Starting our adoption journey in Perth – Part 1

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Cute baby feet

It has been over 2 years since I last posted on this blog. So much has changed in that time, for the better and for the worse. I would say some pretty significant stuff in the latter category. But after a few recent experiences I am compelled to re-ignite this space so I can cathartically process some of the events that have happened, and those that are yet to come. Another main driver of sharing this information as well, is to help anyone thinking of adopting a child, whether it is a Perth adoption, Australian adoption or intercountry adoption. The lack of information out there is disconcerting and generally people need to be better informed. 

Adoption is something I thought I had an idea about, but really, was very different to what I thought. 

But I guess I should probably take a few steps backwards, because whilst some of my family and inner circle know that we are on a journey to start our own family, many people didn’t know that adoption was part of that, or why.

Our Back Story

Arna & Matts Adoption Journey

When Matt and I met (don’t worry I’ll keep this brief) we knew pretty quickly that there was something special about our relationship, something we had both never experienced before and completely true to the saying ‘when you know, you know’. We just knew this was forever. Whilst it was refreshing, it was also pretty scary. I was 35 when I met Matt, and he was 32. You all know what comes next…. tick tock. I had the looming pressure of age to contend with if we wanted to start a family.

Whilst I had a couple of serious relationships before meeting Matt, and within those a few fleeting conversations about children, but honestly I’d never seriously considered it. I always knew I would be a mother, but I wasn’t the type of girl who wistfully daydreamed of the perfect wedding she’d have or planned how many children she’d have. My ambitions were different. I had also always been very clear to anyone who ever asked, I did not want children for the sake of having them. I wanted children, with the person who would make me feel like it was right for us. 

We found ourselves, stumbling through that conversation within the first 2 weeks of dating. We agreed very quickly I would remove my birth control (that also is a whole other series of posts) as my body would need time to recover hormones to rebalance and what not. Within the month I had begun that process.

Fast forward 3.5 years, we are married, and have spent the last 2.5 of these years unsuccessfully trying to start a family and having to make some decisions about what we wanted to do from here. Having already agreed in the early stages that part of our family would come from adoption, we started the process of finding out more. For me, I have always felt very strongly about adoption and known since a very young age that some, if not all of my family would come through the process of adoption. What you would think given that, is that I would know a fair bit about how it all works. I thought I did. Turns out….. not so.

Adoption Basics

What I did not realise is how starkly it varies not only country to country, but state to state within Australia. As we are living in Western Australia, it made sense to opt for a local Perth adoption. Or at least get the ball rolling to find out more information.

The first step when searching for anything I do three things:

  1. Ask a bunch of people who I think might have experience
  2. Join some relevant Facebook groups
  3. Head to almightly Google

In hindsight, the first one, was probably my biggest mistake, and the biggest source of misinformation. Everyone has a ‘friend who just adopted’. And many people think, that the 15 minute synopsis they received over coffee from that friend 8 months ago (or worse – third party information about someone else’s adoption process) is gospel, current and ‘the way’ to adopt. These stories are also usually wildly positive, or overly negative. The truth usually sits in between the two. 

The second, joining adoption Facebook Groups did provide much better ‘first hand’ information from those who either have adopted, or who too are in the fledgling stages of their adoption journey. However, I could not find many local adoption groups, so all the ones I joined were either USA or global. Big mistake. Almost everything you read in these groups has absolutely no relevance to any of the processes in Australia.

For anyone currently searching for more information or Facebook Groups about adoption, the ones I did find are:

INTER-COUNTRY ADOPTION AUSTRALIA (Private Facebook Group currently with 1.8k members)

Adoption Australia (Facebook Page with 5.5k followers)

Adoption Advice, Guidance & Support (Private Facebook Group currently with 1.6k members)

Australian Adoption Support Chat Group (Private Facebook Group currently with ~300 members)

International Adoption (Private Facebook Group currently with 4.7k members)

Whilst some were quite active, none of them really go into the nuts and bolts of the process of adoption, or the transition once you have a child (if you even get placed with one).

