cent.57 A supplementary survey showed that 66 per cent of participants reported that the adoption was going well.58
  4. 15.51 Studies in the United States looking at adoptions from foster care have estimated the rate of children’s re-entry into the state care system as 9.5 per cent and formal dissolution of adoption orders in 2.2 per cent of cases.59

Responses

  1. 15.52 In its consultation paper, the Commission asked whether there should be increased requirements in the Adoption Act to provide post-adoption support. The Commission asked for feedback on:
  • Who should be responsible for providing this support?
  • What type of post-adoption support should be provided, and in what circumstances?
  • Who should be eligible for it?

Responsibility for providing post-adoption support

  1. 15.53 Most people felt funding for post-adoption services should be provided by the state.60
  2. 15.54 Some people proposed that the state has a duty of care to provide adoption support services.61 The Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) submitted ‘that governments have responsibilities to provide adequate and appropriate life-long post-adoption services for families, adoptive families and adoptees’.62
  3. 15.55 Thomas Graham put it strongly:

The State, as the architect and legal owner of adoption, has a duty of care to provide adequate support services so that adopted people and adoptive parents don’t have to walk the adoption journey alone.

 

The State cannot step aside, or outside, and transfer all risk, responsibility and costs to the adoptive parent, while the child is growing up, or to the adopted persons, when as an adult, they have to deal with the ongoing legacy issues of their adoption.63

  1. 15.56 The Institute of Open Adoption Studies submitted that even though adoption provides a family for life, it does not bring to an end the responsibility of ‘society or adoption agencies towards children with special needs: promoting adoption should be accompanied by promoting post-adoption support services’.64
  2. 15.57 The Commission heard that approved adoption agencies are not appropriately funded to provide post-adoption support.65 A person who attends an adoption support group funded by VANISH told the Commission that a lack of funding has meant that the group can only meet once every three months and the infrequency of support had a negative effect.66
  3. 15.58 Adopt Change submitted that the Commonwealth and state governments should work harmoniously to provide post-adoption support within a national framework.67
  4. 15.59 Professor Meredith Temple-Smith told the Commission that adoption support should be funded by DHHS but the service should be provided by an independent provider. She explained that adoptive parents were reluctant to approach DHHS to raise issues about the support they required, feeling that the child could be removed or it could affect the likelihood of being able to adopt again in the future.68
  5. 15.60 An independent provider of post-adoption support services was also suggested by Dr Briony Horsfall. She submitted that it would offer neutrality and other advantages, including ‘a trustworthy, less-stigmatised and unbiased pre and post adoption service’. Dr Horsfall’s proposal envisaged the centralisation of adoption services to be provided by the independent authority.69
  6. 15.61 VANISH proposed that post-adoption services be delivered by organisations independent of those providers who arrange adoptions.70

Availability of support

  1. 15.62 Connections UnitingCare submitted that post-adoption support is already available on an ‘as needed’ basis and there is agency flexibility to provide support, depending upon a family’s needs.71
  2. 15.63 A practitioner from an adoption agency told the Commission of the services their agency provides, including:
  • phone support
  • peer support
  • referrals and linking to therapeutic services
  • contact support, including re-engaging natural parents who have lost contact, and supporting ongoing contact as needed.72
  1. 15.64 The practitioner explained that the continued provision of post-adoption support relies on ongoing funding.73
  2. 15.65 VANISH told the Commission that following the State apology for forced adoption, VANISH was funded to provide training for professionals. However, funding was
    insufficient to properly train enough professionals. It was also funded to provide counselling and support and although the program was oversubscribed, funding was
    not ongoing.74
  3. 15.66 Some adoptive parents said that they felt comfortable with the level and availability of support. One parent felt that they were able to contact their caseworker if they needed to.75 Another adoptive parent told the Commission that she never considered that she did not have enough support available to her, as her agency had made it clear that she could contact them if she needed help in the future to facilitate contact with the natural parents.76
  4. 15.67 Other parents told the Commission that once an order is made, support from the approved agencies ends.77 One parent compared the difference in approach between permanent care orders and adoption. They explained that in permanent care, while agencies are no longer involved, they are watching to make sure you keep up the agreed contact arrangements, but with an adoption order, it is final and there is a view that once the order is made, support is no longer required.78

