This article was published on 15.12.2003 the Sidney Morning Herald.
The long delays for overseas adoptions may be over with new rules being considered to allow private adoption agencies to operate in NSW for the first time.
The Department of Community Services has commissioned the consultancy KPMG to report on how private agencies could be accredited to ensure that they meet high professional and ethical standards.
The report is due soon, with recommendations to follow to the Minister for Community Services, Carmel Tebbutt.
At present DOCS is the only agency able to arrange inter-country adoptions, but critics say it lacks the commitment and staff, especially given its main responsibility to protect NSW children.
DOCS assesses and approves applicants for overseas adoptions, and follows up placements, but there have been complaints about long delays and its failure to take the initiative with overseas orphanages and governments.
Between 70 and 90 children a year are adopted from overseas by NSW residents but so far only Australian Families for Children (AFC) – a voluntary association of adoptive parents – has indicated it wants to be accredited as an inter-country adoption agency.
Ricky Brisson, AFC’s founder and executive officer, is optimistic. “We would give better customer service than DOCS.”
The NSW Adoption Act 2000 was proclaimed earlier this year, but not the sections allowing accredited private agencies to operate. These are likely to be proclaimed next year once an accreditation system is in place.
The non-government agencies Centacare, Anglicare and Barnardos, which are now authorised, along with DOCS, to handle the small number of local adoptions, have indicated that they are not interested in inter-country adoptions.
As well, some groups which represent adoptive and prospective adoptive parents are lukewarm about the move to accredit private agencies. Despite their complaints, they believe DOCS should continue to be the main assessment and approval agency.
Rhonda Stien, executive director, out-of-home care, at DOCS, said: “Some agencies would be ideologically opposed to doing inter-country adoptions.
“They might take the position these children should be able to be kept in their own country. Or they might be reluctant to take on a system that seems to be strongly driven by parents rather than children.”
Given US problems with private agencies, the NSW Government will insist that agencies here meet high standards before accreditation is granted, and they will not be allowed to make a profit, though they could charge fees to cover costs.
Ms Brisson said: “We’ve told DOCS we would like to do all the functions – receive applications, process them, assess them, make recommendations, liaise with the overseas countries, and supervise the placement. Or we could do some of these functions.”
AFC has helped arrange overseas adoptions for 20 years, but it has never had the authority to assess and approve applicants, and is not formally accredited.
Its overseas work has gradually wound down. Since 1994 protocols in all Australian states have virtually prohibited parent support groups from setting up programs with overseas orphanages.
As well, countries that have signed the 1995 Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoptions must work only through accredited agencies.