Thinking about adoption?
Find out about what it means to be an adoptive parent and how to apply
Adoption is a service that provides a family for a child who is unable, for a range of reasons, to live with their birth parents. It is a permanent legal arrangement (finalised by an Adoption Order from the Family Court of Western Australia, or an overseas Order recognised by the Family Court) that cuts a child’s legal ties with their birth family. Full parental rights and responsibilities are given to the adoptive family. This means the birth parents no longer have legal rights over the child, and cannot claim back the child. The child becomes a full member of the adoptive family. This includes taking their surname and assuming the same rights and privileges as if born to them, including the right of inheritance.
Adoptions, including the adoption of children from overseas, are arranged within a highly regulated framework. The Adoption Act 1994 which guides the provision of adoption services in Western Australia is based upon the central principle of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child - that the best interests of the child are paramount. The Act also gives effect to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in respect to Intercountry Adoption. In Western Australia, the Department of Communities (the Department) is the only agency allowed to arrange adoptions.
The undesirable consequences of past adoption practices, which were shrouded in secrecy, have led to changes in adoption law both nationally and internationally. West Australian legislation endorses 'open adoption' which recognises a child's birth parentage and cultural origins and promotes contact between the parties to adoption is encouraged where this is possible and appropriate.
Due to changing social and economic conditions, the number of children in need of adoption both locally and from overseas has diminished in recent years. On average there are five to eight adoptions of locally-born children and between six and 10 intercountry adoptions in Western Australia each year. Increasingly, the children being offered for adoption have varying degrees of special needs. For these reasons, the Department is encouraging prospective adoptive parents to consider alternate ways of opening their homes and their hearts to children who cannot be raised by their parents. See Permanent Care – Foster Care and Special Guardianship.
- Am I eligible to adopt a child?
- Why are there age limits for prospective adoptive parents and what are they?
- Are there any circumstances where age limits don't apply?
- What do I have to do to adopt a child?
- Do I have to choose between local and intercountry adoption?
- Who decides if applicants are suitable to be adoptive parents?
- I have been approved to adopt; can I foster while I wait?
- If I have been approved, will a child be placed with me and how long will it take?
- Will waiting times affect our eligibility to have a child placed with us for adoption?
- What happens once a child is placed with an approved adoptive family? Is the adoption finalised at the time of placement?
- With adoptions from overseas, how do we know that the children have not been sold?
- What are the costs involved in adopting a child?
- Do birth parents and other relatives have any contact with the child after adoption?
- Can I change my adopted child’s first name?
- What about adoption by step-parents?
- I am a foster carer; can I adopt the child in my care?
- Can a relative adopt a child?
- Does Adoption Services have any involvement in adult adoptions?
- Can I adopt a relative orphan from overseas?
- What about surrogacy and adoption? Is it possible?
- What about the adoption of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children?
1. Am I eligible to adopt a child?
The criteria to apply to adopt a child in Western Australia:
- Applicant must be over 18 years.
- If in a marriage or de facto relationship, the relationship must have existed for at least 3 years.
- If applying as a couple at least one person must be an Australian citizen and the other a citizen of a country that gives similar rights to adopted persons.
- Applicant must be a resident and domiciled in Western Australia.
During assessment other criteria are also considered such as:
- Your ability to be physically and mentally able to care for a child until the child turns 18.
- Your willingness to support the child's connection with their birth parents and culture where this is possible and appropriate.
- Your relationship must be stable.
- Your ability to provide a suitable family environment.
- You have not been found guilty of certain offences.
- You are of good repute.
At the time when a child may be placed with you, other criteria also apply, such as:
- Your age.
- Your ability to meet the cultural, ethnic, religious and educational needs of the child.
- The age of children currently in the family.
The following people can also apply to adopt:
- Single people can apply to adopt Australian-born children and children born overseas; however, not many other countries accept single applicants.
- Same sex couples can apply to adopt and have their suitability assessed. Adoption of a local child is possible if the relinquishing parent/s choose the same sex couple to be the new parent for their child. Currently, no overseas countries accept applications from same sex couples.
- People with children: If you already have children, you can still apply to adopt.
2. Why are there age limits for prospective adoptive parents and what are they?
See excerpts from the submission to the Parliamentary Legislative Review Committee on this subject.
- If you are applying to adopt your first child as a couple then the maximum age difference allowed between the child and the youngest of the applicants is 45 years. If you are applying to adopt your first child as a single person then the maximum age difference allowed is 45 years.
- If you have parental responsibility for a child the age limits increase to 50 years between the child and the youngest applicant.
- If you are a single person and have parental responsibility for a child, the age gap between you and the child you wish to adopt cannot be more than 50 years.
Please note: After you have been assessed, the Adoption Applications Committee (AAC) is likely to set a limit to the age of the child for which you will be approved. Many applicants have little parenting experience and are likely to obtain an approval for a child in the age range of birth to four years. However, this is dependent on the applicants’ skills and experience.
The length of time the adoption application and placement processes take vary significantly, for an intercountry adoption, it may average between five to seven years. This time period may affect the likelihood of a child being placed with you, depending on your age at the commencement of the adoption application process.