Duration of support

  1. 15.68 Submissions to the Commission were clear that support needs to be available to effectively respond to the needs of people affected by adoption, not just during the adopted person’s childhood, but over their lifetime.79 This support was considered critical to the maintenance of contact between natural parents and children and the long-term best interests of adoptive people.80
  2. 15.69 The AASW told the Commission that post-adoption support should be provided in recognition that adoption does not stop once an order is made and may affect people for their entire lifetime.81
  3. 15.70 Barnardos Australia, which provides adoption services in New South Wales, submitted that it does not support the automatic or compulsory involvement of the state with an adoptive family. However, it acknowledged the importance of discretion to provide ongoing support. In its experience, in the small number of situations where adoptive families experience difficulties, resources should be available to adoption agencies to help families on a short-term basis.82
  4. 15.71 The Commission heard that adoptive parents felt that there was a lack of support options and services to help them navigate the years ahead and the ongoing contact between the child and their natural parents. The initial education and training program was considered helpful for raising awareness of issues that may face an adopted child, but it only scratched the surface and did not allow for ongoing education and support during a child’s lifetime.83
  5. 15.72 People told the Commission that even in adulthood, adopted people need support for issues relating to their adoption.84

 

Type of support required

  1. 15.73 There was general agreement in submissions and consultations about the types of support needed, which included specialist adoption services, specialist counselling, access and support to adoption information, mediation, peer support, training and information.85
  2. 15.74 OzChild submitted that post-adoption support should acknowledge that the circumstances of adopted children and adoptive parents change over time. It considered that access to support from an agency experienced in adoption is needed to respond to individual needs, whether it be individual counselling, attending a support group, or receiving information or advice.86
  3. 15.75 ARMS (Vic) proposed ongoing, proactive engagement with adoptive families and an ongoing role by the adoption agency.87
  4. 15.76 The AASW said that the degree of support needed varies from person to person and over their lifespan, so a variety of services needs to be available. The AASW said the legislation should identify the key types of support that need to be considered, but post-adoption support should be a key consideration of the Act.88
  5. 15.77 The Australian Psychological Society emphasised the importance of support being tailored and flexible to meet individual needs, which is particularly critical to children with special needs.89
  6. 15.78 The AASW referred to the findings of the AIFS on the needs of people affected by past adoption practices, which mirror what their members suggest as necessary support services for adoption.90 In brief, key supports proposed by the AIFS include:
  • 24-hour advice, support, information and referral services
  • peer support groups
  • adoption-specific support services­—’one-stop-shop’ for service delivery
  • professional and specialised support—counselling, therapeutic interventions, social workers and psychologists
  • priority access to health services—medical, psychological and psychiatric
  • professional support available to family members
  • primary and allied health services which understand the effect of adoption.91
  1. 15.79 Linking families with specialist services and services which respond to the particular needs of diverse communities was considered important. The Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative highlighted a need to provide post-adoption support to children beyond the age of 18, as issues relating to adoption, especially for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, can arise any time in their life. They said that an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation should stay involved and assist in providing this support.92
  2. 15.80 Submissions stressed the importance of the role that peers and support groups such as Permanent Care and Adoptive Families (PCA Families) play.93
  3. 15.81 PCA Families strongly supported increased provisions for post-adoption support in the Adoption Act. It proposed that services should provide professional and peer support to both permanent care and adoptive families. This should ‘include preventive work, early intervention, ongoing education and crisis support’ that is routinely available and on an ongoing basis in ‘recognition of the delayed psychological development caused by early neglect and abuse’.94

Assistance with contact

  1. 15.82 Professor Meredith Temple-Smith said that contact between the child and their family of origin is critical. Challenges in managing that contact would be assisted by better information about contact, and skilled support. She said better support would have improved the contact experience for her family and the children’s family of origin.95
  2. 15.83 Professor Temple-Smith said that adopted people should be able to seek advice and assistance about contact with their family of origin to assist with the transition into adulthood, when they are expected to manage the contact themselves.96
  3. 15.84 Another adoptive parent told the Commission of the practical difficulties she experienced trying find the natural parents and arrange contact, without third-party facilitation.97
  4. 15.85 An adoptive parent identified gaps in the current adoption service provision during the placement period. The parent submitted that adoptive parents do not have the same support as other new parents, such as a maternal health nurse or mother’s groups, and ‘are required to quickly get in the headspace of contact and navigating a relationship that is very fraught and emotional’.98 The parent explained that:

