Intercountry adoption

Adopting a child from overseas is called intercountry adoption. The Department of Communities, through its Adoption Services, is by law the only agency in Western Australia allowed to arrange the adoption of children from overseas.

Although there are many children in orphanages in poorer countries throughout the world, it is a common misconception that those children are automatically in need of intercountry adoption. In some cases, a child may be temporarily placed in an orphanage because their parents are not able to care for them. In this situation, a parent or relative may remain in contact with the child. In other cases, the responsible authorities in the child’s country of origin may not consider intercountry adoption to be an appropriate alternative for the child.

In accordance with the principles of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, Australia supports efforts of countries of origin to place children through domestic adoption before intercountry adoption is considered. Worldwide, countries are reporting a downturn in the number of intercountry adoptions. This is due to a variety of factors including increased access to birth control, greater acceptance of single mothers and children born out of wedlock, efforts of countries to promote domestic adoption, and suspension of large programs due to child trafficking concerns.

The number of prospective adoptive parents seeking to adopt healthy infants up to two years of age considerably outnumbers that of children who are identified as in need of intercountry adoption. Most children in need of intercountry adoption are older or have more complex medical backgrounds. Often it is difficult to place children with these characteristics because there are too few potential adoptive parents suited to care for their needs. Another consideration is that Australia’s immigration laws restrict the adoption of children with certain health conditions.

What is the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption?

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The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in respect of Intercountry Adoption is one of 38 conventions administered by the Hague Conference on Private International Law. The Convention aims to protect children and their families against the risks of illegal, irregular, premature or ill-prepared adoptions abroad. It does so by establishing principles for countries to follow that focus on the need for intercountry adoptions to occur only where it is in the best interests of the child and with respect for his or her fundamental rights.

Who has the authority to arrange overseas adoptions?

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The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption requires contracting states to designate a central authority to discharge the duties which are imposed by the Convention. The Australian Government Department of Social Services is the Australian central authority for intercountry adoption under the Convention. As Australia is a federation, a central authority has also been designated in each State and Territory.

Who can adopt from overseas?

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Eligibility criteria apply to those wanting to adopt a child from overseas. Prospective adoptive parents must meet the eligibility requirements set by the State or Territory in which the application is being lodged. Each overseas country also has eligibility criteria that prospective adoptive parents must meet. See the Intercountry Adoptions Australia, partners countries page for more information.

Where can I adopt a child from?

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Australia has intercountry adoption programs with a number of countries. See the partner countries page at Intercountry Adoptions Australia for more information.

Can I adopt from any Hague Convention country?

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Although a country may be a signatory to the Hague Convention, Australia may not have an operational program for a number of reasons, including limited numbers of children in need of overseas families.

Can I adopt a child from a country with which Australia does not have an adoption program?

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As a general principle, an individual request to a country with which there is no established program will not be consistent with a strategic approach to Australia's management of intercountry adoption programs. Managing ad hoc requests involves the commitment of significant resources from governments, which could divert effort from the establishment of broader, more accessible, programs that are likely to better provide for the best interests of children in those countries.

At what age can children be adopted?

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Children needing intercountry adoption range in ages. In most overseas countries, children are older or have special needs.

How much does it cost to adopt a child from overseas?

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Intercountry adoption can be a very expensive process, with fees ranging from $7,000 to $40,000. Costs include administrative and legal as well as other expenses relating to overseas travel and accommodation. There is an assessment fee associated with inter country adoption applications. Currently the assessment fee is $1369. Only a minor part of the costs in regard to an intercountry adoption are associated with Departmental or government charges.

What is involved in the process of adoption from an overseas country?

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Following the approval by the Adoption Application Committee, the following process begins:

Preparation and forwarding of adoption application overseas

Each overseas authority has specific requirements regarding the content of adoption applications (homestudies). Some countries use a quota system which limits the number of applications that can be sent by Australia to that country in any given year. This can create a waiting period before an application can be sent overseas..

Waiting period

Waiting periods for applications between approval and a placement proposal (allocation) are influenced by a number of factors. These may include the number of children identified as being in need of intercountry adoption (by the overseas authority), the number of applications received by the overseas authority, and the resources of the overseas authority. These timeframes are outside Australia’s control.

Placement proposal

The overseas authority forwards the placement proposal, including social and medical information about the child to the State or Territory authority for approval. Once approved, the State or Territory authority will contact the prospective adoptive parents for their acceptance of the proposal. The amount of information included in placement proposals varies considerably amongst country programs and depends on the child’s individual circumstances.

Immigration application process

The ability of an adopted child to enter Australia depends on immigration requirements being met. The process followed may vary depending on the country involved. Prospective adoptive parents will usually commence the immigration application process prior to travelling to the overseas country.

Travel to meet the child

The timeframe between accepting a placement proposal and travelling to meet the child varies between countries. Travel arrangements should not be confirmed until advised to do so by the State or Territory authority. The amount of time families are required to spend in the overseas country also varies. These timeframes are determined by the overseas authorities.

Post-placement support

Adoption Services will provide support and supervision following placement.

Finalisation of the adoption

Finalisation of an adoption refers to the legal process whereby the prospective adoptive parents become the legal parents of the child. The way in which an adoption is finalised depends on the process used in the country of origin and the procedures of the State or Territory.

Final adoption decision made in the country of origin

For some of Australia’s intercountry adoption programs, a final adoption order or decision is made in the country of origin. Where an adoption has been finalised in the country of origin, the adoption order may be recognised under Australian law. A period of post-placement supervision takes place after the child enters Australia.

Adoption order finalised in Australia

For some of Australia’s intercountry adoption programs, the adoption is not finalised in the country of origin. In these cases, the adoption needs to be finalised in the Family Court of Western Australia after the child arrives in Australia. This occurs after a period of post-placement supervision.

For children whose adoptions are not finalised in the country of origin, the Australian Government Minister for Home Affairs assumes guardianship of the child until the final adoption order is made. This guardianship is delegated to State and Territory authorities

How long does the adoption process take?

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For those adopting from overseas, from the time you are approved to when you are offered a child for adoption, can take years. Time taken does change according to the number of children in need of adoption from your chosen country and that country's processes and policies.

How many children are adopted by Australians each year?

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On average six children from overseas are adopted in Western Australia each year. The Australian Institute for Health and Welfare produces a report on adoptions in Australia each year. These reports can be downloaded from the AIHW website.

What is an accredited body?

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Under the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, a Central Authority can accredit a body to undertake work associated with the processing of intercountry adoption applications. There are no accredited bodies currently operating in Australia.

Who do I contact for more information on intercountry adoption?

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Adoption Australia is a national service and central point of contact for people at all stages of the intercountry adoption process including those considering applying to adopt a child from overseas. For further information, visit the Intercountry Adoption Australia website.

Page reviewed 23 November 2022