History of Queensland Adoption
Adoption legislation was developed in the late 1800s to help improve the care and circumstances of orphaned children or those not receiving adequate care in Australia.
The 1879 Orphanages Act involved the 'indenturing' and 'licensing' of children and was written to allow children to be provided with permanent homes throughout childhood. It was not seen as the creation of new family units and there was no legal change of the child's name or its parentage.
There was no social pressure for legal alterations to the child's parentage and inheritance. However, the need of the children to have permanent legal parents was in time susperseded by the belief that adoptive parents required protection.
1905 Infant Life Protection Act
This act made provision for illegitimate children in Queensland to be adopted. Adoption was privately arranged until the Act was amended in 1921. The law focused more on the needs, as opposed to the rights, of the child. People willing ot look after another's child were assumed to be 'good'. Private contracts could be drawn up by a solicitor and administered by the police. A mother had complete freedom to select the adoptive parents if she wished, although there was no access to counselling and, therefore, everyone was uninformed about the implications of adoption.
1921 Amendments to Infant Life Protection Act
The amendments introduced requirements for:
parents to consent to their child's adoption
prospective adoptive parents to make application to the (then) State Children's Dept.
the Department to assess the suitability of prospective adoptive parents; and
adoption orders to be registered by the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages
This amendment acknowledged the needs of children. Legal adoption under the age of 10 and legal change of surname happened. Adoption still wasn't popular as the myths of the past prevailed. Parents renounced all claims upon the child but still no social pressure was brought to bear for inheritance rights. Some assessment process was required as to the trustworthy nature of adoptive parents. The view that adoptive parents needed to be protected from intrusion by the birth parents gained in popularity.
1935 Adoption of Children Act
This was Queensland's first adoption-specific legislation. It included the provision, retained in the Adoption of Children Act 1964, which provided the Director-General of the Department with the authority to make adoption orders. It also gave adopted children the same rights as children born within a marriage including, to some extent, inheritance rights.
This act focused on the creation of new family units, as if children had been born to the adoptive parent's marriage. Adopted children were given the same rights as natural children in terms of name, care, custody and inheritance. The adoptive parents' rights were still paramount, but children's needs and rights to permanent legal parents and inheritance were addressed. Adoptive parents were considered much more responsible than, and needing protection from, the biological parents. The principle of secrecy commenced at this time, though not for the mothers. Adoptive parents from this time were given details of the mother's name.
1964 Adoption of Children Act
An attempt to improve uniformity in Australian adoption law came into effect with this Act. Under the provisions of the Act, private adoption became unlawful and adoptive parents no longer received a copy of the adoption order containing the names of the child's parents.
Along with this strengthening of the principle of secrecy, there was strong pressure upon single mothers to relinquish and then get on with their lives or forget what happened. No social supports existed for single parents and there was a strong focus on the nuclear family as the best option for meeting the needs of these chidren.
The 'clean break' theory
According to the 'clean break' theory advocated around this time, parents, adoptive parents and the child benefitted from the rapid removal of the child from the birth mother and their placement in a new family as soon as possible. The assessment proceedure for prospective adoptive parents was refined. The assumption was that mothers did not want their children and that adopted persons needed to be protected from illegitimacy, parent intrusion and perhaps even knowledge of the adoption. Though not required by law, under this 'closed system' many adopted persons were not told of their adopted status.
Alterations in 1967 and 1974
The Act has been altered many times since 1965, including amendments in:
1967 to provide an adopted person with the right to inherit property from his or her adoptive parents in the case of intestacy;
1974 to reduce the maximum age at which a person could be adopted from 21 to 18;
1987 Amendment to 1964 Act
This amendment created separate applicant lists for General Children's Adoption, Special Needs Children's Adoption, Foreign Children's Adoption and Relative Children's Adoption.
It also acknowledged the natural desire of many for greater information and contact. It provided a three-party adoption Contact Register requiring adopted persons, parents, and adoptive parents to sign, and assumed only those who wished to search would welcome contact. Mandatory reunion counselling was provided by the Department.
1990 Amendment to 1964 Act
This provided for adults who were adopted prior to 1991 and parents who consented to their child's adoption prior to 1991 on the basis that some individuals had felt that there had been an implied promise of secrecy under previous laws. These objections were to expire after five years.
The new Act acknowledged the rights to know birth identity and the fate of relinquished children. It allowed access to original or amended birth entires. It acknowledged that many who did not wish to search would welcome contact and that birth relatives pose risk to each other. It also assumed that all people would cope with the reality of the adoption, even if they did not wish to have contact.
1991 Amendment to Adoption of Children Act
This entitled people who are adopted after 1991 and parents who consent to their child's adoption after 1991 to recieve identifying information once the adopted person turns 18 years of age. This amendment has tried to find a balance between the right of privacy and the right to information, but obections to information and contact for adoptions prior to 1991 stayed in place even after the person lodging them had died.
Many who lodged objection in the 1990s remained unaware that the five year sunset clause in that legislation no longer applied.
Unless an objection was in place, adopted people in Queensland had the right of access to their original birth certificate and parents had the right of access to their child's amended birth certificate - provided the child was over the age of eighteen. The Department of Communities (formerly Families; Child Safety) issued an Authorisation Form, which was required by the Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages in Brisbane before issuing copies of birth certificates or providing information of change of name by marriage.
Many birth parents and adoptees who placed objections to contact in 1990 expected them to expire five years later and may now be waiting to be contacted by a relative. They are not aware that the law was amended in 1991 and the objections stayed in place.
This amendment facilitated Queensland's implementation of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-country Adoption.
Adoption Act 2009
The current Act recognised the importance of adoption in the lives of many Queensland families. In particular, it recognised the importance of providing the best possible adoption services to children requiring adoptive placements, parents considering adoption for their child and people expressing interest in adopting a child. It also addressed many issues of post-adoption release of identifying and non-identifying information and made changes to Contact Statements (formerly Objections to Contact/Information (or Vetoes). For more detail you may care to visit the Department of Communities website, or contact Jigsaw to talk about the changes.
For more information on Adoptions in Australia, visit Authoritative Information and Statistics.
Adoption at this time was not popular as common language such as 'other people's rejects' and 'bad blood' reflected common attitudes.
There was a powerful social stigma against illegitimacy and single parenthood. Adoption became popular after World War II as children of 'reputable' couples became available for adoption. There were more children for adoption than prospective parents.
More than 50,000 people have been adopted in Queensland since 1917.