Geoff Strong gave a poignant account in yesterday’s Age of the difficulties faced by foster carers who wish to adopt children in their care. Strong draws attention to the systemic obstacles that foster carers face in adopting abused and neglected children, created by misplaced child welfare ideology.

A widespread ideological assumption which pervades child welfare agencies is that adoption is bad for the child. Family reunification at almost any cost is the best possible outcome for all children.

The idea that abusive and neglectful parents should have a “natural right” to consent over issues of adoption is inconsistent with these agencies’ responsibility to act in “the best interests of the child”.

Protecting the rights of often drug-addicted parents at the expense of the rights of the child increases the likelihood that children will also experience a lifetime of welfare dependency and substance abuse.

These parents’ rights to decide what is in the best interests of their child should end when they fail to properly care for their children, and when child protection authorities have been compelled to remove children at risk of abuse and neglect in their care.

The ideological obsession with what is seen as “natural justice” is creating a generation of children who are regularly shifted from one foster home to the next. What’s worse is that long term foster carers are only obliged and paid to care for foster children until they reach the age of 18 years.

Many foster children are forced to leave a place that for years they have called home, and foster parents they’ve grown accustomed to calling mum and dad. These vulnerable young people are then left to support themselves, often on the streets, with no home or family to turn to.

The longer a child is in foster care, the greater the chances they will change foster homes. Australian research indicates that children who are constantly shifted between various homes experience poorer social outcomes than the general population.

It is in the best interests of removed children to be placed in a permanent, loving and caring home.

Over the past 25 years, international adoptions in Australia have increased from six per cent of adoptions to 71 per cent, while the number of Australian children up for adoption has fallen dramatically. There were just 59 local adoptions in 2006-07. The vast majority of children adopted last financial year — 437 — came from overseas.

There are large numbers of Australians adopting children from abroad at a time when record numbers of children are in state care with not enough people willing to provide foster care.

This indicates that current adoption laws may be preventing many couples from adopting children within Australia.

The chronic shortage of foster carers and the current burden on state and territory out of home care systems could be mitigated by changing the current state and territory laws to make it easier for carers to adopt children in their care.

Peter Fray

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