The Adoption Act 1984 sets out the legal requirements for adoption, including agency approval and gazettal of counsellors, procedures for giving consent to adoption, parental responsibility of the child relinquished for adoption, eligibility of applicants for adoption, the granting of an adoption order, ongoing contact and information exchange, and access to information provisions.
Adoption matters can be heard in the County or Supreme Court but in the majority of cases, the hearing will be in the County Court.
Adoption is a way to provide an alternative permanent family for a child who is unable to live with their birth family on a long term basis. The effect of an adoption is to make the adoptive parents the child's legal parents as though the child had been born to them.
In Victoria, adoption is most commonly used for children when birth parents have given consent. This includes infants relinquished in their first year of life and a small number of children with special needs, usually developmental delay or health conditions, where birth parents make the decision that they are not able to parent the child. Adoption may also occur where a step-parent applies to adopt the child of their spouse. The County Court may grant an adoption order establishing the step-parent as the child's legal parent after considering a report provided by the divisional adoption service.
Adoption services are delivered by Adoption and Permanent Care (A&PC) teams, who also provide permanent care services for children. Four Department of Health and Human Services divisional teams and six community service organisation teams, including one state-wide team (Catholic Care), deliver the local infant adoption program.
Adoptions can only be arranged by the Department of Health and Human Services or an approved adoption agency. Private adoption arrangements are unlawful.
A&PC teams provide a number of adoption services. These include relinquishment counselling to birth parents considering placing their child for adoption, arranging for children to be placed in foster care, and matching the child with approved adoption applicants. A&PC teams run education programs for adoption applicants, and assess and approve them. Once a child is placed with an approved couple, the A&PC team supervises the placement for a period of about 12 months, until an application is made to the County Court and the court grants the adoption order establishing the adoptive parents as the child's legal parents.
Access and exchange of information are a part of adoption, and may be a condition of the adoption order. A&PC supports the parties to establish independent management of contact.
In addition, at the age of 18, adopted persons can apply to receive identifying information about their birth family in accordance with the access to information provisions of the Adoption Act.
Adoption and child protection
Adoption usually operates outside the child protection context. However, from time to time, birth parents involved with child protection recognise they are unable to make a long term commitment to their child and may decide that adoption is in the child's best interests.
If a parent advises a child protection practitioner that they want to place their child for adoption, the child protection practitioner must refer the parent to the divisional Adoption and Permanent Care team for information and advice. Child protection practitioners are not approved to provide relinquishment counselling, and must consult with their divisional adoption service and ensure an appropriate referral is made.
Dispensation of consent
The Adoption Act allows the County Court to grant a dispensation of parental consent to adoption. Dispensation may be appropriate when birth parents have stated their intention to sign consent to adoption and subsequently disappear, or where it is considered their capacity to make this decision is affected by mental illness or intellectual disability. Child protection practitioners should consult with their local adoption service, and seek legal advice and representation if dispensation of consent to adoption is considered appropriate. Refer to Adoption and Permanent Care Manual for further information.
The Adoption Act also governs the adoption of children from overseas by local adoptive parents by giving effect to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention). The Intercountry Adoption Service (ICAS) places children from overseas with approved Victorian applicants. ICAS is responsible for finding Victorian families for children from overseas who cannot be placed with a family in their country of origin. This includes the education, assessment and approval of applicants, and the supervision of placements.