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IF there’s one area in which NSW clearly leads the rest of the nation, it’s highlighted as we celebrate National Adoption Awareness Week.

When it comes to recognition of the desperate need for more adoptions — with the 31,000 Aussie kids living in temporary care predicted to rise to 86,000 by 2025-26 — it’s NSW first and then daylight.

In 2016–17, adoptions from out of ‘foster’ and other forms of ‘out-of-home’ care in NSW doubled to 127, up from 67 the year before. This is welcome — albeit slow — progress, given that 18,000 NSW children currently live in state care.

But the national picture is far worse. Only 70 children were adopted from out of care nationally in 2015–16 – meaning just three children were adopted in total outside NSW in the other seven states and territories.

This was despite those more than 31,000 children having been in care for more than two years with little prospect of safely returning home.

The reason adoptions are so rare is that ‘family preservation’ at-all-costs policies — which entail virtually endless efforts to reunify children with their families — have swung the pendulum too far in favour of defending parent’s rights to the detriment of protecting children’s rights.

An 11-year-old girl’s ecstatic reaction to the news her foster parents would finally be able to adopt her was caught on camera on October 2. Utah student Tannah Butterfield was told the good news by the school’s office manager Jackie Alexander, on behalf of her soon-to-be forever-mom Jennifer Fisher. “She asked me if I would be sure to tell her sweet girl when she came to my desk for her daily visit. She knew she would want to know right away because she had been so worried,” Alexander wrote in the post. According to a report, Fisher and her husband will adopt Butterfield after fostering her for two years. The CCTV footage shows Alexander and Butterfield jumping around and hugging in delight and had over 4,893 views at the time of writing. Credit: Instagram/Jackie Alexander and American Heritage of South Jordan via Storyful

Girl’s Reaction to Learning She Will Be Adopted Will Warm the Coldest of Hearts. Credit – Instagram/Jackie Alexander and American Heritage of South Jordan via Storyful

The reason more adoptions are needed is to allow children who will otherwise spend most of their childhoods in highly unstable — and highly damaging — care to find the safe and permanent homes that all kids need to thrive.

Thankfully, NSW is spearheading change through new permanency rules that make it mandatory for all children to find a permanent home within a two-year maximum deadline after entering care.

Non-indigenous children who can’t be returned home safely will be able to be adopted by new families.

Critics allege that NSW’s nation-leading adoption changes are a ‘grab the child and run’ policy that will ‘steal’ children.

However, these claims are debunked by the ‘whole of system’ changes underway as part of NSW’s Their Futures Matter reforms, which is investing in early intervention and family support services to assist parents and keep families together wherever possible.

media_cameraLynette Hughes, 22 who was adopted by her foster carer at age 12, supports the new NSW law. (Pic: Simon Bullard)

This is not ‘grabbing kids and running’, but an appropriate resetting of the pendulum between parent’s rights and children’s rights. Adoptions will not occur in NSW as the ‘fast resort’, but only after the best efforts to support parents have tried and failed to fix families, and only as the last resort in the best interests of children.

By pledging to emulate the NSW model, policymakers in other states can escape accusations of ‘child stealing’, and can proceed with overdue reforms to reset the pendulum throughout the nation to give more children a ‘forever family’.

Jeremy Sammut is a Senior Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies, and author of Resetting the Pendulum: Balanced, Effective, Accountable Child Protection Systems and Adoption Reform in Australia.



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