Past adoption information and support

Support and information for those involved in past adoptions in Western Australia.
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Adoptions have been possible in Western Australia since 1896. The legislation has changed over the years and historically adoptions could be arranged either by the Department of Communities or privately through solicitors.

The Adoption Act 1994 acknowledges the importance of information for people involved in the adoption and their relatives. Access to information has improved, particularly for adopted people and birth parents. The type of information that can be obtained will depend upon who is applying for the information and when the adoption occurred.

What is adoption information?

The amount of information about an adoption can vary depending on when the adoption occurred, the information recorded at the time and whether the records still exist.

Legislative changes now acknowledge the importance of information for people involved in the adoption and their relatives. Access to information has improved, particularly for adopted people and birth parents.

Information about an adoption can be separated into two separate categories, identifying information and non-identifying information.

What is identifying information?

This is the information which may identify a person who was part of an adoption and consists of the adoption court documents and the original birth certificate with the adoption details. The identifying information may contain the names, addresses, ages or dates of birth and occupations of the people involved in the adoption when it took place.

The adoption court documents (held by the Family Court of WA) are the legal documents signed at the time of the adoption and consist of the Order of Adoption, the application for the Order of Adoption and the Form of Consent to the Adoption.  Adoption Services will authorise the Family Court of Western Australia to release the documents to you.

Also available is the original birth certificate (from the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages) containing the birth and adoption details. The adoption details may include the names of the adoptive parents, the adopted child’s new name, Adoption Order number and date. Adoption Services will issue eligible parties with an authority to access the original birth certificate. This should be attached to the Registry’s application for the birth certificate and sent to Birth, Deaths and Marriages with the applicable fee.

Past Adoption Services will also provide you with copies of your own information from any of its adoption files or records. To obtain access to identifying adoption information a person must complete an Application for Post Adoption Services form

What is non-identifying information?

This is information from adoption records and files which provides details about a person who is part of an adoption but does not identify that person.

Information may include a physical description, hobbies or interests, education or medical details, depending on whether records are still available or if the adoption was arranged by Communities or privately through solicitors.

Who can obtain adoption information?

Adopted people, adoptive parents, birth parents, birth relatives and descendants may obtain adoption information for an adoption that was ordered in Western Australia. For all other states please contact the relevant Department in that state.

Approval for access and release of adoption information is subject to the discretion of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Communities.

The type of information that can be obtained will depend on who is applying for the information, the age of the adoptee and under which version of the Western Australian Adoption Act the order was made (i.e. the ‘repealed’/‘old’ Act, or the ‘new’ Act).

Where an adoption order was made under the new Act (usually after 1 January 1995), an adoptee, his/her adoptive parents and birth parents are each entitled to apply for access to identifying information (where available) from court records and birth registration records; and non-identifying information relating to the parties to an adoption that is in the custody, power or control for the CEO.

Where an adoption order was made under the old Act (usually before January 1995), an adopted person over the age of 18 years, their birth parents and/or adoptive parents may obtain, as above, access to identifying information and non- identifying information.

Where the adoption order was made under the old Act and the adopted person is under the age of 18 years.

The adoptee may obtain access to identifying information providing an adoptive parent and both birth parent/s who consented to the adoption give their written consent to such release. Non-identifying information is available providing an adoptive parent gives their written consent. Where a person who is required to consent to a release cannot be found, contacted or unreasonably withholds consent, the CEO may provide such consent.

An adoptive parent may obtain access to identifying information providing each birth parent who consented to the adoption, consents to such release. Non identifying information is available upon application without requirements for other parties to consent.

A birth parent may obtain access to identifying information providing an adoptive parent consents to such release. Non-identifying information is available upon application without requirement for other parties to consent.

If you are a relative of the adopted person, the following birth relatives can apply for non-identifying information:

  • grandparent
  • descendant over 18 years of age
  • brother or sister over 18 years of age (the adopted person must be over 18 years of age).

All releases and access to adoption information are subject to the CEO granting authority for that person to access the information. Upon receiving a completed Application for Post Adoption Services form, the CEO may grant such access unless the CEO thinks there is a good reason for not doing so.

Can medical information be obtained?

Yes. Any medical information recorded at the time of the birth and adoption will be provided as part of the non-identifying information.

When someone wants current family medical information, Adoption Services may be able to assist. A letter from a doctor or specialist may be needed if specific medical information is sought.

How do I apply for adoption information?

To obtain adoption information a person must complete an Application for Post Adoption Services form

The application form needs to be completed, your signature on the form witnessed and proof of your identity must be shown when the form is signed.

Applications by relatives or descendants must also provide documentary proof of their relationship and entitlement to receive information (ie: applicant’s own birth certificate and death certificate of the relevant deceased party).

Approval for access to adoption information is discretionary.

What does it cost to obtain adoption information?

There are no costs to obtain non-identifying information or copies of the adoption court documents. The Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages is responsible for the original birth certificates and there is a cost involved to obtain the birth certificate. Please check their website for the most current costs.

Can people separated by adoption get in touch with each another?

Yes. People over 18 years of age can do their own search for their relative/s. Adoption Services provides a limited outreach service or alternatively, a licensed mediator may be able to assist you to make contact.

Under WA adoption legislation, parties are not permitted to have other persons (such as a friend or partner), other than a licensed mediator, make arrangements for or contact with another party to the adoption on their behalf.

People can register their details with Adoption Services. If two or more people who are part of the same adoption have registered their details with Adoption Services, each person may be advised.

Under certain circumstances, Communities is able to offer an outreach to another party involved in the adoption. An outreach is an approach made by Adoption Services to another person to request information or contact.

This service is provided to people who are not eligible to receive identifying information or in special circumstances (for example, legal, medical, contact vetoes, age related grounds or extenuating circumstances).

