Way back in November 2005, the adoption lobbyists were courting celebrities. Lists of people who were “important / influential / in position of power” were circulated in chat rooms all over Australia. Adoptive parents were encouraged to make contact and convince celebs and politicians and anyone remotely famous who had any connection to adoption to take up the cause. Tony Abbott was considered a good option because it was reported that in his youth he had placed a child for adoption. A few of the names on that list were Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman and Nick Whitlam. Bronwyn Bishop was already a staunch supporter of lobbyists and an early ‘friend’ of Orphan Angels. Of course, adoption and permanent care is not a problem – it is how this is practised that counts.
Abbott is making his intentions very clear – easier and faster – and is capitalizing on the media attention adoption brings. But what does this actually mean and what are their plans for adoption? It is all a bit secretive at the moment. How will it be faster and quicker? We are in a world where celebrity is the source of knowledge and the driver of social policy in this country. Generally, the impression given is that the views of lobbyists reflect a single, uncomplicated view of adoption held by all adoptive parents in Australia. This is not the case and many adoptive parents do not share the views of lobbyists but not too many are prepared to say publicly what they really think.
The adoption community in any country is not made up of only adoptive or would-be adoptive parents and we should unequivocally be hearing from everyone affected by adoption, not to mention developing practices informed by independent research. When changes are implemented, it is so important that past mistakes for which we have so recently apologized and the experience overseas of speedy adoptions in systems that are not working well are not forgotten. The plans for adoption currently need to come out from behind closed doors so rigorous, informed and transparent discussions can occur. It will be interesting to note the events at COAG in 2014. I suspect it’s already done and dusted – probably over dinner.
My PhD research into intercountry adoption is source of information for this post.
Tony Abbot, the Australian Prime Minister, has just announced his intention to make adoptions easier and faster under the guidance of Deborah-Lee Furness (actor Hugh Jackman’s wife for those who have not heard of her) and the personal experience of a friend. If lobbyists have their way, pretty soon we will have lobbyist-led, private agencies facilitating court-mandated, domestic adoptions and overseas adoptions in one-stop shops. Many people in the adoption community are very concerned. How this unfolds will be interesting given the struggle between two factions to lead this charge and take credit as social change agents in Australia, albeit a retrograde step.
The UK is feeling the brunt of criticism over speedy, forced adoptions. The US is still reeling from the rehoming scandals made possible in a private system and the churches are dealing with the consequences of their involvement in past adoption practices. Court ordered, forced adoptions are happening so quickly in the UK there is no time or resources to adequately assess or resolve problems and big mistakes are being made. Do we really want more stolen generations in Australia and how can we so quickly dismiss the mistakes of the past? Do we really want to follow the practices of other countries when they are trying to correct them? Our experience will be no different if we go down this road. Perhaps we should also hear more from spokespersons about their own adoptive experiences – their role in the relinquishment of the child, whether they engaged with private or government facilitated adoptions, their opinions on open/ or semi-open adoptions and first family contact, the rights of children to information, maintaining a sense of culture, identity and post adoption support for families and adults. After all these are the issues Australian adoptive parents prepare for and deal with and their children experience.
Generally speaking, anyone serving on official committees or claiming spokesperson status for whole communities should be above criticism and declare all personal and financial interests. A capacity for ethical decision making and ethical behaviour, truthfulness, a commitment to do no harm, disclosure of conflicts of interests, transparency in financial matters, an obligation not to misuse power and influence, self-awareness of the limitations of their expertise and valuing knowledge are essential qualities. Perhaps I am expecting too much? Likewise those appointing people to committees should also be aware of their own ethical obligations regarding the character of the persons they appoint.
Tony Abbot cannot assume community support and cannot afford to dismiss the concerns of a community. It is not wise to ignore what we do actually know about ‘speedy’ and ‘easier’ adoptions. Australia has always been viewed as having a well-functioning and ethical adoption system. Parents generally understand the waiting times are mostly related to countries of origin and that countries open and close for good reasons. It will not help children, families or Australians to naively consider introducing systems known to be fraught with human rights issues and poor practices from our past and in present practice overseas. Not only will such decisions not improve popularity but it will cost governments more in the medium and long term.