When I started researching the nation’s child protection crisis a decade ago, there were approximately 35,000 children living in out of home care in Australia, and only 35 of these children where adopted from care in that year.
In 2016, with over 46,000 children in care nationally, only 70 children were adopted — with all but 3 of these adoptions occurring in NSW.
This means — as my book showed — that tens-of-thousands of children are continuing to spend the majority of their childhoods in highly unstable care without finding the permanent homes that all children need to thrive.
However, the good news is that in 2017, adoptions from care in NSW more than doubled to 127.
This is slow but significant progress. The credit is due to the nation-leading child protection reforms implemented in NSW since the election of the O’Farrell government in 2011. And those reforms reached a milestone this week.
Adopt Change has been appointed to deliver a new program — ‘My Forever Family’ — designed to halve the time children spend in care before finding a permanent home through either successful restoration with parents, or through guardianship and adoption.
Predictably, critics have again zeroed in on the taboo subject of adoption — and falsely claimed it is being used as a quick fix to solve the problem of rising numbers in care in NSW.
But as my recent research report explained, the NSW reforms are investing heavily in targeted early intervention and restoration services designed to ensure as many children as possible can stay home safely and be reunited safely with their parents.
This means adoptions will only occur in NSW as the last resort to achieve permanency for children after the best efforts to assist struggling parents have failed.
By implementing a two year deadline (a long time in child’s life) within which permanency must be achieved, the NSW reforms have struck the right balance between attempting to keep families together and protecting children’s vital need for safe and stable homes.
However, what NSW has also done is something I and advocates of the greater use of adoption have long argued for.
This is to swing the pendulum of the child protection system back from the ideologically-driven pursuit of family preservation at almost all costs — regardless of how long, unstable, and ultimately damaging a child’s time in care ends up being — and instead ensure more children find permanent homes via adoption.
It’s gratifying that the NSW Government has heeded this message. The next step is to ensure the ‘NSW model’ is emulated in all states and territories in children’s best interests.