In Western Australia, people affected by adoption can also search for and make contact with the other parties to their adoption with the help of a licensed mediator (unless there is a contact veto placed against them).

A person assisting people affected by an adoption to make contact with other parties must be licensed and are required by law to comply with the Contact and Mediation Licensee’s Code of Practice.

Please contact Adoption Services on 1800 182 178 to obtain the current list of Licensed Mediators.

What are Vetoes?

Prior to June 2003, parties to an adoption may have registered a Contact Veto against the other parties involved in the adoption. Past Adoption Information & Services will tell you if a Contact Veto has been placed against you when you apply for the identifying adoption information. No new Contact Vetoes can now be placed.

If a Contact Veto has been placed against you, then you must sign a legally binding agreement not to contact that person before the identifying adoption information can be provided.

Prior to June 2003, parties to an adoption may have placed an Information Veto to prevent the release of the identifying information about the adoption. No new Information Vetoes can now be placed and the effect of Information Vetoes ceased after January 2005.

Adoption Services will tell you if an Information Veto has been placed against you when you apply for the identifying information. If an Information Veto has been placed against you, the identifying information will be released to you after you have attended a mandatory interview with a Department officer.

Can I leave a message for another person?

A person can leave a message/photograph with Adoption Services. The message is either passed on, kept on file until the person for whom it is intended makes contact with Adoption Services or the person who placed the message withdraws it.

The person for whom the message is intended is always given the opportunity to decide whether or not to accept the message. All messages are confidential.

What if I have an Adoption Plan?

An Adoption Plan is an agreement that is made for an adoptee between birth parents and adoptive parents relating to the exchanges of information and contact between parties to the adoption. The Department caseworker negotiates the terms of an Adoption Plans between the parties prior to the placement of the child with the prospective adoptive parents. An Adoption Plan forms part of the Adoption Order at the time it is granted and operates until the adoptee becomes an adult.

In some cases, Adoption Services implement Adoption Plans by arranging for the exchange of messages through Communities, holding messages for parties until such time as another party is ready to receive them, outreaching to parties, assisting to arrange meetings and mediating contact and exchanges. In other cases, parties may implement their plans with direct exchanges and contact. Parties who are directly implementing their Plans, may periodically require assistance from Communities, such as when mediation is required or contact temporarily ceases. Parties to an Adoption Plan may contact Adoption Services for services as the need may arise.

Adoption Plans operate for the adopted child until the age of 18 years, enabling connections between birth family and adoptee with support of adoptive family. Over the lengthy period of time of operation, changes can occur in the lives of all of the parties to the adoptions. Where possible, flexibility is incorporated in Plans to allow for future changes such as including subsequent children (who may be born to the birth parents) in contacts. Often parties informally build upon the Plan by cooperative agreement as circumstances change and relationships develop.

A party to the adoption may apply to the Family Court for a formal variation to an Adoption Plans. The Court may order changes if satisfied changes have occurred since the Plan was made and the changes are considered to adequately balance the rights and responsibilities of the parties. A variation may also add a party to the adoption who was not previously included in the Adoption Plan.

Before a party may make an application to Court for a change, the parties are required to participate in a mediation process conducted by Communities.

Adoptions Services is contactable for assistance to mediate between parties in the implementation of existing Adoption Plans.

What if I was born in another country but my adoption was in Western Australia?

In the case of intercountry adoptions, the process of the child becoming available for adoption occurs in the birth country. Records, as available, are provided by the authorised agency in the birth country to the Western Australian adoption services during the placement process. Adoption information held by the Department may be applied for by completing the Application for Post Adoption Services form

The extent of information available can vary and the requirements for past adoption services in the birth country can vary between countries. For example, Republic of Korea requests all past adoption services and requests for birth family contacts is directed through the department’s Adoption Services of the state in which adoption occurred.

Can I get my adoption discharged?

The Family Court of Western Australia may make an order to discharge an adoption if satisfied there are sufficient grounds to do so. There are limited people who can apply to have an adoption discharged including the adult adoptee, the Attorney General and the Chief Executive Officer of Communities.

Persons who wish to make an application are required to advise the Chief Executive Officer of Communities of this intention in writing. Further information about the grounds for a discharge can be obtained by contacting Adoption Services. Applicants may wish to seek independent legal advice.

How can I access counselling and support services?

Counselling can have positive benefits for everyone. A counsellor can provide a sounding board for people as they reflect on their adoption experience or if they are considering or preparing for a reunion.

Adoption Services can provide limited support and counselling to parties to an adoption or people can be referred to a private counsellor or agency for short or long-term support.

Some non-government adoption organisations offer counselling and support services.

No fees are charged by Adoption Services. Private counsellors and non-government agencies may charge for services.

Can I keep my information private?

A person who is part of an adoption can apply for a Court Order from the Family Court of Western Australia to prevent Communities releasing the identifying adoption information. The Court Order will only be granted if the Court believes that the release of information will place the person, their partner or children at serious risk.

The WA adoption act has legislation regarding maintaining the confidentiality of adoption information, penalties can be applied for breach of this legislation.

There is legislation in the WA adoption act that also restricts the publication of identifying information and/or details about an adoption. Penalties can be applied for persons publishing identifying information about an adoption.

Additionally, there is legislation and penalties applicable to prevent harassment for parties involved in an adoption.

Should you wish further information regarding this please do not hesitate to contact Adoption Services.

What happens to adoption records and where can I find more information?

The current Adoption Act ensures any documentation relating to an adoption is to be preserved indefinitely and can only be destroyed with the authority of the registrar of the court.

Historically, files were routinely destroyed prior to the availability of technology such as microfilming to maintain client confidentiality and as part of the records management practice in many government departments of that time.