Adoption numbers continue upward trend

Adoption numbers declined 50% over the past 25 years—from 668 in 1995–96 to 334 in 2019–20. However, since the low for the period of 278 adoptions in 2015–16, there has been a rise of 20%. This increase is due to a 65% increase in known child adoptions from 2015–16 to 2019–20, which can be attributed to a higher number of adoptions by known carers, such as foster parents, in New South Wales.

Known child adoption made up three-quarters of all adoptions

While other types of adoption have declined, ‘known child’ adoption—where the child is already known to the adoptive parent(s)—increased over the past decade from 124 in 2010–11 to 249 in 2019–20. These adoptions comprised 75% of all finalised adoptions in 2019–20, with adoption by carers, such as foster parents, the most common (69% of all known child adoption).

Local and intercountry adoptees were younger than known child adoptees

Adoption of Australian children not known to their adoptive parent(s) are called ‘local’ adoptions. In 2019–20, 48 local adoptions were finalised, representing 14% of all adoptions. A further 37 adoptions of children from countries with which Australia had an official adoption program, referred to in this report as ‘intercountry’ adoptions, were also finalised.

Nearly all (98%) of local adoptees and 67% of intercountry adoptees were aged under 5. By comparison, just over 1 in 5 known child adoptees (22%) were aged under 5.

Three-quarters of adoptions of Indigenous children were by adoptive parents who already knew the child

In 2019–20, 12 Indigenous children were adopted—9 Indigenous children were adopted through known child adoption and 3 Indigenous children were adopted through local adoption. This was the highest number of finalised adoptions of Indigenous children in the last 25 years (equal to the number recorded in 2018–19).

Over the 25–year period from 1995–96 to 2019–20, a total of 126 Indigenous children were adopted. Over this period, two in five (39%) Indigenous children were adopted by Indigenous Australians and nearly three in five (57%) were adopted through known child adoptions.

Intercountry adoptions took just under 3 years to process

For intercountry adoption, the median length of time from when an adoptive parent became an official client of an Australian state or territory department responsible for adoption, to when a child was placed for adoption had been increasing since 2007–08 (when data were first reported). The median processing time peaked at 5 years and 4 months in 2014–15, but then fell to less than 3 years since 2016–17. The median time in 2019–20 was 2 years and 9 months.  

The median length of time from when applicants became official clients of the department to when a child was placed with them varied considerably across countries. For example, placements from South Korea had a median time of 26 months, while the median time was just under 4 years (46 months) for Thailand.

Nearly all intercountry adoptions were from Asian countries

In 2019–20, 97% of finalised intercountry adoptions were for adoptees from Asian countries.

The most common countries of origin were Taiwan, comprising just over two-fifths (43%) of all intercountry adoptions, followed by South Korea (22%). 

The main country of origin for intercountry adoption has changed over time. Between 2006–07 and 2010–11, the main country of origin was either China or the Philippines; from 2011–12 to 2019–20, it has shifted between South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines.

Twelve months after entering Australia, the proportion of intercountry adoption placements with moderate to substantial additional care needs decreased

Level of need of intercountry adoptees refers to the level of resources or support services required by the adopted child and/or their adoptive family to foster healthy development and wellbeing, support positive family functioning and prevent adoption disruption. Level of need is a continuum from ‘no additional care needs’ in comparison to an average Australian family with non-adopted children, to ‘moderate to substantial additional care needs’.

At the time adoptees were allocated, 44% of the intercountry adoption placements that occurred in 2018–19 were considered to have ‘moderate to substantial additional care needs’. Twelve months after the adoptees had entered Australia, this proportion decreased to 22%, with 47% considered to involve ‘minor additional care needs’ by this point in time.