birth parents post placement will often be in a very vulnerable and emotional state. They are suddenly required to navigate a relationship with the people who are now the parents of their child. They arrive at contact with empty arms and they leave with empty arms. In between these two sets of parents is a vulnerable child, looking to both for clues and signals about how to feel and respond. At the time when each party is at its most raw and vulnerable and circumstances are the most challenging, they are left alon[e] to try and work out a relationship. This is wrong and all of them should be given support if they want it for as long as they need after placement. While our social worker was fantastic and went above and beyond the call to attend our first two contacts (which made an incredible difference), we were the exception and most people we know were left to manage on their own.99

  1. 15.86 The adoptive parent submitted that adoption support should be offered by a government-funded independent agency, which would provide a range of services including maternal health nurses who specialise in adoption and permanent care, social workers who can provide advice specific to adoption and facilitate contact, referral services, training, and peer support.100

Eligibility to access services

  1. 15.87 Some peopleproposed that adoption support be available to the child, the adoptive parents and the natural parents.101Others proposed extending services to natural relatives.102 VANISH proposed that anyone eligible to receive adoption information should receive support to access it.103
  2. 15.88 Grandparents Victoria said that support should be available to adoptive parents to provide them with training to equip them to respond to problems that arise throughout an adopted child’s life, and to help foster resilience.104 Child & Family Services Ballarat submitted that both adoptive and natural family members who have been a party to an adoption should be eligible for support.105
  3. 15.89 ARMS (Vic) submitted that the natural parents and family all need ongoing support. It also recognised the need for support for adoptive parents who may not have come to terms with the grief of not having their own babies, and who may be hesitant to ask for support for fear of the adoption agencies thinking they are not good enough.106

Commission’s conclusions

  1. 15.90 There was a very strong response from a variety of people involved in adoption that there is a greater need for support services in adoption, including post-adoption.
  2. 15.91 Adoption has lifelong effects and a variety of needs arise for those involved. The Commission considers that appropriate adoption support should be provided at all stages of adoption, including after adoption. In Chapter 2, it recommends that this be an object of the Adoption Act. The Commission considers that the state has a responsibility to establish and maintain adoption support.
  3. 15.92 The Commission considers that adopted children and adults, natural parents, adoptive parents and parties to an adoption plan should be able to access adoption support. Access to support should also include natural relatives107 and the natural children of adopted people.108 This recognises the far-reaching effects of adoption and ensures that eligibility for support is consistent with access to adoption information under the Adoption Act.

Applications for financial assistance

  1. 15.93 Section 105 of the Adoption Act and regulation 42 of the Adoption Regulations restrict access to grants of financial assistance to families with adopted children who have special needs. It is important that these families continue to be able to access financial assistance on a needs basis, but the rights of access should extend to a wider group of people affected by adoption.
  2. 15.94 The Commission considers that the Secretary should develop a transparent and publicly available application process to enable all eligible people to apply to the Secretary for financial assistance. The Secretary should provide assistance on the basis of identified need.
  3. 15.95 Any decision of the Secretary in response to an application should be provided to the applicant in writing with detailed reasons. The decision should be subject to an internal review procedure. The Adoption Act should provide that the person may also apply to the Victorian and Civil Administrative Tribunal for review of a decision of the Secretary.

Adoption agencies and other organisations

  1. 15.96 The Commission has heard that the ongoing role of approved agencies is constrained and although some agencies try to support families post-adoption, their funding for this purpose is limited.
  2. 15.97 Effective funding would ensure that adoption agencies have a continuing role post-adoption to provide support and advice to families and continue to facilitate the terms of an adoption plan, or conditions under an adoption order. Not all families will require this assistance but it should be available if required.
  3. 15.98 The Secretary or principal officer should be required to provide assistance to people who are negotiating an adoption plan, and post-adoption support when families need assistance to comply with or vary the terms of the plan, including facilitating contact arrangements. This practical support should be available to families on an ongoing basis.