When Googling ‘Perth Adoption’ the first link that surfaced was on for the Department of Communities for a page ‘Adopting and providing permanent care for a child’. This one seemed like a winner.

This page lead to a further page with  bunch of FAQs. Clearly a good place to start. I read through everything, most importantly our eligibility. 

Eligibility to Adopt in Perth

I must admit, the information I thought about adoption age and eligibility was the one thing I thought was the complete opposite. I had heard ‘you can’t adopt if you are over 40’ so many times from well intended yet misinformed people. That is simply not true. We were also told that the oldest person in the relationship was the one who’s age they used to determine eligibility. Simply not true. The rules are clear, the youngest person in the relationship needs to be 45 or younger. Phew. That gave Matt and I 10 years (if we needed it). Which…. might sound like a long time, but if we wanted to adopt 2 children, we may need all of that time.

WA Communities Eligibility to Adopt in Perth
Current adoption eligibility guidelines in Perth as of 9th October 2022. Taken from the Department of Communities website.

Age guidelines for Perth

But outside of feeling relief that we would indeed be eligible to adopt, the website really did not give too much additional information. The next step was to register for an information session. 

Contacting the Department of Communities

So the website said to click the link to register for an information session. I clicked the link, which took me to the Department of Communities Eventbrite page. Except…. the page was empty. No events to attend. Ok…. the best next steps were to contact the department to ask for more information. Thankfully, their email address was clearly listed on their website. So I emailed.

On the 5th July 2022 I sent them an email requesting information and to book an info session, and they emailed back within 24 hours. The email was pretty succint:

‘Tickets for our information sessions are made available on the Eventbrite page approximately 4-6 weeks prior to the session commencing. Our next session is scheduled for 7 September, so we would anticipate tickets would become available to book around late-July/early-August. If you click the ‘Follow’ button on the Eventbrite page, you will be notified when booking goes live.’ 

So I dutifully went and followed the instructions, went and followed this page Department of Communities and made a calendar appointment in my calendar to check a few weeks out. Turns out there are only 3-4 adoption ‘intake sessions’ each year. I did also email back and ask for some more information but did not receive a response. I guess that was my cue to just wait until I got to the session.

I checked back every couple of weeks and finally on the 23rd August 2022, the tickets went live on the site. I booked us in for the session on the 7th September. The event page had hardly any information on it, simply ‘go to Fremantle Oval’. The session was from 9:30am to 1:00pm on a Wednesday.

One thing I forgot to mention, was that there is a requirement that we read the WA Adoption Information Booklet. Reading this booklet was the first indication that adoption was not quite what we thought it was.

Attending the first Information Session

About a week before the session I asked mum to come with us. Being neurodivergent, I can have challenges with memory retention when I am not in an ‘ideal setting’. So things like medical appointments and things where there is alot going on, I can get easily distracted. Classrooms used to be the absolute pits, as anyone reading this who went to high school with me will agree! I become agitated, disruptive, fidget and move about alot. This usually results in a lack of attention and processing of information around me. I needed extra backup.

But I forgot to register a ticket for mum. She came with us either way hoping they would let her in, and they did. Phew! 

It was in a large hall / conference style room at the Fremantle Oval setup with about 60 chairs, tea and coffee, a podium and projector. About 85% of the chairs were filled by the time the session started with a mix of couples and singles. There were two women running the session who were very pleasant and very honest. The opening speaker was very clear that the adoption process is not what people think it is, and informed us that many people drop off during the process as they find out more about it. 

The beginning of the session went through alot of what was in the booklet about the basics of adoption in more candid detail. The speakers had personally been in and around the adoption system for 20 years. This was very re-assuring that we were getting first hand information, not simply departmental ‘box ticking’ information, like in the adoption PDF we read.

They talked us through the steps of the process, which up until this moment, we had no idea what the timeframe would be. What the steps in that timeframe were, and if there were any costs involved.  It was clear the process to register for adoption required a fair amount of in person education, and then registration that included a full medical and pyschological examination.

The process would take around 12 months before we would potentially be recommended as adoptive parents.

