When Sue and Neil first adopted a foster child 20 years ago, the process was long and excruciating.
Their foster child Sarah had extensive medical issues, including Down syndrome, which required regular hospital stays. During one such visit, Sue and Neil received the call all parents dread: ‘We don’t think Sarah is going to make it’.
“We raced to the hospital,” Sue said. "While she was in intensive care we promised her that we would adopt her and be her forever family.”
Even though Sarah was available for adoption and had an existing relationship with Sue and Neil, they weren’t given any special treatment. “She was taken away from us at that point, and that was very hard to deal with; it broke our hearts,” Sue said.
Eventually, the adoption was successful and Sarah lived with the Coutts family until she passed away at 14. The adoption process wasn’t much easier the second time around, and it took Sue and Neil four years to adopt baby Russell. While the assessment process proved more straightforward, there was considerable difficulty contacting Russell’s birth family to garner their views on adoption.
Changes in focus for child protection in NSW have been occurring since 2016 has made the process of guardianship and open adoption easier for foster carers. Since the changes, foster carers have been able to apply for adoption once a child has been in their care for 12 months, and the new system has streamlined the process, resulting in adoption approval rates doubling since its implementation.
When a child or young person cannot be restored to the care of their parents, and guardianship is not appropriate, open adoption may be in the best interests of the child or young person. Open adoption transfers all legal rights and responsibilities for the child’s welfare into the hands of the adoptive parents.
Openness in adoption refers to the way a child is supported to remain connected to their birth family and cultural heritage. The Adoption Act 2000 recognises parents’ interest in planning for their child’s future, including decisions about having contact with their children and maintaining cultural identity. Where it is in their best interests, the child may retain links with their birth family and other significant people in their lives.
If you are a foster carer interested in adoption you can contact Family and Community Services and Challenge Community Services for more information. Challenge has also created Fostering for Permanency, a guide to guardianship and open adoption for prospective carers. You will also be able to receive help, support and advice from local services including child and family support, family counselling, health services, youth programs, disability services and child care services.
As well as new streamlined processes and supports, the NSW Government's Adoptions Transformation program provides families with a means-tested adoption allowance to help them transition to their new responsibilities. You may be eligible for a means tested out-of-home care adoption allowance, a one-off Adoption Transition Support Payment and an annual Adoption Payment.
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