Overview of adoptions

Adoption is a legal process involving the transfer of the rights and responsibilities for the permanent care of a child from the child’s parent(s) to their adoptive parent(s). When an adoption order is granted, the legal relationship between the child and their parent(s) is severed. Any legal rights that existed from birth regarding the parent(s), such as inheritance, are removed. In relation to the adoptive parents, the legal rights of the adopted child become the same as they would be if the child had been born to the adoptive parent(s). A new birth certificate may be issued for the child recording the name(s) of the adoptive parent(s) as the legal parent(s) and, if given, the new name of the child.

A range of factors contribute to changes in the number of children adopted in Australia. Social trends, such as declining fertility rates, the wider availability of effective birth control, increased support for single parents, and the emergence of family planning centres, are likely to influence the number of Australian children (local and known child) in need of adoption. Further, legislation introduced by state and territory departments supporting the use of alternative legal orders, such as third party parental orders that transfer permanent guardianship and custody of a child to a relative or carer other than the child’s parents, can replace the need for adoption.

Factors contributing to the decline in intercountry adoptions include economic and social changes that enable children to remain with their birth family or be adopted in their country of origin. Such changes result in fewer children needing intercountry adoption, and have led to countries of origin working to reduce or manage the number of adoption applications they receive; for example, by introducing more stringent eligibility requirements, or quotas.

The age of an adopted child can be influenced by circumstances related to the type of adoption. For example, the age of children in known child adoptions can be affected by legislative requirements on the length of time a carer needs to have known the child prior to an adoption being considered, or in the case of step-parent adoptions, the additional time involved in forming step-families. The age of children for whom intercountry adoption is considered appropriate can be affected by characteristics of the child and characteristics of the adoption process, such as time taken to determine if intercountry adoption is in the best interests of the child which may include seeking a suitable adoptive family in the child’s country of origin.

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

Explanatory notes

Age is calculated from date of birth, in completed years. For known child adoptions, this is the age when the adoption order for the child was granted. For local and intercountry adoptions, it is the age at which the child was placed with the adoptive family.