Adoptions dwindle to all-time low

FRUSTRATING WAIT: Joanne Lucas Fasheun and husband Sheun, with children Segun, 3, and Deji, 4 months, both conceived by IVF.
FRUSTRATING WAIT: Joanne Lucas Fasheun and husband Sheun, with children Segun, 3, and Deji, 4 months, both conceived by IVF.

Frustrated prospective parents say using the current system feels like taking part in a lottery, reports Charles Anderson .

Adoptions have dropped to an all-time low as thousands of children remain in state care and the list of prospective parents continues to grow.

Just 21 children were adopted to people outside the family in the 2011/12 year - the lowest number on record.

Child Youth and Family is increasingly looking to other options to keep vulnerable children in stable homes, and some are calling it the end of adoption.

Ministry of Social Development figures show about 4000 children remain in state care, with about 300 prospective parents on the waiting list.

One woman, who did not want to be named for fear of jeopardising her chance of selection, said a CYF information session around adoption had left her disillusioned.

"You think you might as well be playing Lotto," she said of the numbers. "You walk in hopeful but you walk out completely dashed."

She said all prospective parents wanted to give children a safe and loving home. It was the child that seemed to suffer.

"That's what I don't understand and that's why it's so damn frustrating."

Instead of adoptions, CYF has increasingly looked to place children with extended families or used a long- term fostering model known as "Home for Life". Although almost 500 children have been placed in that scheme since 2010, in the past five years only four children have been adopted by foster parents. The agency does not record adoption waiting times.

Adoption Option chair Sue Kingham said it felt like the writing was on the wall for adoption outside the family.

"But our experience has shown us that there is a place for it. We do believe it doesn't have to be completely ruled out."

She said it was difficult to understand the preference of putting children with family members when some would have never been cleared if they had been an independent adoptive parent.

"There are so many checks and yet to have a child placed in guardianship as family, they don't have to have those checks."

Kingham questioned whether CYF was the right agency to handle adoption considering the negative connotations associated with it.

"People wouldn't think twice about going to somewhere like Plunket."

A 2010 report by the Children's Commissioner's office found that almost a quarter of the children in care at the end of that year had had more than six caregivers, with a maximum, in extreme cases, of 39.

Sixty percent of those in jails were once in state care, the report said, with about half of all children in state care being of Maori descent.

"I believe that children want the stability that a family can give," Kingham said. "Adoption needs to be part of the mix."

Green MP Kevin Hague has put forward a bill in Parliament that seeks to update the adoption law around recommendations that the Law Commission provided to Government more than a decade ago. None of the those recommendations surrounding adoption law were taken on.

"The law is antiquated," Hague said. "Someone who is considering making their child available for adoption might take a look at the law and what that would mean for them."

The current law allows for "closed" adoption where the relationship between the child and biological mother terminates after she gives it up.

"You could imagine that's not a very attractive proposition."

Hague said the law did not place the child's best interest at the centre of decision-making.

"It treats them like chattels that are to be transferred. From a modern perspective, that is quite bizarre."

Adoption Action spokesman Robert Ludbrook said adoption reform flew under the Government's radar despite the consensus on the need to change. He pointed to more young single mothers choosing to bring up their children, and to access to abortion in the case of unwanted pregnancies as the reason for the fall in adoption numbers.

CYF senior adoption adviser Eileen Preston said the trend in dealing with vulnerable children was to see if there was a way to get them back safely to families. If this was not possible, foster parents were asked to think about having the child on a permanent basis under a parenting order under Home for Life. CYF looked to place children within a similar circumstance to their own background such as ethnic or cultural similarities.

Preston acknowledged there were children who moved from home to home and that this adversely affected their development. However, she maintained more adoption would not solve the problem. The challenge was making the right placement earlier on.

In the year to February 2012, 111 newborn babies came into Child, Youth and Family care.

Preston said waiting times for prospective parents were sad for them, but they were working within a system.

Hope turns to miracles

Christchurch woman Joanne Fasheun went through all the courses. She and her husband filled out all the profiles. They had all the interviews, passed the police checks, medical histories and weathered the seemingly endless back and forths with social workers. They endured it all. When they were finally accepted into the pool to adopt, there was relief.

Then there was waiting. And more waiting. After almost three years their social worker finally told them - only one person had looked at their profile.

"It was very frustrating," she said.

"The unknowing - people go through so much to get into the [adoption] pool without ever knowing if anything will come out of it."

Joanne and her husband were told they fitted a unique profile - she is Pakeha, her husband, Sheun, is Nigerian. Parents who put their children up for adoption often look for a specific type of profile. The couple found out that theirs was not particularly popular.

They were told if a child came up that fitted, the social worker would try to put them forward but the likelihood of that happening was very slim.

In the beginning there was hope, Joanne said. They weren't supposed to have children naturally. As time went on, however, the hope lessened. But they still held on to it.

"Even if you are in the pool at least you have a chance at a miracle," she said. "You have to try in life. Just because it's difficult doesn't mean you give up on it."

Then almost four years ago she became pregnant through IVF.

"We weren't supposed to have children naturally but it happened. You never know."

Then more than a year ago, it happened again.

"If you can't have children or are having difficulty, you have to to hold onto hope."


Non-relatives (stranger) domestic adoption

1968 - 2617

1973 - 2000

1982 - 478

1993 - 183

2002 - 104

2003 - 81

2004 - 108

2005 - 113

2006 - 87

2007 - 60

2008 - 77

2009 - 62

2000 - 60

2011 - 53

2012 - 21

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