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Intercountry adoption processing times have risen to over four and a half years on average, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Adoptions Australia 2011-12, shows that the average time from the approval of an applicant to the placement of a child rose from 37 months in 2007-08 to 56 months in 2011-12.

'This rise can be attributed to the increased time taken by countries of origin to allocate children after receiving files from Australia-up from 19 months in 2007-08 to 30 months in 2011-12,' said AIHW spokesperson Tim Beard.

'Processing times are affected by factors such as the number and characteristics of children in need of adoption, the number of applications received and the resources of the overseas authority.'

'These are all factors outside the control of Australian authorities. Australian Central Authorities have maintained or improved the time taken to complete the aspects of intercountry adoption they are responsible for.'

This is the first time processing times have been reported in this series of reports.

There were 333 finalised adoptions in 2011­­­-12. This is the lowest annual number on record-a 13% fall from the previous year's low of 384 and a 78% decline from the 1,494 adoptions 25 years earlier in 1987-88.

The number of Australian children adopted fell by 84% from 1987-88 to 2011-12, while the number of intercountry adoptions fell by 52% over the same period.

The long-term fall in numbers can be attributed to legislative changes such as a greater use of alternative legal orders, as well as broader social trends and changing social attitudes.

'In 2011-12, for the first time since 1998-99, there were more finalised adoptions of Australian children than children from overseas (184 and 149 respectively),' Mr Beard said.

This was partly due to a 10-year high in adoptions of Australian by 'known' carers, such as foster parents. There were 70 adoptions of this type finalised in 2011-12-more than double the 29 adoptions of this type in 2002-03.

Among local adoptions, the median age of birth mothers was 9 years younger than for all Australian mothers giving birth in 2010. In 95% of local adoptions finalised in 2011-12 all parties agreed to contact between the adoptive and birth families.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Canberra, 14 December 2012

Further information: Mr Tim Beard, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1270, mob. 0418 271 395

Full report: Adoptions Australia 2011-12