334 children adopted in Australia during 2019-20, mostly by long-term carers or step-parents

The number of adoptions in Australia increased by 20% between 2015­–16 and 2019–20 as more children were adopted by long-term carers or other adults already known to them, according to a new report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Adoptions Australia 2019-20, shows there were 334 adoptions finalised in 2019–20, including 249 ‘known child adoptions’ where children had pre-existing relationships with their adoptive parents.

‘The number of children adopted by Australians declined 50% over the past 25 years—from 668 in 1995–96 to 334 in 2019–20. However, since a low of 278 adoptions in 2015–16, there has been a rise of 20%,’ said AIHW spokesperson Mr. Dinesh Indraharan.

Known child adoptions

The majority of known child adoptions are by long-term carers or step-parents.

Since 2015-16, there has been a 65% increase in known child adoptions, which can be attributed to a higher number of adoptions by carers, such as foster parents, in New South Wales.’

‘Of the 249 known child adoptions in 2019-20, 171 were by carers, with nearly half of these children adopted as part of a sibling group; 71 were by step-parents; and 7 were by relatives or other people,’ Mr. Indraharan said.  

Local adoptions

Local adoptions are adoptions of children born or permanently living in Australia who have generally had no contact or relationship with the adoptive parent(s).

‘There were 48 local adoptions (14% of total adoptions) finalised in Australia in 2019–20. With some fluctuations, the number of local adoptions has gradually fallen from 85 in 2000–01 to 48 in 2019–20,’ Mr. Indraharan said.

‘Nine in 10 (92%) local adoptions were considered ‘open’ adoptions, with all parties agreeing to some form of contact or information exchange between the families involved.’

Intercountry (overseas) adoptions

Intercountry adoptions are adoptions of children from countries other than Australia through one of Australia’s official intercountry adoption programs.

 ‘There were 37 intercountry adoptions (11% of all adoptions) finalised in Australia in 2019–20. Almost all (97%) came from Asian countries—43% from Taiwan, 22% from South Korea, 16% from Thailand, 11% from the Philippines and 5% from Hong Kong,’ Mr. Indraharan  said.

The number of intercountry adoptions rose from 289 in 2000–01 to a high of 434 in 2004–05, but has since fallen for 15 consecutive years to a low of 37 in 2019–20.


Measures put in place as part of government responses to COVID-19 in the first half of 2020 affected domestic and intercountry adoption processes during 2019–20. These measures included travel bans and restrictions, limitations on non-urgent face-to-face work and resource reallocations.

‘Travel restrictions and the impact of the pandemic on visa applications likely contributed to the low number of intercountry adoptions finalised during 2019–20,’ Mr. Indraharan said.

‘It is possible some adoptions that would have otherwise been finalised during the year will appear in national data for subsequent years. However, even without the effects of COVID-19, it is likely intercountry adoption numbers in 2019–20 would have been lower than in 2018–19.’   

Adoptions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

In 2019–20, 12 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were adopted—9 through known child adoption and 3 through local adoption.

‘Of the 12 Indigenous children adopted in 2019–20, 4 were adopted by Indigenous Australians and 8 by non-Indigenous Australians,’ Mr. Indraharan said.

‘Of those adopted by non-Indigenous Australians, 7 were adopted through known child adoptions where the adoptee had a pre-existing relationship with the adoptive parent(s).’

Over the 25-year period from 1995–96 to 2019–20, a total of 126 Indigenous children were adopted: 4 in 5 (81%) were adopted by Indigenous Australians or adoptive parents with whom the child had a pre-existing relationship.

30 years of adoptions reporting

The release of Adoptions Australia 2019-20 marks 30 years since the AIHW’s Adoptions Australia data collection was established.

‘The Adoptions Australia data collection continues to provide valuable insights on domestic and intercountry adoption. The AIHW works with federal, state and territory adoption authorities to manage and improve the Adoptions Australia data collection so that it can inform policymakers, service providers and the public,’ Mr. Indraharan said.

Media enquiries: [email protected]

Previous article Next article