Angela Barra
9 min readAug 6, 2020

Adoption related fervor is increasing in Australia, which arguably corresponds with the increasing influence of pro-adoption lobby groups. For example, a Minister in NSW introduced reforms into Parliament yesterday to introduce integrated birth certificates. This was undertaken without consultation with the peak body Adoptee Rights Australia.

Since publishing, Australia still doesn’t have high rates of domestic adoption, nevertheless we must ensure that the complex issues adopted people face remain in focus.

Here are 10 reasons why plenary adoption should be abolished:

1. Birth Certificate — once adopted, our original birth certificates are null, and void and we are issued with a new birth certificate ‘as if born to’ our adopted parents. The integrated birth certificate seeks to solve this; however this is not a resolution. Adding our adopted parents to our birth certificate, is still erroneous. Birth certificate should be that: a correct record at the time of our birth– it should not be a ‘parenting certificate.’

President of Adoptee Rights Australia (ARA) commented that “I am an Adoptee with lived experience I do not want another “FAKE” Integrated Birth Certificate — I already have a “FAKE” Birth Certificate — I want my “REAL” Original Birth Certificate reinstated — Integrated Birth Certificates are just another extension of the lie — NO MORE LIES. Integrated Birth Certificates do not make up for the lies and deceit & the losses of our biological families, mother, fathers, grandparents, siblings, uncles & aunts, cousins, family history & cultures, our vital family medical histories? They only add to the lies & deception to my own traumas.”

2. Legal Severance — plenary adoption requires the legal severance from all kin (including: siblings, aunts/uncles, grandparents and cousins), which has generational impacts. This means, that an adopted person’s child is also subject to this because they remain legal strangers to their kin — struck from the family tree. Further, the legal act of adoption means that adopted people, are disinherited. Dr Catherine Lynch has written extensively on this, but in sum, only two catogories of people are disinherited by the State and Judiciary: people who murder their parents and adoptees.

3. Culture — when a child is adopted, they can lose their connection to their family norms and customs. Most people, who are not adopted, take for granted that their traits match their families — their characteristics anchor them to their family now and through history (i.e., their ancestors). In contrast, adopted people do not necessarily have this privilege. This phenomenon is usually referred to as mirror loss.

4. Discharge — currently, there isn’t a national approach or uniform ‘no fault’, ‘no fee’ discharge laws. Whilst Australian adopted people can apply to discharge, the cost can be prohibitive, and the processes can be protracted.

As cited on the ARA site “Discharge of an adoption order’ means the undoing or removing of the legal effect of an adoption order. If the Court makes an Order to discharge an adoption, then the adoption ceases to exist, and the person is no longer an adopted person or legally connected to the family that adopted them. They become legally reconnected to their birth family.”

As ARA secretary, Sharyn White, commented “A discharge from the adoption order, to which we are bound for life and beyond death as minors without their consent, should be available to adopted adults via a straightforward application process, and should be subject to the same formalised — and transparent — criteria for each applicant.”

5. Search and DNA Testing — this speaks for itself. There is no nationally consistent approach to financially assist adopted people to find their natural family and they are bound to an adoption contract that they never consented to. To that end, Vanish Australia, published an extensive article which highlights the complexities around DNA testing, which bear consideration.

6. Welfare Checks — there are no enduring welfare checks or periodic reviews undertaken on children who are adopted. Article 25 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (which Australia has ratified) asserts that: “States Parties recognize the right of a child who has been placed by the competent authorities for the purposes of care, protection or treatment of his or her physical or mental health, to a periodic review of the treatment provided to the child and all other circumstances relevant to his or her placement.”

As such, the duty of care of adopted people is arguably abrogated once adopted. Sharyn White states that “the quality of that care was never monitored or checked, as the State’s legal obligation supposedly ceased when the adoption order was made.”

Personally, I have been involved in the adoptee rights movement for a decade and the disclosure of abuse by adopted people is harrowing. Adoption doesn’t necessarily safeguard a child or provide a better life, just a different one and sadly, trauma is a recurrent theme.

7. Data Collection — there is no national data collection across the lifespan of adopted people. Further, in Australia, there have been no longitudinal studies undertaken on the welfare and wellbeing of adopted people. With this dearth of evidence, how can Australian politicians stand there and argue that adoption fulfills the best interest principles for an adopted child?

Adoption doesn’t end when we turn 18, it is an ongoing evolution and is a complex layer of absurdities and contradictions.

8. Adoption and Out-Of-Home Care — adoption does not solve the crisis of children in out-of-home care despite what politicians and lobbyists spruik. Some commentators note that the rising numbers of children in care, is as a function of an interaction of multiple factors (including: structural inequalities, poverty and racially biased screening tools). Some research also points to a reactive child protection system that is based on a rescue model. Accordingly, adoption from out-of-home care will not resolve the shortcomings of any child protection system, rather it just creates another marginalised group.

Additionally, this 2016 article discusses this claim with links to a substantiative review on foster care vs adoption for children in out-of-home care, which found very little difference.

Further, new research makes an economic case for early intervention and galvanises calls to focus attention on this end of the continuum. In essence, their modelling shows that the Victorian Government would make a net savings in excess if 1.5 billion over a ten year period!

Similarly, in NSW, it is reported that whilst 2 billion is invested in child protection, only a 150 million is spent on early intervention.

