Role of the Agencies in Adoptions and Permanent Care Cases

Adoption and permanent care provide a stable and secure family life for children who, for various reasons, cannot live with their birth family.

Roles of Agencies

In Australia, adoption arrangements must be made by authorised agencies. It is not possible for individuals to make private arrangements for adoption in Victoria or any other State in Australia. Prior to 1964, adoption arrangements could be made through professionals (such as doctors, lawyers or ministers of religion), or private individuals. Due to concerns about the buying and selling of children, the need to protect vulnerable individuals, including children, and concern that unauthorised placements offer no protection to the parties involved, the law has changed and now provides that all adoptions, other than those between specified relatives, must be arranged by the Department of Human Services (DHS) or an approved adoption agency.

In Victoria, it is illegal to make a private arrangement to place or care for a child with a view to adoption.

What about intercountry adoption?

With Intercountry adoption, visas for the entry of children to Australia will only be issued if:

  • The adoptive parents have been approved by DHS
  • The child has been allocated to the adoptive parents by an approved agency in the child's country of birth
  • The placement has been approved by DHS prior to allocation being accepted by the family.

These safeguards were introduced to protect children's interests by ensuring the suitability of the adoptive parents and minimising the possibility of baby trafficking, kidnapping of children and coercion of poor families, which have been well documented in a number of overseas countries.

What is involved in giving consent to adoption?

Adoption agencies may be approached by parents considering adoption for their child before or soon after the child is born, or when the child is older. The agency discusses options for caring for the child, including adoption. Written information must be provided and referrals may be made to other services if it is considered that more comprehensive counselling is required. Consent to adoption cannot be given until 16 days after the birth of the child. The consent can be withdrawn within 28 days, and the time for withdrawing consent can be extended by up to 14 days. After consent is given, parents have the opportunity to express in writing their preferences about religion, race and ethnic background of the adoptive parents, and they may also indicate their wishes about exchanging information and having face-to-face access with the child.

Who can apply for adoption and permanent care in Victoria?

The criteria vary depending on the type of child the family is considering. Infant adoption and Intercountry adoption criteria are set out in the Adoption Act 1984, and accompanying Regulations.

Criteria for permanent care parents is set out in the Children and Young Persons Act 1989, and after March 2007, in the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (CYFA), and accompanying Regulations.

The Adoption Act requires that applicants have been married or in a defacto relationship for at least two years duration before an application to adopt can be made. Single applicants can adopt when the court is satisfied that special circumstances exist with relation to the child.

There are no mandatory age requirements, and age is considered as part of the assessment process.

For Intercountry adoption, most overseas countries have eligibility criteria related to age and marital status.

There is a flexible approach to the recruitment of families for children with special needs. Each situation is considered individually and depends on what the family can offer children with special needs.

Education and assessment

Families attend educative groups to assist them in gaining an understanding of the children who need families. They are encouraged to think through aspects of placement and the likely impact on their family. The emphasis is on assisting the family to decide whether placement is right for them.

The family is then visited at home and a range of issues is discussed. Both adoption and permanent care legislation requires that adoptive parents be assessed on the basis of, among other matters, their health, and family relationships, financial circumstances, general stability of character, age and emotional maturity, and ability to provide a secure and nurturing environment until the child is an adult. Applicants are required to undergo a medical examination and a criminal record check. Research has given an indication of potential risk factors and each family is considered individually.

A written assessment report is prepared and considered by an applicant assessment committee. The family have an opportunity to comment on the report and may attend the committee meeting. For overseas adoption, the decision regarding the suitability of the applicants is made by the Manager of the Intercountry Adoption Service. Families who are not approved for adoption may appeal to the manager of the service or the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Following approval, the families become available for the matching/linking of children who require placement. For approved Intercountry applicants, the file is forwarded to an overseas program, where the matching and allocation of a child will take place.

What is the role of the agency after placement?

Adoption and permanent care agencies have guardianship responsibilities for children prior to the granting of a legal order. A legal order is granted after the child is placed. For infant adoption, this is usually 12 months, and for special needs placements it may be up to two years. An adoption and permanent care worker visits the family to provide support and to ensure that the placement is progressing well. With Intercountry adoption, copies of progress reports are forwarded to relevant overseas authorities for at least 12 months after the child arrives in Australia. Once an adoption order is granted or recognised, non-citizen children are eligible for Australian citizenship.

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