In Western Australia, birth parents are involved in the selection of adoptive parents for their children and often prefer to have their children adopted by people who are of a similar age to themselves. If you are applying to adopt a child from overseas it is important to be aware that most overseas countries have age limits that are lower than the age limits in the WA adoption legislation.
3. Are there any circumstances where age requirements don't apply?
Age limits do not apply if you intend to adopt a foster child, a child in your long term care or a step child. However in all cases you would need to demonstrate an ability to remain in good health to provide care until the child reaches 18 years.
4. What do I have to do to adopt a child?
After an initial inquiry, people interested in adopting must undertake the following process:
- attend a general information session
- then attend two or three education sessions (depending on whether it is an intercountry or local adoption
- lodge an Expression of Interest
- lodge a Formal Application
The Department will undertake all relevant criminal records and other checks to ensure that the applicant/s meet all eligibility criteria.
5. Do I have to choose between local and intercountry adoption?
When you apply you can indicate a preference for both intercountry and local adoption, or for either intercountry or local adoption. If you wish to be approved for intercountry adoption you will also need to specify a preference for which country your file is sent to.
The approved register of applicants does not operate as a ‘waiting list’ as it is not the length of time since a family was approved to adopt which determines whether they are chosen as adoptive parents for a particular child..
6. Who decides if applicants are suitable to be adoptive parents?
After attendance at the Assessment Seminar, you will be required to take part in an intensive assessment process should you choose to continue. An assessor with qualifications in Social Work or Psychology is contracted by the Department and will interview you a number of times in your home and will prepare a detailed assessment report with a recommendation as to your suitability to be adoptive parents. The assessor will discuss the assessment report and the recommendation with you when it is finished.
Your assessment report will then be presented to and considered by the AAC and a decision will be made about your suitability. There are occasions when the AAC requires further information from the applicant and/or the assessor before a final decision can be made. The AAC does not have responsibility for allocating or placing children with applicants.
The AAC is comprised of both officers from the Department and independent people who have significant experience and knowledge in areas relevant to the long-term placement of children.
7. I have been approved to adopt; can I foster while I wait?
You may wish to provide respite care for a child or children who are already in the care of the Department during this time. This may be a “one-off” or a regular weekend or other commitment to the same child/children.
Alternatively you may wish to consider providing long term foster care to a child or children, but once a child is placed with you for long term care an assessment will be required to ensure it is appropriate to also place another child with you at that time.
8. If I have been approved by the AAC, will a child be placed with me and how long will it take?
There is never a guarantee that a child will be placed with you.
In the majority of cases, the birth parent/s of a local child will select the adoptive parents themselves from a number of profiles presented to them by the Department. If approved by the AAC, you will be asked to complete a profile if you are considering adoption of a local child. A local birthparent could select you soon after approval or you could wait years in the hope of being chosen.
For those adopting from overseas, from the time you are approved to when you are offered a child for adoption, can take an average of four to seven years. However, these timelines do change according to the number of children in need of adoption from your chosen country and that country's processes and policies.
9. Will waiting times affect our eligibility to have a child placed with us for adoption?
They may do. The age criteria in both the overseas country and Western Australia will impact upon your application.
The Adoption Act 1994 stipulates that for a first adoption there should not be more than 45 years age difference between the younger applicant and the child at the time of placement. The maximum age difference is 50 years for people who have already a child in their care. Most birth parents of locally born children and the authorities in overseas countries prefer adoptive parents under about 45 years.
For overseas adoption the process currently takes about four to seven years to adopt a child under the age of two years. It is therefore advisable for the applicants to be no older than 40 years at the time of the first inquiry with the Department.
10. What happens once a child is placed with an approved adoptive family? Is the adoption finalised at the time of placement?
No, the adoption is not finalised until at least six months after the child is placed with the adoptive family. During this time the child is under the guardianship of the Director General and the placement is supported and supervised by officers from the Department. In country areas, staff from the local Department office may be responsible for this. A report on the placement is considered by the Western Australian Family Court in their determination of the Adoption Order.
The only exceptions to this are adoptions from China. These adoptions are finalised in China, although there is still supervision of the placement once the child and their new family return to Australia.
If the placement of any adoptive child has not been successful then there is a possibility that the child may be taken into regular Department care and come under the guardianship of the Director General. Local children are under the guardianship of the Director General until the adoption order is made.
11. With adoptions from overseas, how do we know that the children have not been sold?
The Department only deals with countries that have signed the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoptions or with whom we have other agreements to safeguard children.
There are a limited number of countries that have signed the agreements and that have children available for adoption. Many children in the developing world are not legally available for adoption, although they may be separated from their parents. The demand for adoptable children by receiving countries who are signatories to the Hague Convention, such as Australia, is greater than the number of children sending countries can provide.
It is unethical for a receiving country to put pressure on a sending country to place additional children. Receiving countries must not contribute to 'creating a market' that encourages child trafficking. This is also why it is very important for adoptions to be well regulated and to be arranged through approved regulatory bodies.
12. What are the costs involved in adopting a child?
The administrative and legal costs relating to a local adoption in Western Australia are around $2,000.
