What is adoption?
When you adopt a child, you become the child’s legal parent and the child becomes a member of your family.
Your adopted child has the same rights as any biological child – for example, she gets to take on your surname and she has the right to inherit your property. The child’s biological parents and extended family give up all legal rights to and responsibilities for the child.
Adoption is a legal process, and it’s permanent.
The adoption process
There aren’t many adoptions in Australia – only around 300 each year.
If you decide to look into adoption in Australia, it’s important to be aware that the application process can be long and complicated. It involves police checks, medical checks, working with children checks and other things to assess your suitability. You also have to go to training and information sessions before adopting.
The process can differ across states and territories, so check state or territory government websites for more information.
The thing with adopted children is that they need to feel secure and loved just a bit more than other children. If they see any failure in your love towards them, they can take it and run with the idea ‘You don’t love me because I’m adopted’ or ‘I hate you and you’re not even my real mother’ … But our strategy was just to respond with love.
– Kathryn, mother of two children (one adopted)
Benefits of adoption
When you adopt a child, you give that child a permanent home and family, along with a sense of belonging, security and identity. Adoption leads to better developmental outcomes and emotional wellbeing for children, compared with the outcomes of children in temporary care arrangements.
Adopting a child also has benefits for you and your family. If you haven’t been able to have biological children, adoption gives you the chance to love, care for and raise a child as part of your family.
Talking about adoption with your child
It’s a good idea to tell your child about his adoption as early as you can. This way, it won’t be a surprise to your child when he gets older, and he’ll have a strong sense of identity and understanding about who he is from a young age.
If your child was adopted from overseas, it can help a lot for your family to get involved in your child’s culture. If you live in a big city, look for cultural organisations from your child’s birth country. You might like to visit your child’s birth country when your child is old enough to appreciate it. It can also help to link up with other parents who’ve adopted children from that country so your child has a support network throughout her life.
Building a relationship with your adopted child
Good family relationships help all children feel secure and loved – it doesn’t matter whether children are adopted or biological. You can build good relationships in your family in the same way as all parents do – by spending quality time with each other, communicating in positive ways, working as a ‘family team’ and showing your appreciation of each other.
But as an adoptive parent, you are in a special situation. There might be times when you feel you have to work harder on your relationship with your child – for example, when or if your child wants to know about his biological origins. At times like this, it can help to keep in mind that the experience of being a parent and raising a child is more important than the way you became a parent.
Here are more tips for building your relationship with your adopted child, both before and after your child knows about the adoption:
- Reassure your child that you love and care for her very much, and that she’s a permanent and valued member of your family.
- Be patient and sensitive to your child’s emotions. It’s normal for children to feel all kinds of emotions about their adoption, and being aware of this can help you understand and manage these emotions.
- Talk and listen to your child about her adoption. Your child is likely to have lots of questions about the adoption, so be open and honest and answer questions in an age-appropriate way.
- If your child was adopted from overseas, take the time to learn about your child’s country of birth so that you can talk to him about it and answer any questions he might have.
Most adopted children and their parents can form strong and secure attachments
. Attachment helps your adopted child’s social, emotional and cognitive development, and builds the foundation for a sense of security and safety, as well as good coping skills.
Trauma and adoption
Children are adopted for many different reasons, but one of the most common is that children have experienced abuse, neglect or some other kind of trauma in their birth families.
If your adopted child has experienced a traumatic event before being adopted, she might have some emotional, behavioural or developmental problems. For example, she might:
- feel confused or worried, or blame herself for what happened
- be sad, angry, irritable, guilty or ashamed
- act out, disobey rules, cling to you or avoid other people
- suddenly not be able to do the things she could do before the traumatic event – for example, use the toilet or get herself dressed
- show physical signs – for example, have headaches or stomach aches or startle easily
- have problems sleeping or concentrating.
Lots of patience and understanding will help as your child gets used to his new family. It might also help to know that family routines, rules and boundaries help children feel safe and secure. Feeling safe can help children adjust to new situations.
If you’re worried about your child’s behaviour or emotional wellbeing, speak to your GP, who can give you a referral to a child psychologist.
Adoption support organisations
These organisations provide advice, information, counselling and other support for adoptive parents and adopted children.
New South Wales
State and territory government adoption agencies
Visit these government websites to find out about adopting a child in your state or territory: