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New scheme called for

New scheme called for

By VLRC

Discrimination 

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Discrimination and openness are addressed in a review of the Adoption Act.

Victoria needs a new Adoption Act that puts the best interests of the adopted child first. That is the key recommendation of a report by the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC), tabled in the Victorian parliament in June.

The report, “Review of the Adoption Act 1984”, makes recommendations to modernise the law of adoption in Victoria and ensure that it is consistent with other laws. The key recommendation is that the current Act should be repealed and replaced.

The Attorney-General asked the VLRC to commence the review in December 2015. During its extensive inquiry, the VLRC found that many people’s lives have been deeply and intimately affected by adoption law and practice. The VLRC listened to adopted people and others affected by adoption, and heard many views, sometimes in strong disagreement. Although the number of adoptions today is small compared with previous eras, each adoption is of profound significance, and the subject continues to arouse great community interest.

While adoption may sometimes be in the best interests of a child who is unable to live with their parents, it can have a range of negative or damaging effects.

Informed by extensive community input and research, the VLRC makes recommendations that aim to improve openness, remove lingering discrimination, and put the best interests of the child first.

It is clear that for many adopted people, birth certificates are a matter of vital importance. Currently, the law states that when a child is adopted, his or her birth certificate is changed. The names of the natural parents are removed and a new certificate is issued with the names of the adoptive parents. For many adopted people, this means that their primary identification document is based on a falsehood. The VLRC recommends that in addition to the new birth certificate, integrated birth certificates including the names of natural parents and adoptive parents should be available to all adopted people.

Discrimination is addressed by a number of recommendations. The VLRC’s view is that the same eligibility criteria should apply to single people as to couples, removing an obstacle that currently prevents single people from adopting. Another recommendation is that adoption agencies should not be able to refuse to provide services to LGBTI couples, and religious bodies that provide adoption services should not be exempt under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic). That is because adoption is secular and is publicly funded and administered.

Several recommendations address the matter of openness. Although the current Act shifted away from the secrecy of the past and heralded a new era of openness, it is clear that there is still a culture of confidentiality around adoption. Many people told the VLRC that they had faced difficulties in trying to find information about the family they were born into so that they might sustain relationships with members of their natural family. The VLRC recommends a new scheme for providing access to adoption information. Further recommendations state that adoption hearings should be heard in open court, and that every adoption should have an adoption plan specifying arrangements for contact and information exchange.

In the child protection context, the VLRC does not regard adoption as appropriate in most cases. There are already options to provide permanent care to young people in the child protection system through permanent care orders which give “parental responsibility” to the carer without severing the child’s links with their natural family. The VLRC recommends providing a pathway from permanent care to adoption only in strictly limited circumstances.

The report, including all recommendations, can be downloaded from the VLRC website www.lawreform.vic.gov.au.

Snapshot

The VLRC’s recommendations address key themes that arose repeatedly in consultations and submissions:

  • the effects of adoption are lifelong
  • the loss of family connection causes ongoing harm
  • it is hard for people involved in adoptions to access information
  • the views of children should be considered more
  • everyone involved in adoptions needs support during their life, and the state has some responsibility for this
  • the processes and rules governing adoption are hard for the public to understand.

This column is contributed by the VLRC. For further information ph 8608 7800 or see www.lawreform.vic.gov.au.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by commentators are not necessarily endorsed by the Law Institute of Victoria Ltd (LIV). No responsibility is accepted by the LIV for the accuracy of information contained in the comments and the LIV expressly disclaims any liability for, with respect to or arising from any such views.

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