9. Adoption in Australia— adoption as practiced today is a relatively new phenomenon. Dr. Catherine Lynch (VP of Adoptee Rights Australia) summarises:

“Modern adoption is a 20th century invention that severs all of an adoptee’s rights to our natural kin forever, severing our children’s rights, and those of our children’s children, without our consent. It has been described by a UK judge as the “most draconian interference with family life possible.” (Down Lisburn Health & Social Services Trust v H) (follow this link to read the whole article).

Open adoption is commonly portrayed as the panacea but in fact, when unpacked, there is very little difference between this and closed adoption. For example, and as aforementioned, the adopted person is still legally severed, the birth certificate is still altered, there are no ongoing welfare checks, there is no national data collection, adoptive parents can still disrupt adoptions and open adoption plans are not legally enforceable.

Adoptee Rights Australia have put together this valuable snapshot comparing closed and open adoption, which speaks for itself.

10. Rights Movement — many in the general public may not have realised that there is a global adoptee civil rights movement happening. The fairy tale narrative of the ‘forever family’ (I have not encountered one adopted person that welcomes this term) is being challenged globally.

The consistent theme among adopted people (adoptee rights activits) is that adoption creates an invisible and marginalised minority. As aforementioned, there are systemic issues with adoption which largely remain out of the public’s awareness. For example, people are generally not aware of the practice of adoption rehoming despite investigative reports on this.

Australian adoptee, Sharyn White, notes that trying to obtain each States statistics on adoption disruptions is obstructive. What we do know is that adoptive parents have an exit clause in the legislation but adult adoptees in Australia, who try to discharge their adoptions, as aforementioned, are faced with huge barriers (legally and financially). This is inequality at work.

Rights Movement & International Voices

American Adoptee and activist, Blake Gibbins explores adoption through a critical lens, on his YouTube Channel “Not Your Orphan”, and points out that the adoptee rights movement has been evolving for some time now - it is compelling viewing.

A respected voice, Daniel Drennan ElAwar, has detailed why he views adoption as an economic and political crime. His other piece is also an informative read: National anti-adoption awareness month: 30 answers to 30 questions.

Liz Latty’s tweet highlighted that programs aimed at strengthening adoption is the antithesis of family preservation, commodifies children and is underpinned by racism, classism and ableism.

In Ireland, Maree Ryan-O’Brien (founder of the adoptee rights organisation - Aithanas), commented on Twitter, in response to the Baby Homes scandal, that adopted people are still denied access to their records and she is campaigning for open access.

Moses Farrow, a Korean American adoptee, recently pointed out on Facebook, that trauma is a common theme among adoptees globally.

There are a lot more international voices in this movement (in Australia these include: Adoptee Rights Australia and Intercountry Adoptee Voices), and there are too many to discuss now, but the important point is that our voices are rising. You can ignore us, but that will only seek to galvanize our resolve!


Alternative care options must be examined within the context of broader issues that impact on families & drive child protection surveillance and interventions. However, it’s beyond the scope to unpack these here. Notwithstanding this, there’s research and movements that speak to this and I have provided some links to these further below. This is not an exhaustive list but a start nonetheless.

Within that context, a number of people have asked “what can adoption be replaced with?” In Australia, different states have varying legislation for children in need of out-of-home-care. Essentially, there are different types of care orders and these can offer permanency to varying degrees.

In the cases where more certainty is needed for children in care, then the Qld Government has operationalised ‘Permanent Care Orders’ which is said to offer stability (includes preserving the child’s identity, relationships with their birth family and connection to their culture of origin) and is an alternative to pursuing plenary adoption. Former Family Court Judge, Professor Mushin, also speaks to this and notes that plenary adoption is not the answer.

I also regularly hear concerns about children who are ageing out of the care system. I don’t have all the answers (obviously) but perhaps one option that could be further examined and explored is the additive or simple adoption model as proposed by Adjunct Professor Karleen Gribble.

Please note, I am not necessarily endorsing this model (and as briefly mentioned the system that drives children into care in the first place and the foster care machine must be critically examined), but I am mindful that some people are with their carers from an early age and at 18 (age of majority) may desire to have their relationship with their carers legalised without losing their legal links to their family of origin (please follow the link to read more on Professor Gribbles research). Whether this additive approach will have unintended consequences for children under the age of majority and the adoptee rights movement, still needs examining by adopted activists.

In sum, subtractive plenary adoption (which terminates our legal relationship to kin) should be abolished and a national inquiry into all adoption practices should be operationalised!

There are other reasons why plenary adoption should be abolished — I hope this list, at the very least, creates more awareness and starts a conversation.

Some Links to Research, Key Information & Movements

Adoptee Rights Australia

QCOSS: Submission: Child Protection and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2020

Human Rights Concerns with Child Safety Bill — Joint Statement

Evidence of Social Care Review (UK)

Professor Andy Bilson

upEND Movement (USA)

Berry Street: Economic case for early intervention in child protection and out-of-home care including for Covid-19 impact

The Cumulative Prevalence of Termination of Parental Rights for U.S. Children, 2000–2016

How can it be right to have targets for breaking up families?

How the Foster Care System Punishes the Poor

The ‘alarmingly weak’ evidence base for the ‘toxic trio’

Racially biased’ screening tool used in the child protection system places more Indigenous children in custody, critics say



Angela Barra

I'm an adopted adult, commentator and student (always studying).