AIHW news

Adoptions over time in Australia

The AIHW has spent over three decades monitoring the changing landscape of adoptions in Australia through its annual data collection and analyses.

Today’s release, Adoptions in Australia over time, explores trends in adoptions going back to 1968–69 in the context of broader social, societal, and policy changes that occurred in Australia and internationally.  

Long-term analyses of trends can equip decisionmakers with more robust evidence and meaningful insights into how adoptions have changed over time, and the policies required to address these shifts.

Adoptions are important in providing a nurturing, safe and permanent family for children and young people who are not able to live with their families.

Adoption numbers have fallen by 97% over the past 5 decades, from 6,733 in 1968–69 to 208 in 2021–22. This trend reflects the broader impact of societal and policy changes within Australia and globally, including social acceptance of raising children outside of marriage and declining birth rates.

Adoption numbers peaked in the early 1970’s in what is known as the forced adoption era, prior to the introduction of open adoption legislation in the 1980’s. Open adoption legislation removed the blanket of secrecy around closed adoptions, allowing for shared contact between the birth parents and adoptive child. Following the passing of this legislation across all Australian states and territories, adoption numbers fell substantially.

The number of children adopted from overseas has declined by 77% from 66 in 1979–80 to 16 in 2021–22. Over the same period, children adopted within Australia fell by 93% from 2,731 to 192.

Presently, adoptions numbers are low. The majority of adoptions are known child adoptions, meaning that the child and adoptive parent know each other prior to adoption. Young children are more likely to be adopted through local adoptions, whereas known child adoptions are more likely to be older children.

Also released today, Adoptions Australia 2021–22is a continuation of the institute’s reporting and data collections that have contributed to the evidence base over the years. The report provides the latest data on adoptions of Australian children and children from overseas. This information is updated annually on AIHW’s National Adoptions Australia data collection and covers intercountry, local, and known child adoptions.

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