September 2, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
The more I see of Australian family law, the gladder I am that I live in the U.S. Needless to say, U.S. family law and practices are woeful, often resulting in outcomes that are the very opposite of what public policy should be. No country in the world, and certainly not the U.S., even comes close to sensible policies when it comes to children and parents. Still, Australian kids in family courts fare worse than those in the U.S. and it’s not getting any better (Canberra Times, 8/30/20).
The laws governing adoptions in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), i.e. Canberra and environs, will change on September 1. From now on, the sole governing criterion for adoption is our old friend “the best interests of the child.” Unlike in the U.S. where parental rights supersede even constitutional ones, if Australian parents have any rights to their children, it’s not apparent. As of Sept. 1, a judge’s arbitrary, uninformed and free-floating notion of what’s good for a child is all it takes to terminate an adult’s parental rights.
Under amendments set to come into force on Tuesday, parental consent for adoption would no longer be required in circumstances where the adoption was set to benefit the child or young person.
A court will now consider the benefit a child or young person would have from having emotionally and physically stable living conditions and whether adoption would protect them from physical or psychological harm in deciding whether to dispense with consent.
A court will be able to dispense with the need for parental if the parent could not be identified or found, was unable to make an informed decision, or if adoption would protect the best interests of the child.
Now, the writer of the linked-to article, Jasper Lindell, didn’t manage to ask a single biological parent or organization supporting same their thoughts on the new law. No, he interviewed and quotes only adoption advocates who are, understandably, thrilled with the new law.
Nor does he consider the whole gamut of adoption scenarios, instead dealing only with adoptions arising out of foster care. Given that, let’s deal with those first.
Imagine a child I’ll call Jenny, taken from her mother who’s having a hard time raising her due to financial stress. Mom’s situation may be temporary, but the daughter nevertheless goes into care. And there she stays for, say, a year. Along comes a married couple who are fairly affluent. He’s a lawyer and she’s a nurse. They earn good incomes and have a good house in a safe part of town. They want to adopt the little girl. No doubt about it, they can give her a good life, replete with good health care, education, etc.
Is it in Jenny’s best interests to live with them permanently as their adopted daughter?
Many would say it is. But Jenny’s lived almost all her life with her mother. The woman gave birth to her, nursed her and was there every time she cried. She helped her learn to walk, responded to her first words, sat with her when she was sick. Most importantly, Jenny bonded with her mother when she was barely weeks old and the destruction of that bond alone is one of the most traumatic things that can happen to a child.
So, what is in her best interests? I of course say it’s being returned to her mother when she gets back on her feet, but many judges would disagree. That’s partly because those judges have neither training in nor understanding of the way in which infants attach to their parents or the elemental importance of that attachment. It’s far too easy to simply look at the circumstances of the two families and make the call adoption advocates hope for.
Speaking of which, another of Lidell’s elisions is the pecuniary interest many “adoption advocates” have in completed adoptions. Here in the U.S. the pro-adoption lobby makes billions each year on adoptions that are completed, but not a cent on those that aren’t. Is the same true in Australia?
Whatever the case, Adopt Change, that provides the bulk of the information in the linked-to piece, says nothing about biological parents on its website. It’s a pro-adoption organization. Period. Presumably, its donors fund the organization because they value what it does. In short, it’s not in its financial interest to give a balanced view of adoption, particularly its dark, dark side.
More on this next time.