Local adoption in Australia

Local adoption refers to the adoption of children born or permanently residing in Australia before the adoption who are legally able to be placed for adoption, but generally have had no previous contact or relationship with the adoptive parent(s).

The diagram below presents a simplified overview of the local adoptions process in Australia.

Figure 2: Overview of the local adoption process in Australia

The flow chart broadly shows the process for local adoptions by an Australian applicant. The flow chart starts at the initial enquiry from prospective parent(s) about adopting a child from within Australia and progresses as a single process through to ongoing service provision to support post-adoption contact between birth and adoptive families. This process may vary slightly between jurisdictions.

Note: The number and order of the steps may vary between jurisdictions.

A complex interplay of social, economic and legislative factors influence the number of children in need of adopting and the characteristics of families seeking to adopt. These include:

  • increased acceptance and financial support for unwed mothers,
  • a reduction in the stigma around illegitimacy,
  • the end of forced adoption practices in Australia,
  • the increasing labour force participation of women,
  • improved contraception and legalised abortion, and
  • the postponing of having children and reproductive innovations.

In general, children adopted through local adoption tend to be younger than those adopted through intercountry or known child adoptions.

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Since the 1980s, Australian adoption laws that govern the way information about an adoption can be accessed have undergone substantial changes. The secrecy that surrounded past adoption practices in Australia has largely given way to a system predominantly focused on the needs of the child and characterised by the open exchange of information. Access to the adopted child by parties to an adoption (referred to as an ‘open’ adoption) is facilitated in all states and territories, although the degree to which this occurs varies across the jurisdictions.

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Birth mothers and access to information

In general, compared to all Australian mothers giving birth in a given year, mothers of children who are adopted tend to be younger and unmarried when the child was born. The marital status of these mothers is likely to be influenced by age, and patterns of decreasing registered marriages and increasing de facto relationships in the general population.

Consent from both parents is generally required for an adoption order to be granted. However, a court may declare that the consent of a parent is not required. Grounds for dispensation applications are under individual state and territory legislation. In some jurisdictions, where the father’s identity is unknown, his consent is not required and so it is not necessary to dispense with his consent.

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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 local adoptions, it is the age at which the child was placed with the adoptive family.

The mother’s age is her age in completed years at the date of birth of the child.

Where the data indicate ‘Mother only’ or ‘Father only’, the other parent’s consent was either dispensed with or not required. Where the data indicate ‘dispensations’, both parents’ consent was either dispensed with or not required.