Perth Adoption Information Session Process
First Information Session Overview of Process

What Adoption is NOT

One thing that became clear during the session, is that majority of us in the room had preconceived notions of what adoption is, that were all wrong.

I won’t lie. I pictured adopting children from less than desirable situations needing a new family after their parents could not care for them. I pictured orphanges overrun with children sharing beds, without anyone to love them. And whilst these situations clearly do exist in some places, these children are NOT the majority of children that get adopted into families in Perth, or Australia through the local adoption process.

In Perth, the children that are adopted to new hopeful parents like ourselves are most commonly the product of concealed, unwanted pregnancies. This is where the birth parent/s have a situation that means they cannot care for the child. They are consenting parents (or parent in some cases) who actively seek out adoption, not parent/s who have had their children stripped from them through Child Protection. This is one of the most common misconceptions about adoption.

These pregnancies might be teenage pregnancies, the result of an affair, the result of a much later age ‘unexpected’ pregnancy where the family already has children and other situations like this. Sometimes there might be mental health issues, but generally, for whatever reason these are consenting adults who feel they cannot give their child the best opportunity in life.

Because of this, as you can imagine, there are not many children that come into this system. 

In 2021 there were only 6 local adoptions in Perth. The 5 years prior it was about the same, varying between 1 and 10 children placed in homes through the local adoption system.

Highly Competitive 

Given the very small number of children that come through that system, and the long waiting list of couples or individuals looking to raise a child, you can imagine having one placed with you, is somewhat of a unicorn.

Both speakers explained, that this is one of the reasons many people opt out of the adoption process. They also mentioned that some people can be on the list and not ever have a child placed with them. The thought of this was pretty devastating.

At the time of the session, we were informed there were currently 50 families in the pool, waiting for an adopted child. You can imagine I started doing the math – if there are 50 families already waiting, 3 intake sessions annually, with around 20 couples in each intake… that number is going up much faster than it is going down. Definitely disheartening.

Learning about Birth Parents

You’ll notice I used the term ‘have a child placed with them’. Which mythbusts one of the common perceptions in the room, that adoptive parents CHOOSE their child. It is in fact the opposite. Birth parents get to choose the adoptive parents based on information provided to them by the Department of Communities.

Perth Local Adoption Stages

When a birth parent relinquishes their right to become a parent, there is quite a long and complex process of ensuring that this is the right thing for the birth parent/s. The Department of Communities, try wherever possible, to keep a child with its birth parents, or at least within the family of the birth parents.

This means they take a number of steps to counsel the parent/s during the process of relinquishment. The process starts from the moment the child is born and the parent is still firm in their belief they are not the right parent for the child (not usually before hand, as often people who think they want to adopt out, change their mind during the pregnancy or within the first few hours/days of the child being born). From this point both the birth mother and birth father are assigned a case worker, who represents the rights of the birth parents in the process.

I won’t go into the birth parents too much here but essentially from the time the child is born to the time they have relinquished rights and are ready to choose an adoptive family, can take anywhere between 4-12 months.

How old will the Child be?

Given the process takes the time it takes, typically children placed through Perth local adoption are 6 months to 36 months old. This was also not what we were expecting to hear, as we did think that children placed through adoption are typically much older. However this is not the case in local adoption, only intercountry adoption (overseas adoption / international adoption) and adoption through the foster care system.

Local Adoption vs Inter Country Adoption

Up until now, most of what I have covered is what is relevant for local adoption. But there is also intercountry adoption. When we walked into the intro seminar, I was almost 100% certain we would be adopting from the intercountry adoption program. By the time we finished, I was almost 100% certain we would be adopting from the LOCAL program.

So what caused me to change my mind? I guess it wasn’t so much that I changed my mind, I would still love to adopt internationally, I personally love the idea of having a beautifully diverse family but there are many factors to consider with overseas adoption, all boiling down to what is best and fair for the child.

Firstly, intercountry adoption is unfortunately a numbers game. Meaning, often the more handshake money that changes hands, the more likely you are to be matched with a child. Which in Australia, is completely illegal. They do not participate in adoptions where the fees are on a ‘sliding scale’ or preference is given to the highest bidder.

