The Victorian Government has asked the Victorian Law Reform Commission to review Victoria’s adoption laws and make recommendations to ensure they meet the needs of the children and families they affect.
The Adoption Act 1984 (Vic) is over 30 years old. Since its enactment there have been significant changes in society’s values and expectations in relation to families.
Adoption is a word that elicits mixed responses. A significant proportion of the population has experienced or been exposed to issues relating to adoption. Many if not most of these experiences were of closed and possibly ‘forced’ adoption. Past adoption practices resulted in significant trauma for many people involved. These practices have been the subject of a number of inquiries, which rightly resulted in apologies by the Commonwealth Parliament and all State and Territory Parliaments. Adoption has also been a positive experience for many Victorian children, adult adopted people and their families.
The Adoption Act was the first adoption legislation in Australia to introduce the principles and practice of open adoption. All adoptions carried out in Victoria since 1984 have been under the open adoption system.
Numbers of adoptions are now at an all-time low. From a high in 1971–72 of almost 10,000 adoptions nationally, only 56 local adoptions were finalised in Australia in 2014–15, of which 24 were in Victoria.
There are some in the adoption community who say adoption is never in the best interests of the children adopted. The Commission has not been asked to examine this question. However, the Commission has been asked to make recommendations to ensure the best interests and rights of the child are the foremost consideration in any decision made under the Adoption Act and the Adoption Regulations 2008 (Vic). This paper seeks the community’s views about this question.
The Commission will not consider inter-country adoption programs or commercial surrogacy.
These matters are excluded by the terms of reference as they are more appropriately considered at a national level. Adoption by same-sex couples is not a question for this reference. The Adoption Amendment (Adoption by Same-Sex Couples) Act 2015 (Vic) was passed in December 2015 and will be effective on 1 September 2016 (the forced date). Likewise, contact statements are not considered by the review, as they were removed from the Adoption Act by the Adoption Amendment Act
The issues involved will attract a range of views. The Commission encourages anyone with an interest in them to make a written submission to the Commission by 16 September 2016. The method of making a submission is stated on page vii of this consultation paper.
I commend the report to you.
The Hon. P. D. Cummins AM
Chair, Victorian Law Reform Commission