2011 to 2021: Alternative pathways to family formation

In the 2000s, broader social trends and changing social attitudes reduced the need for adoption as it became easier for both Australian and overseas born children to remain with their birth family and within their country of origin. Legislative changes, such as the increased use of legal orders to adoption, were also introduced to build alternative pathways for children to permanent, stable homes (AIHW 2016). The increased prioritisation of alternative pathways for children to have a safe, stable environment saw a drop of 39% in the number of adoptions from 341 in 2011–12 to 208 in 2021–22.

Australians also continued to opt for methods other than adoption for family formation, such as ART and surrogacy. The Surrogacy Act 2022 commenced in the Northern Territory on 21 December 2022, introducing surrogacy as an option for people with fertility issues. With the introduction of this Act, all states and territories now have legislation in place regulating altruistic surrogacy. In 2020, 87,206 ART treatment cycles were reported from Australian fertility clinics (Newman et al. 2022). From 2015 to 2020, the number of singleton births (birth of one child) following ART treatment has increased from 13,519 to 17,375. Data on surrogacy is limited, but according to data from ANZARD in 2020, there were 233 embryo transfers undertaken by a female patient who carried, or intended to carry, a child on behalf of intending parent(s) (Newman et al. 2022). Of these, 91 resulted in a live birth.

In 2011–12, the number of intercountry adoptions fell below the number of domestic adoptions and continued to decline. This drop in intercountry adoption numbers may have also been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted travel, with the government closing international borders and banning or restricting travel nationwide. Resources were also allocated to manage the virus. The long-term impacts of COVID-19 on adoption processes is still currently unknown, however, the 62% drop in intercountry adoptions from 42 in 2020–21 to 16 in 2021–22 may indicate that these closures had some affect. By 2021–22, only 16 children were adopted from overseas, the lowest number on record.

Domestic child adoptions have continued to remain higher than intercountry adoptions since 2011–12. Of these domestic adoptions, the number of known child adoptions have consistently been higher than local adoptions. Notably, from 2010–11, carer (known child) adoptions surpassed the number of local adoptions, with a substantial increase occurring following amendments to NSW legislation introduced in 2014. This policy established adoption as the highest preference for child permanency planning (except in the case of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child or young person) if reunification with parents or guardianship with suitable others is not practical or in the best interests of the child (NSW Government 2019). From 2011–12 to 2019–20, the number of children adopted by carers increased 144% from 70 to 171. As these adoption processes stabilised, the number of carer (known child) adoptions, and known child adoptions overall, have decreased, with carer adoptions dropping 45% from 171 in 2019–20 to 94 in 2021–22.