Actually, local adoption is a set fee and quite low cost. This gets wildly different when you move to international adoption.

Many of you reading this will know of our countries shockingly shameful and devastating history of forcibly removing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families in Australia. If you don’t know much about this, please inform yourselves. You can find information HERE and HERE. I have some personal experience working as part of a team uncovering of some Christian Brothers information relating to the Stolen Generation, and the atrocities that occured, so it is important for me that people are fully informed about what happened during this extended period.

The practice of removing children and permanently placing them with unrelated families had continued into the foster care system also for a time. However now, in Perth / WA, the government does not forcibly remove the rights of a parent and give them to a strangers family to raise. Unfortunately, this is what most people think adoption in Australia is.  

Over the last 10 years, adoption internationally has become stricter and more complicated. This is because countries like Australia, and many others comply with the ‘Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in respect to Intercountry Adoption‘. Without going into too much detail this basically prevents child trafficking and the monetisation of children, whether simply for adoption or other more sinister reasons. Australia’s stance is that any country that does not comply with these guidelines and regulations, should not be considered as part of their intercountry adoption program. Rightly so.

Unfortunately, the more we learned about intercountry adoption the more we understood about the rapid decline of babies being placed with families in Australia.

Last year in Perth, only 1 child was placed with a WA family through intercountry adoption. That’s right. 1. And the numbers for the prior 5 years also ranged within the 1-10 range. Single digits folks. 

On the Australian Government Intercountry Adoption page there are 13 partner countries listed. Looks pretty promising right? Well, it’s not. 

These countries made it on to the list several years ago, and alot has changed in that time. Many of the countries have been struck from the list, no longer want to send their local children out of country or simply do not comply with Hague Convention so Australia refuses to deal with them.

Australian internationsl adoption partner countries

During our first information session they talked us through each country and how realistic it would be to have a child from these countries placed with you.

The picture below represents the only information we have regarding these countries, and thank goodness Matt was furiously scribbing on his phone these notes on the photo of the slide, or I would have completely forgotten.

Intercountry adoption list of countries

I will try to list what I can remember:

South Korea Intercountry Adoption: There is a $20,000USD placement fee, program is currently open and active. 

Taiwan Intercountry Adoption: The program is open but only really like to result in older children with complications due to premature births.

Thailand Intercountry Adoption: Open but unpredictable and older child adoptions (4+ years old) which Australia does not recommend due to the severe issues that come with being institutionalised.

China & Hong Kong Intercountry Adoption: Open but has a very small program. The one child per family law is now abolished so the idea that China is the easiest place to get children from is incorrect. The current waiting list for a Chinese child is 10+ years.

Bulgaria, Latvia & Poland Intercountry Adoption: This one I can’t quite remember the ins and outs of it, but basically these programs were setup and were never successfully activated.  

Chile Intercountry Adoption: There is a wait of over 6 years and it is looking likely that these programs are about to be shut down.

Colombia Intercountry Adoption: This used to be a successful program, especially for couples in America adopting children. This program is now only open to Colombians.

South Africa Intercountry Adoption: This program also did not really turn into a successful program as children had complex medical issues such as being born HIV positive and significant developmental delays.

Sri Lanka Intercountry Adoption: They are now only adopting within Sri Lanka or to overseas couples where one of both parties are Sri Lankan. These children are also older.

India Intercountry Adoption: This program is currently on hold and not available in Western Australia, and whilst in process also may not go ahead due to cultural restrictions.

Intercountry adoption approval stages

Intercountry adoption will only continue to become more difficult. Whilst disappointing for us, when you think about it, it actually means some pretty good things for society as a whole. It means less commodotisation of children, more countries committing to actively preventing child trafficking, and that simply there are less children in impoverished circumstances, less stigma around raising children out of wedlock, more support around birth control and support for parents financially and in the community.

There are also severe mental health impacts of taking a child (no matter what age) away from their culture, heritage and identity. Which I will talk about in another post. Adoption in general, for all parties (adoptive parents, birth parents, adoptee) comes with a decent amount of trauma, grief and loss. This is highly compounded when you add in the international element.  

