Foster Care and Adoption: A Comparison of Equality For One Minority Group (LGBTQIA) And The Fight for Equality By Adoptee Rights Activists.

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A version of this article originally appeared on Angela Barra’s HuffPost platform and has been amended for Medium.

In 2016 The Queensland Government, announced that it would remove discrimination to allow same sex couples to adopt. This move would also see it align itself with other Australian States, Territories and broader contemporary views.

As an adoptee, I sat on the State Governments Post Adoption Stakeholders’ group and as such I participated in the review of the operation of the Adoption Act 2009. Furthermore, I submitted a personal submission in my capacity as an adoptee. In both instances, I supported the removal of the discrimination which had previously stopped same-sex couples from being able to adopt. However, in doing so I knew it was putting my and other adoptees pursuit of equality at a greater disadvantage and this had left me in a state of turmoil.

I had to in good conscience support the removal of discrimination. I see no reason why anyone in my broader family (including my brother) who identifies as LGBTQIA should be denied equal rights. Yet the question remains, how can achieving equality for one group come at the expense of another? Is this consistent with the principles of equality? When typing this emotive word into Google you get access to a plethora of webpages advancing equality. The dictionary defines it simply as “the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities”. However, there is nothing simple about it.

In an article, the National spokeswoman of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Shelley Argent, was quoted as saying, in response to the announcement:

“fantastic” move would benefit entire families…. “It will also mean, which I think is a very good thing for the child, who will know that, if something happens to their birth parents, they will not be taken away from the parent that has adopted them.…they forget that it is not just the parents and the child, it is grandparents and the extended family.”

Ironically, the very argument that Shelley Argent is advancing in this article, is the similar to the issues that adoptee activists are positing in terms of children in foster care (out-of-home care). To be clear, this article is centered on the broader argument with respect to the adoption of children from out-of-home care. I think as a country we need to be asking ourselves, if it is necessary to sever a child’s legal connection to their broader family of origin (birth family)? I along with other adoptees believe that this conflation of adoption with child protection is erroneous and some reasons will now be canvassed.

Pioneering activist William Hammersley-Ellis (sadly passed away in 2019), concluded that: “Adoption is the legal severing of that child/adult and their future generations from their family tree. It is the issuing of another birth certificate to say that genetic strangers are their mother and father.” There are many reasons why families can’t care for their children for one reason or another, for the child to be outside of the natural parent family unit for part or all of their lives. The way to get it right is to fundamentally rethink how to provide safe homes to all children. “We believe the ideal approach to a stranger care non biological model is one of Stewardship where the child’s welfare is paramount and the personal history transparent. “Stewardship is the responsible overseeing and protection of someone considered worth caring for and preserving”. As a concept we believe Stewardship to be a modern, realistic framework for moderating the lasting impact of detachment and grief while providing the child with an honest, happy and fulfilling life. We believe adoption is one of the most damaging forms of care, to cut and traumatise a child from their flesh and blood parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, it’s heritage and Identity.”

Researchers Cuthbert and Fronek have written numerous papers on intercountry adoption which highlight the structural inequalities that underscore it. This argument is transferable to the Australian context. Some state Governments have made no secret of their desire to fast track adoptions for children in out-of-home care. Adoption of children in out-of-home care arguably privileges one group over another especially given the lack of appropriately funded early intervention services. Some commentators are worried that we are heralding in another generation of displaced children and I echo this.

This article by journalist Bryan Seymour (who was a child in care) also contributes to the discussion. He contends that: “Shifting an emphasis on adoption flies in the very face of learning from past mistakes “they’re called the Stolen Generation, Forgotten Australians and the Victims of Forced Adoption.”

So, should adoption continue from out-of-home care? NO! Some argue that adoption solves the crisis of children in out-of-home care. However, this assertion is erroneous for too many reasons to discuss here. In that context, 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, 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).

Activist Sharyn White (secretary of Adoptee Rights Australia) comments that:

“My identity was changed, my parentage and my ancestry was replaced, and a second birth certificate was issued with these new ‘facts’ on it. My true birth certificate was cancelled, and I have had no alternative but to base my legal identity on the false claims in this second “birth” certificate for my entire life.

There has been no option for me to consent to this, or have a choice in this as an adult.

Like most people, I identify as the person I was when I was born, with the ancestry I had when I was born. Like most people, I believe that being related to my ancestry is my right.

Yet, as an adopted adult, if I speak about these rights I am vilified, and deemed ‘ungrateful’ because the deal that I was not a party to (I was merely the object of the transaction) was that after the removal of my mother, and through her, the removal of my extended family of grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, what was also required from me was my birth certificate, and with it my ancestry — as a trade for any future care from strangers that I may receive.

Unlike any other type of care of a non-biologically related child, the quality of that care was never monitored or checked, as the State’s legal obligation supposedly ceased when the adoption order was made. But strangely — somehow — the State considers it has an interest in my ‘welfare’ now.”

In sum, some issues in plenary adoption, include but are not limited to:

  • Legal severance from all kin (including: siblings, aunts/uncles, grandparents cousins).
  • Culture loss (or potential).
  • Issuing of replacement birth certificates that record we are born to our adopters.
  • Disinheritance from natural families.
  • Contact veto (some adult adoptees are still subject to a “veto” which is part of a legal system specific to adoption that criminalises members of a family if they contact other family members against their wishes — Dr Catherine Lynch).
  • No search assistance and support for DNA testing.
  • No access to a universal fault free discharge process for adoptees.
  • No welfare checks on adoptees.
  • No national data collection across the lifespan of adopted people.

Many in the general public may not have realised that there is a global adoptee civil rights movement happening.

As such, what would constitute equal rights for current adopted people? A reversal of the list above. And, moving forward, the abolishment of plenary adoption for all people, equally!

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 child protection legislation should be amended to accommodate this, as opposed to pursuing adoption. Former Family Court Judge, Professor Mushin, also speaks to this and notes that plenary adoption should not occur.

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 simple adoption model as proposed by Adjunct Professor Karleen Gribble. I am not necessarily endorsing this model, but I am mindful that some children are with their carers from an early age and at 18 may desire to have their relationship with their carers legalised without losing links to their family of origin (please follow the link to read more on Professor Gribbles research).

Finally, it is is beyond the scope of this piece to examine the reasons that lead to children being in out-of-home care and what we should be doing to prevent this! Yet, it is important to recognise that poverty is a main driver of this. The rising numbers of children in care, is as a function of an interaction of multiple factors (including racially biased screening tools), with some researchers pointing 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.

So, whilst I support the removal of the discrimination against same sex couples to adopt, I believe we need to shine a light on adoption discourse for children in out-of-home care. In our drive for equality, we should ensure that this does not come at the expense of another person’s rights.

Safeguarding a childs’ safety should not be contingent on the issuing of false birth certificates, severing of all legal ties to their family of origin (which extends past their immediate parents) and identity change as adoption entails.

WE should all be treated equally under the law, and arguably plenary adoption undermines this principle.

I'm an adoptee & member of Adoptee Rights Australia. I'm passionate about adoptee equality, social justice & human rights:https://adopteerightsaustralia.org.au