Specialist services

  1. 15.99 The lack of appropriate and specialist services for people affected by adoption in Victoria is clear. The Commonwealth funds services for people affected by forced adoption. This funding is not available to people affected by adoption under a system of open adoption.
  2. 15.100 The Commission considers that it is the responsibility of the State Government to establish and maintain, as relevant, appropriate services, and link families with those services as required. Effective service provision requires a clear entry point and pathway for all eligible people, and requires access to a wide range of services that respond to their particular needs.
  3. 15.101 The Commission has heard many suggestions about how services should be provided, including suggestions that there be an independent body that provides adoption services as a ‘one-stop-shop’. There is merit in an independent body providing adoption services in this manner. However, the way services are provided is ultimately a decision for the Secretary.
  4. 15.102 The Commission considers that there should be a wide range of services available to people affected by adoption. Services should include, but not be limited to, professional support such as specialist counselling and other therapeutic support, access to mainstream services such as health providers, and peer support groups.
  5. 15.103 Eligible people should be able to access services prior to the making of an adoption order or after adoption, regardless of when an adoption order was made.

Mediation services

  1. 15.104 If conflict has arisen which affects the operation of an adoption plan and an approved adoption agency is unable to facilitate resolution of a dispute, all eligible people should be able to access a mediation service funded by the Secretary.
  2. 15.105 For this purpose, the Commission considers that a mediation process will provide a safe, flexible and effective forum to assist families when contact arrangements, information exchange or an adoption plan breaks down.
  3. 15.106 An attempt to hold a mediation should be a prerequisite to any application to the court post-adoption to vary or revoke the terms of an adoption plan or conditions in an adoption order made under the 1984 Act. The Commission makes recommendations about the court process in Chapter 14.

 

Data and research

  1. 15.107 Effective adoption support should be evidence-based.
  2. 15.108 Almost all available evidence about the long-term effects of adoption is based on experiences of forced, closed adoption practices.109
  3. 15.109 Available adoption data in Victoria is also limited. The Commission sought detailed data from DHHS in relation to adoption numbers, practices and services. Unfortunately, the data ultimately provided was inconsistent and unclear and the Commission was not able to rely on it.
  4. 15.110 Reported data is currently limited to the data required to inform the AIHW annual adoption report. However, the AIHW also acknowledges the current limitations on its reporting on adoption disruption and the success of open adoption in Australia. It is not known how adopted persons and their adoptive families fare after an adoption is finalised.110 The lack of data and research on adoption outcomes means that the long-term outcomes of open adoption are largely unknown. Consideration should be given to undertaking longitudinal research into the effects of open adoption on children.
  5. 15.111 To support the operation of the Adoption Act and to enable effective provision of adoption services, data collection should be designed to assist the Secretary to understand how the services are being provided and enable evaluation on whether they meet the needs of children and other clients. It is essential for this information to be collected accurately, as it should provide an evidence base to improve policy and performance in this area.
  6. 15.112 The Commission recommends that the Secretary maintain comprehensive statewide data on the operation and delivery of adoption services, including support and mediation services. This data should be reported annually.

Recommendations

  1. 71 The Adoption Act and Adoption Regulations should extend the power of the Secretary to provide grants of financial assistance to adopted children and adults, natural parents, adoptive parents, parties to an adoption plan, natural relatives and natural children of adopted people.
  2. a. Eligible people should be able to apply for financial assistance either prior to, or at any time after, the making of an adoption order.
  3. b. Any decision of the Secretary should be in writing with detailed reasons and subject to internal review.
  4. c. The Adoption Act should allow a person whose interests are affected by a decision of the Secretary to apply to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for review.

 

  1. 72 The Adoption Act should require the Secretary to establish and maintain adoption and post-adoption support services. These services should be accessible to adopted children and adults, natural parents, adoptive parents, parties to an adoption plan, natural relatives and natural children of adopted people. The Secretary should:
  2. a. establish and maintain, as relevant, adoption services, including:
  3. i. adoption support services provided by approved adoption agencies and other appropriate organisations
  4. ii. specialised adoption support services (including specialist counselling, psychological services, psychiatric services)
  5. b. develop a specialist mediation service to assist families in negotiating conflict in relation to any adoption arrangements
  6. c. maintain, and report annually, comprehensive, reliable, consistent statewide data on the operation and delivery of adoption services, including support and mediation services.

 

Footnotes

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