The Costs of Adoption

The costs of adoption in Australia, were also much less than we expected. When I walked into this, due to all the misinformation I had been consumed in the last however many years, I honestly thought adopting a child would cost around $100,000AUD. The reality is, it costs much less than this.

The administrative and legal costs relating to a local adoption in Western Australia are around $2,000. The cost of adopting a child from overseas may range from $7,000 to $40,000.

Attending the information sessions was free in the first instance and then $250 per person (for 2 sessions).

  • Registration for the first information session FREE
  • Registration for the second & third information session $250 per person (for both)
  • Registration for intercountry adoption seminar $100 per person

The sessions are 9am to 5pm sessions and they provide case studies from real individuals, from all perspectives. They also include morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea. 

Understanding Open Adoption

One of the biggest deterrants to adoption in Western Australia for potential adoptive parents, is the concept of open adoption. Adoptions in Western Australia and Australia as a whole are ALL open adoptions. Anything you have heard about closed adoption, through the local adoption system, is simply out of date or just plain old incorrect.

Many people in the room were not aware of this even though they do cover this off on website and in the information booklet. 

An open adoption is where the birth parents, the adoptive parents and the adoptee enter into a legal agreement, registered with the courts to maintain contact and communication for the benefit for the adoptee. 

To some, open adoption seems completely counterintuitive and potentially detrimental to the child, but there are many positive reasons for this. Again, the full run down on open adoptions will need to be for another post. But essentially, before an adoptive parent in Australia can take custody of a child they are required to sit down with the birth parent/s, each supported by an assigned Department of Communities case worker. During this meeting they make a plan for what is acceptable levels of contact, how that contact will be facilitated and what information needs to be shared (such as medical information and health status of the adoptee or birth parents).

Foster Care

As part of the information session the speakers talked to us about the difference between local adoption and adoption or care through the foster care system.

Many of what people think adoption is, are likely thinking of the foster care system, and children who may end up being adopted through this system. The foster care system in Australia is in place to provide temporary homes for children. These children may have been temporarily removed from their parents or wider family for their own safety and protection. Sometimes these children remain in foster care for a very short period of time, and others for many years. In some cases, their entire childhoods up until they are 18. And sometimes, these childrens parents do relinquish rights, or unfortunately pass away and these children can be matched with an appropriate family who can resume their care.

When these children are ready to be matched with a new family, this is done so within the foster care system. Due to the often high levels of trauma that have been experienced by the child, their care needs to be by a family who understands how to support a child and the potential issues they may face as they develop into adolescence that may come from trauma experienced.

My personal belief is that the foster care system is not something that should be entered into with the sole intention of adopting a child. The foster care system should be entered into when parents, couples or individuals are acting in the best interest of the children they will care for and with the hope that their parents – with guidance, love and support – can one day resume their care. Not with an agenda to hopefully adopt them.

In order to apply to become an adoptive parent, you cannot also be in the foster care system. You can however register for respite care, in which you support other foster carers with some weekend or short term reprieve, which we decided we would opt into. As of yet we have not been to any information sessions or been sent more information on this, but when we do we will talk all about that process as well.

Where to from here?

So, this is just the beginning of what will likely be a very long process, but one we are excited to be a part of. Even though, through every new piece of information we learn there seem to be more roadblocks, hurdles and challenges to overcome, I am still firm in my belief that these are the right steps to take for us to start a family.

I hope this has been helpful for anyone considering adoption, or who (like me) did not really understand what adoption truly was. 

Going through this process has been charged with a cacophany of emotions that unless you are in this situation, you just simply can’t understand. When sharing with people, we are often met with ‘why don’t you just’s…..’. Honestly, of everything we have had to endure, that part has been the most disappointing. So hopefully through posts like this, you can share in our journey and what it means for us, but also become informed generally. About what adoption is, how to communicate with people going through the process, and ultimately with anyone who has been adopted, has adopted children or has been a birth parent.