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Monday, 26 November 2018
Page: 11290


Ms BANKS (Chisholm) (10:08): On behalf of the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, I present the committee's report, incorporating a dissenting report, entitled Breaking barriers: a national adoption framework for Australian children, together with the minutes of proceedings.

November is National Adoption Awareness Month, and today I am delighted to present the report of the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, Breaking barriers: a national adoption framework for Australian children. In doing so, I would first like to acknowledge former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's heartfelt support for this inquiry on the basis that all Australian children deserve love and stability and that a national approach could address and break down the barriers.

I'd also like to reaffirm the committee's resolve to ensure a forward-looking approach to adoption and assurance that the past practices of forced adoption are never to be repeated. A forward-looking approach means that the best interests and safety of the child must be absolutely paramount considerations when making any decision about their adoption. Nothing is more important than providing children with safe, secure and nurturing homes.

There are over 47,000 children in Australia living in out-of-home care. While many are with relatives or kin, there are far too many who are stuck in long-term foster care or residential care. The system is trapping many of these children into an unhealthy cycle. One of the biggest problems facing children in out-of-home care is the lack of permanency. Children are likely to bounce around the system from carer to carer, in some cases experiencing over 10 placements. We know that these children have poorer outcomes. They face constant change and instability on top of the trauma that led them to out-of-home care in the first place. This is a national issue that needs a national solution. It's time we gave these children a better option.

The report is about breaking the barriers that are preventing vulnerable children from enjoying the safety, security and wellbeing that a permanent adoptive family can provide. Currently, there are very few adoptions in Australia. Less than 250 Australian children were adopted last year, and we have one of the lowest adoption rates in the world. We know that inconsistent adoption laws in states and territories are a barrier to adoption. There are different rules for consent, different rules for reunification with families, different time frames for how long children must wait for a permanent home and different rules for adoption from foster care. The committee has therefore recommended a national law for adoption.

This will improve complexity and improve consistency. It also means children won't have to wait longer for permanent families, no matter where they live. Importantly, we recommend the national law for adoption, where suitable, provides for open adoption. Open adoption is different from the closed adoptions in the past. Closed adoptions were shrouded in secrecy. Adopted children's original birth certificates were sealed. Amended birth certificates were issued that established the child's new identity and relationship with their adoptive family as if their original family did not exist. The practice was strongly condemned in many submissions and considered a barrier to adoption.

Open adoption is different. There is no secrecy and no loss of identity. Children do not lose; they stand only to gain. Open adoption means that children remain connected to their birth family, their culture and their identity. It can provide a profound sense of belonging and safety. It can stop the merry-go-round of foster carers and give children permanent families not just for childhood but for life. We've also recommended the use of integrated birth certificates, which include the details of the children's birth parents and adoptive parents. Integrated birth certificates state the facts; they do not conceal or deny the past.

The committee has made other recommendations to improve adoption processes. The committee has recommended child-centric time frames for making decisions about permanent care so that children do not have to wait any longer than necessary. We also recommend streamlining processes to make adoption easier and so data collection can be improved.

Childhood is fleeting. Every child deserves a safe, happy childhood providing them with the best possible foundations for the future. Removing the barriers to adoption can only be a positive move. We know that adoption will not suit all children who are in out-of-home care; however, there are many who will never be able to return to their birth families. It is these children that need to be given a profound sense of place. We need to give them permanent stable homes. We need to give them permanent stable families. We need to give them and their families legal permanency and we need to break the barriers standing between these Australian children and a brighter future.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed to this inquiry. We valued immensely your participation and hope our work can help achieve better outcomes for all Australian children, who deserve love and stability. I commend the report to the House.