Adoption is one of a range of options used to provide care for children who cannot live with their birth families. This report presents the latest data on adoptions of Australian children and those from overseas, while also highlighting important trends in adoptions over the last few decades.

Data for this report were obtained from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) Adoptions Australia data collection. This data collection is a record of all finalised adoptions in Australia since 1990–91, collected from each state and territory department responsible for adoption.

Main findings

Since the early 1970s, there has been a 22-fold decrease in the number of adoptions in Australia—from 9,798 to 441 adoptions between 1971–72 and 2008–09. However, the total number of adoptions has remained relatively stable since the mid-1990s, at around 400 to 600 children per year.

The overall decline in adoptions can be attributed to a fall in the number of Australian children adopted (including local and ‘known’ child adoptions). In contrast, intercountry adoptions have increased overall in the last 25 years, and have emerged as the dominant category of adoptions—representing 61% of all adoptions in 2008–09, compared with 10% in 1984–85.

In 2008–09:

  • There were 441 adoptions in Australia (2.0 per 100,000 population)—only one more adoption than in the previous year. Of these, 61% were intercountry, 15% were local and 24% were ‘known’ child adoptions (see Glossary for definitions).
  • Almost three-quarters of all intercountry adoptions were from China (23%), South Korea (17%), the Philippines (17%) and Ethiopia (14%).
  • Five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were adopted in 2008–09, with a total of 72 Indigenous children being adopted over the last 15 years.
  • Overall, 71% of adopted children were aged less than 5 years. In local and intercountry adoptions, nearly all children were less than 5 years (97% and 88% respectively); for ‘known’ child adoptions, almost two-thirds (63%) of the children were aged 10 years and over.
  • Of the children in local and intercountry adoptions, 59% had adoptive parents aged 40 years and over, and just over half (53%) were adopted into families with no other children.
  • Two-thirds (66%) of adoptions could be considered ‘open’—that is, all parties were open to freely discussing the adoption within their families, and were happy to allow contact to occur between families. The remaining third (34%) were adoptions where birth parents had requested no contact or information between them and the adopting family.
  • For ‘known’ child adoptions, almost two-thirds (64%) of adoptions were by step-parents, and a further one-third (34%) were by carers.