Adoption is one of the options used to provide permanent care for children who are unable to live with their families. The adoption process establishes a permanent, legal parent-child relationship between a child and their adoptive parent(s).
In Australia, adoption aims to provide a safe, nurturing and permanent family for children and young people. Adoption is a service for the child or young person, and decisions about an adoption are made with their best interests as the primary consideration.
The form of adoption practiced in Australia is referred to as ‘plenary open adoption’, where the legal relationship between the child and their parent(s) are severed to create a new legal relationship with the adoptive family. For adoptive parent(s), the legal rights of the adopted child become the same as they would if the child were born to them.
There are three categories of adoption used in national reporting:
- Intercountry adoption, where children from overseas are legally able to be placed for adoption, but generally have had no previous contact or relationship with the adoptive parent(s). These adoptions occur through Australia’s official adoption programs with partner countries and are referred to as either ‘Hague’ or ‘bilateral’, depending on whether the Hague Convention had entered into force in the partner country at the time a file of an applicant(s) was sent.
- Local adoption of children born or permanently living in Australia who are legally able to be placed for adoption, but generally have had no previous contact or relationship with the adoptive parent(s).
- Known child adoption of children born or permanently living in Australia who have a pre-existing relationship with the adoptive parent(s) and are generally not able to be adopted by anyone other than the adoptive parent(s). These include step-parent, other relative, and carer adoptions.
Each state and territory government in Australia has its own legislation, policies and practices around adoption. They undertake responsibilities including the processing of adoption applications and approving prospective adoptive parent(s). The Department of Social Service, as the Commonwealth Central Authority under the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, is responsible for establishing and managing Australia’s intercountry adoption arrangements.
See links and other information for more information on adopting a child.
There were 208 adoptions finalised in Australia in 2021–22, a 34% decrease from the 315 adoptions finalised in 2016–17
Following the peak of known child adoptions in 2019–20, numbers decreased 35% from 249 to 161 in 2021–22
Overseas adoptions declined from 37 in 2019–20 to 16 in 2021–22, a decrease of 57%
In 1971–72, almost 10,000 children were adopted in Australia in what has been known as the forced adoption era
Compared to the peak of overseas adoptions in 2004–05, adoption numbers in 2021–22 have declined by 96% from 434 to 16
After open adoption legislation was introduced in the 1980s and 1990s, domestic adoption numbers fell substantially