Still Damaging and Disturbing: Australian Child Protection Data and the Need for National Adoption Targets
In December 2013, the Abbott government announced plans to make it easier for Australian parents to adopt children both locally and from overseas. Acknowledging the official ‘taboo’ on adoption in Australia, Prime Minister Tony Abbott ordered an inter-departmental committee to recommend ways to take adoption out of the ‘too-hard’ basket.
The chief barrier to raising the number of local adoptions is that state and territory child protection authorities almost never take legal action to free children for adoption, even for children who languish in Australia’s ever-expanding ‘out-of-home’ care (OOHC) system with little prospect of safely returning home.
One way the committee can help break the taboo and increase the number of adoptions is by debunking the fallacies that underpin the policy debate concerning the so-called causes and solutions for the demand problems and cost pressures in Australia’s child protection system.
The bottom line is that increasing numbers of children are still ending up in OOHC despite the additional funding Australian governments have poured into family support/preservation.
Australian child protection policy continues to resemble Einstein’s definition of madness—doing the same thing and expecting a different result. The inter-departmental committee needs to be aware that flawed family preservation policies and practices are the root cause of the systemic problems in the child protection system, lest it be misled by red herrings about the need for higher spending on family support services. Instead, it should recommend the Abbott government direct the states and territories to take more timely statutory action to permanently remove children from unsafe homes and provide them with safe and stable homes by adoption by suitable families.
The Abbott government can provide national leadership and take adoption out of the ‘too-hard’ basket by setting national child protection performance targets, including boosting the number of local adoptions from care to the equivalent of more adoption-friendly countries within the next 10 years.