Number of adoptions in Australia lowest since AIHW records began

A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Adoptions Australia 2020–21, shows that 264 adoptions were finalised in 2020–21, the lowest annual number of adoptions since national reporting began in 1990–91 – a fall of 21% from the 334 adoptions in 2019–20, and 63% from the 709 adoptions finalised 25 years earlier in 1996–97.

Known child adoptions

Known child adoptions (where the child is known to the adoptive parent) have been the main type of adoption finalised in Australia since 2012−13.

The majority of known child adoptions are by long-term carers or step-parents. Of the 183 known child adoptions (69% of all adoptions) in 2020–21, 100 were by carers, 77 by step-parents, and 6 were by relatives or other people.

In 2020–21, 183 known child adoptions were finalised, representing a 27% decrease from the previous year. This was due in part to the decline of these adoptions in New South Wales. The implementation of a new policy in 2018, which focused on achieving permanency for children in out-of-home-care, saw a higher number of adoptions in 2019–20 as resources focused on securing permanency for children who had been waiting several years for the finalisation of adoption casework. This was followed by a decrease in the number of known child adoptions in 2020–21 as these processes stabilised.

Local adoptions

Local adoptions are adoptions of children born or permanently living in Australia who generally have had no contact or relationship with the adoptive parent(s).

‘There were 39 local adoptions (15% of all adoptions) finalised in Australia in 2020–21. With some fluctuations, the number of local adoptions has steadily fallen from 107 in 2001–02 to 39 in 2020–21,’ said AIHW spokesperson Dinesh Indraharan.

‘Nine in 10 (92%) local adoptions were considered ‘open’ adoptions, with all parties agreeing to some form of contact or information exchange between the families involved.’

Intercountry (overseas) adoptions

Intercountry adoptions are adoptions of children from countries other than Australia, through one of Australia’s official intercountry adoption programs.

‘There were 42 intercountry adoptions (16% of all adoptions) finalised in Australia in 2020–21. Almost all (90%) came from Asian countries – 36% from Taiwan, 29% from South Korea, and 14% from Thailand,’ Mr. Indraharan said.

Intercountry adoptions reached a high of 434 in 2004–05, declining each year to a low of 37 in 2019–20. Numbers remained relatively stable in 2020–21 at 42.


Measures put in place as part of government responses to COVID-19 during 2020­­ and 2021 may have affected domestic and intercountry adoption processes during 2019–20 and 2020–21. These measures included travel bans and restrictions, limitations on non-urgent face-to-face work and resource reallocations.

‘Travel restrictions and the impact of the pandemic on visa applications may have contributed to the low number of intercountry adoptions finalised, although a range of other factors were already contributing to declining numbers for this type of adoption prior to the pandemic,’ Mr. Indraharan said.

More data over a longer period of time, are required to provide a more comprehensive picture of the impacts COVID-19 has had on adoptions in Australia.

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