Foster Care Numbers Increase as Adoption Decreases

CEO Social Justice Blog

There has been a huge decline in the numbers of adopted children in Australia since I began my career in social welfare back in the early 1970’s.  In those days there were approx. 10,000 adoptions per year but numbers have fallen steadily over the years to about 300 per annum, with approx. one third of these being children from overseas.

Reasons for this remarkable decline include:

  • the availability of Government benefits to single parents;
  • abortion;
  • community acceptance of unwed mothers;
  • increasingly negative attitudes to adoption amongst young people and child welfare professionals;
  • and disturbing reports about forced adoptions back in the 1950-70’s.

However during this period the numbers of children in foster care have gone through the roof (currently about 40,000). The outcomes for children growing up in adoptive families are significantly better than those in our Out of Home Care (OOHC) system.  I wonder why some social workers are so negative about adoption. After all we have moved away from the secrecy of former times when birth mothers had no ongoing contact with their child or adoptive parents.These days adoptions are ‘open’ and birth mothers can even have a say in the selection of appropriate adoptive parents for the child they are unable to care for.

At Samaritans our top priority is to support families in the difficult task of raising their own children and there can be few decisions in life as difficult as surrendering your child to the care of someone else.

However there are 40,000 children in Australia living in foster care.  All children need to grow up in a loving stable environment where they can develop a sense of belonging, permanence in relationships and security. For some children where there is little hope of permanent family restoration this could mean open adoption.

In the UK adoption from OOHC is 14 times higher than here and in the USA it is 48 times higher. According to a recent report the U.S. rate is the equivalent of 5000 children in Australia.

In formulating child welfare policy about OOHC, yes we should learn from the mistakes of the forced adoption era but we should try to work for outcomes which are in the best interests of the child. So try to imagine being a three year old child living in a family struggling with severe mental illness, violence, addictions, social isolation with no extended family. Child protection people are about to intervene. If your birth parents are unlikely to ever be in a position to provide minimum levels of care and protection for you, would you prefer permanent placement with a loving family in open adoption or the more time limited practice of foster care or residential care which keeps open the possibility of family restoration one day.