Flip-Flopping on Adoption: Aussie PM Proposes Shopping for Kids

In March 2013 Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard issued a national apology for forced adoptions of the 20th century. The apology, which recognized the coercion and exploitation of mothers in order to obtain children to meet a demand for adoption, was viewed by the worldwide adoption community with admiration, appreciation and the hope that it signaled a major step forward against unethical adoption practices.

When the apology was issued, Australia's current Prime Minister Tony Abbot said:

Today, we accept responsibility for the pain, the suffering and the grief reverberating through tens of thousands of Australian families.

Recently, however, the government of Australia did an about face, announcing an Intercountry Adoption Support Service they call a "one-stop-shop" for those seeking to adopt. The plan is hotly debated.

Many adoption reformers are astonished at this contradiction to the national apology pointing out that it "ignores the pain, suffering and grief" adoptions "inflict on many families and communities in other countries, as a result of the loss of their children through adoption to Australia...."

The goal of Australia's new policy is to make it simpler for Aussies to adopt children from overseas and speed up the process with a dedicated 1-800 help line and a website that will go into effect in April, despite concerns that suggest simplifying the adoption process "ignores conflicts of interest and other ethical concerns, establishes prospective parents as customers and risks placing pressure on agencies in sending countries."

Abbott's plan includes funding for family support services to provide much needed help to parents and families involved in adoption. But it seems the only parents "involved in adoption" of concern to Abbott are those doing the shopping, not those at risk of losing their children.

For those parents who want to adopt from overseas, we will make those processes simpler to navigate... This is all about helping the families who want a child, and the children who need a safe and loving family.

Patricia Fronek, with the School of Human Services and Social Work at Griffith University, reports that Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott, much like U.S. lawmakers, is making decisions regarding adoption based on the advice of those who lobby on behalf of profit-driven adoption practitioners rather than the best interest of children, noting that:

He ignores the advice of skilled practitioners, respected Australian adoption researchers and organizations such as International Social Services (ISS) and UNICEF.

The government's use of the term "shopping" in regard to adoption is on the one hand offensive to all involved in adoption, and on the other, refreshingly honest. Adoption policies that put the needs of adults first exploit the poor and turn their children into commodities, priced -- like cars -- by age, color and condition. Practices that prioritize those who seek and pay for children are good for adoption agency businesses, but encourage and support unscrupulous baby brokers and child traffickers who exist to fill a demand.

In the U.S., programs to encourage adoption, such as the adoption tax credit, were initiated to benefit American children in foster care. Lawmakers continue to use foster care adoption as the reason to renew and increase the tax credit each year, despite most of the tax savings now being used to adopt internationally.

Australia is not pretending to assist children in state care. Abbott makes no attempt to hide that his goal is not to help Australian children, but rather to help Australian citizens procure children, justifying this new policy with the "millions of orphans" myth that has been proven to be intentionally inflated by those who profit from adoption.

Riitta Högbacka, of the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), investigating intercountry adoption and global surrogacy concludes:

... guidelines should consider how families in countries of origin can be assisted in keeping their children, as well as incorporate and strengthen wider options of informal family and community care. The exclusivist clean-break approach in adoptions that erases the child's previous kin ties should be replaced by the acknowledgement of such ties. This would include accommodating adoptees' and first parents' need to know about each other and making open adoption available, in which adoptive and first family members remain in contact after adoption.

Nations and individuals truly concerned about the world's orphans would better serve that population by working to prevent the poverty and oppression that results in families relying on institutional care to provide their children with medical care and education instead of increasing the exploitation of families in crisis to meet a demand.

The Government will pursue new intercountry adoption programmes with the USA, Poland and Vietnam. Discussions with four other countries are also progressing." (This initial list was reportedly expanded to include Latvia, Kenya, Bulgaria and Cambodia.)

To help "millions of children in overseas orphanages who would dearly love to have parents" Australia's Attorney-General's Department invited U.S. adoption agencies to work with Australia though one would be hard pressed to find an orphanage anywhere in the U.S. today. In international adoption parlance the U.S. is both a receiving and sending nation. In other words, the U.S both imports and exports children for adoption. With long waiting lists of Americans vying to adopt, how can sending American children to Australia or elsewhere be seen as anything but the commodification of children for profit?

Author, lecturer and adoption reform activist Evelyn Robinson points out:

While Mr. Abbott may claim that the adoptions he is now promoting will occur under different circumstances from those for which he apologized in 2013....

A government that really understood "the pain, the suffering and the grief" [of adoption] would not feel that they had the right to inflict this on the inhabitants of other countries. A country that learns from its mistakes would not consider inflicting serious losses on families and communities in other countries. Affluent and politically stable countries such as Australia have a global responsibility to provide meaningful support to other countries in which families and communities are struggling to stay together, instead of adding to their difficulties by removing their children from them.

With high rates of terminated international adoptions, seeking to rush the process is ill-conceived and counter-productive to the well-being of the children adoption is supposed to be serving. Simplifying and speeding up the process creates a revolving door that is good only for the bottom line of baby brokers and child traffickers Lawmakers need to stop believing lobbyists and trust instead those who strive to protect children with no profit motive.

Those who seek to take on the responsibility of others' children need to be carefully vetted and time is needed for prospective adopters to obtain and fully understand the background of the children they are committing to permanently care for. Rushing through such important steps is not in the best interest of the children being taken from their cultures and will only serve to increase terminated adoptions.