Intercountry adoption in Australia

Intercountry adoption refers to the adoption of children from countries other than Australia through one of Australia’s official adoption programs. These children are legally able to be placed for adoption, but generally have had no previous contact or relationship with their adoptive parent(s). The diagram below presents a simplified overview of the intercountry adoptions process in Australia.

Figure 1: Overview of the intercountry adoption process in Australia

The flow chart shows the process for intercountry adoptions by an Australian applicant. The flow chart starts at the initial enquiry about adopting a child from overseas and progresses as a single process through to finalisation of adoption, where finalisation is required. This process may vary slightly between jurisdictions.

Note: Intercountry adoptions may be finalised in various ways, depending on the type of adoption. Processes might vary between jurisdictions.

Changes in overseas domestic adoption practices, and social factors such as the degree of acceptance of single motherhood or falling fertility rates in countries of origin, can affect the number and characteristics of children for whom intercountry adoption is considered appropriate. As traditional countries of origin improve in areas of economic and social development, options for domestic care also improve, and fewer children need intercountry adoption. This can result in more stringent eligibility criteria or further program restrictions for adopting young children, and an increasing proportion of those in need of intercountry adoption being children with complex backgrounds, health issues or impairments.

Directly influenced by the countries with which Australia has an adoption program, the majority of intercountry adoptions in Australia have consistently been from Asian countries of origin. Variations in the intercountry programs, including restrictions on these programs by either Australian authorities or authorities in the country of origin, contribute to changes in intercountry adoption trends.

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Adoptions in Hague countries

Australia has been a party to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (the Hague Convention) since December 1998. The Hague Convention establishes:

  • Uniform standards and procedures between countries, including legally binding standards and safeguards;
  • A system of supervision to ensure set standards and procedures are observed;
  • Channels of communication between authorities in countries of origin and countries of destination for children being adopted; and,
  • Principles that focus on the need for intercountry adoptions to occur only where it is in the best interest of the child with respect to their fundamental rights, and to prevent abduction, sale, or traffic of children.

Not all of the countries with which Australia has an adoption program are parties to the Hague Convention. However, programs are established only where Australia can be satisfied that the principles of the Hague Convention are being met, regardless of whether the country is a signatory. In this context, bilateral arrangements exist with South Korea and Taiwan, which have not currently ratified the Hague Convention.

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Processing times

Several factors outside of the control of Australian authorities can affect processing times, including the number and characteristics of children in need of intercountry adoption, the number of applications received, and the resources of the overseas authority. For example, Australia’s partner countries generally have more applications from prospective adoptive parents willing to parent healthy younger children and infants than there are such children in need of adoption.

In contrast, a growing proportion of children in need of intercountry adoption are considered to have special needs and more complex care requirements. Targeted programs in countries of origin can assist with matching eligible prospective adoptive parents with these children and potentially reduce processing times.

It is also possible that some Australian applicants have their application in a country for a number of years with no outcome, and may change their application to an adoption program in another country of origin before they are successfully matched with a child

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Adoption of children with special needs

Special needs in the Australian adoptions context is defined as the level of resources or support services required by the adoptee and/or their adoptive family to foster healthy development and wellbeing, and to support positive family functioning and prevent adoption disruption. Special needs is examined through a continuum of level of need that is broken down into the following categories: no additional care needs, minor additional care needs, and moderate to substantial additional care needs. Children with special needs represent a growing proportion of children for whom intercountry adoptions is deemed appropriate and the adoption process can be more difficult due to the need to find families who can care for the child’s specific needs.

Data on children with special needs are available for the first time in the Adoptions Australia report series using information on intercountry adoptees who were placed with their adoptive families in 2017–18. These data exclude Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory for which data were not available.

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See the source data tables for further information and footnotes about these data.

Explanatory notes

Age is calculated from date of birth, in completed years. For intercountry adoptions, it is the age at which the child was placed with the adoptive family.

Only countries of origin with which Australia had an active adoption program since 2011–12 are presented. As at June 2019, Australia had an active intercountry adoption program with 13 countries: Bulgaria, Chile, China, Colombia, Hong Kong, Latvia, Philippines, Poland, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand.

Since 1998, adoptions where the Hague Convention had not entered into force in the adoptive child’s country of origin before the file of the prospective parent(s) was sent were referred to as ‘non-Hague’ adoptions for national reporting purposes. Commencing 2017–18, the term ‘bilateral’ is used to refer to such adoptions.

The median length of time calculated for intercountry adoption processing times is reported in whole months. It is not suitable to calculate the median length of time for countries of origin with less than 4 placements.