The cost of adopting a child from overseas may range from $6,000 to $25,000. Overseas costs include administrative and legal as well as other expenses relating to overseas travel and accommodation. There is an assessment fee associated with intercountry adoption applications. Currently the assessment fee is $986. Only a minor part of the costs relating to an overseas adoption are associated with Department or government charges.
13. Do birth parents and other relatives have any contact with the child after adoption?
Yes, contact is considered on an individual basis according to the child's best interests. It can vary from an occasional exchange of information with no contact, to a regular flow of information and frequent contact. These arrangements are set out in an Adoption Plan which is drawn up at the time of placement between at least one of the birth parents and the adoptive parents. The Adoption Plan needs to be approved by the Family Court of Western Australia and there are heavy penalties for breaching this agreement. The Plan can be changed by agreement as the needs of the child change with approval by the Family Court.
14. Can I change my adopted child’s first name?
Choosing a name for your child is very personal, with parents’ feelings, fashion, tradition and family values affecting that choice. When naming an adopted child, the same influences exist together with issues of culture, birth parents’ wishes and the age of the child.
Today we embrace the concept of open adoption as this has been found to be in the best interests of the child. The child’s first name is an important symbol of their past and therefore is a very significant part of their identity. This is recognised in the United Nations Convention on The Rights of the Child.
Even for an overseas child, who may have been named by a foster carer or an institution, it still remains an important link to their heritage and may be used in many years to come as a way of making contact with the adoptee. For these reasons, the Adoption Act 1994 has a requirement that the child’s first name should be included in the name by which the child is to be known.
15. What about adoption by step-parents?
You are a step-family if you or your partner has a child by a previous relationship who lives with you. There are a number of ways in which you can legally formalise the relationship between the child and the step-parent. One of these options is adoption. Please refer to The Step-Parent Adoption Information Guide for information about the effects of a step-parent adoption, the alternatives to adoption, the criteria to apply, and the steps involved in the process. Please consider your options carefully; a decision to permanently sever the legal ties between a child and their birth parent is a serious one. Adoption may or may not be the most suitable option for your family. For example, it may be more appropriate to seek an alternative to adoption or to pursue the adoption once the child has turned 18 through adult adoption. If you are interested in pursuing step-parent adoption please contact Family Information and Adoption Services for further information.
16. I am a foster carer; can I apply to adopt the child in my care?
Yes, if the child has lived with you and you have cared for the child for at least two consecutive years at the time of applying to adopt. Carer adoption is one option available to create a stable home for life for children. This is in line with the Departments permanency planning policy. Before making an application to the Family Court of Western Australia for an adoption order, the Chief Executive Officer of this department needs to approve the placement of the child with you with a view to adoption. An adoption order will only be made by the court if it is satisfied that adoption is preferable to other orders the courts are able to make. For further information please contact Adoption Services.
17. Can a relative apply to adopt a child?
It is possible in some circumstances for a relative to adopt a child. A relative is defined as grandparent, sibling or uncle or aunt of the person to be adopted. Before an application for an adoption order can be made to the Family Court of Western Australia, the Chief Executive Officer of this department must approve the placement of the child, for the purpose of adoption. An adoption order will only be made by the court if it is satisfied that adoption is preferable to other orders, (for example a parenting order) the courts are able to make, and it is also satisfied that there are good reasons to redefine relationships within the child’s family in the way that an adoption order would do. For further information please contact Adoption Services.
Unless the child to be adopted is in Australia and is a permanent resident adoption by a relative is not possible (Section 65 Adoption Act 1994). For further information please contact Adoption Services.
18. Does Adoption Services have any involvement in adult adoptions?
Family Information & Adoption Services has limited involvement in adult adoption; that is the adoption of an adult by a person who was their carer or step-parent immediately before they became 18 years of age. If you wish to enquire about adult adoption, information is available via the Family Court of Western Australia or on their website. You will also need to contact Family Information & Adoption Services if you decide to proceed.
19. Can I adopt a relative orphan from overseas?
If you wish to care for a relative orphan from overseas, you need to apply with the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs for child migration under the "Orphan Relative" category.
20. What about surrogacy and adoption? Is it possible?
The Adoption Act sees no link between surrogacy and adoption. The principle behind surrogacy is to provide a child for those unable to have their own. The principle behind adoption is to provide a new family for a child who cannot be raised by their birth family. Legislation about surrogacy is contained in the Surrogacy Act 2008; Surrogacy Regulations 2009; Surrogacy Directions 2009 and the Family Court (Surrogacy) Rules 2009. In WA the Department of Health has responsibility for surrogacy and assisted reproductive technology matters.
21. What about the adoption of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children?
After careful consideration, some Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander birth parents choose adoption as the best option for their child. Whilst the adoption legislation provides a guideline of placement options and the priority they should be given, like all other local adoptions consideration is given to the wishes of the relinquishing birth parents.
Further information is available from Adoption Services:
5 Newman Court
Fremantle WA 6160
Locked Bag 5000
Fremantle WA 6959
Telephone: 1800 182 178
Fax: (08) 9385 1920