Adoption is one option used to provide permanent care for children not able to live with their families. It is a process where full parental rights and responsibilities for a child are legally transferred from the child’s parents to their adoptive parents.

This page provides an overview of adoptions in Australia in 2018–19. It also covers types of adoption, historical trends in adoption and a focus on recent increases in adoptions by known carers, such as foster parents (AIHW 2019).

Types of adoption

In 2018–19, 310 adoptions were finalised in Australia. Of these, 253 (82%) were domestic adoptions of children born or permanently living in Australia.

The two types of domestic adoption of Australian children are: known child adoption, where the child and adoptive parents know each other before adoption, and local adoption, where the child and adoptive parents do not know each other. Known child adoptions made up 68% of all adoptions finalised in 2018–19, while local adoptions represented 14% (Figure 1).

Australian adoptive parents can also adopt children from overseas. Adoptions of children from other countries are called intercountry adoptions. These children can legally be adopted but generally have had no previous contact or relationship with the adoptive parents. Intercountry adoptions accounted for 18% of all adoptions in Australia in 2018–19, with 96% of intercountry adoptees originating from Asian countries. The most common country of origin was South Korea (30%), followed by an equal proportion from both Taiwan and the Philippines (26%).

Generally, adoptions by relatives or other known carers of children from other countries, are termed ‘known child intercountry adoptions’. This type of adoption is outside the scope of national adoptions data. See glossary for definitions of adoption categories.

Trends of adoption

Over the past few decades, the overall number of adoptions has fallen dramatically. In 1998–99, 543 adoptions were finalised. By 2015–16, this number had fallen to 278—a decrease of 49%. More recently, adoptions have begun to increase slightly. From 2015–16 to 2018–19, there was a 12% increase in the number of adoptions finalised (Figure 2).

These long-term adoption trends are due to factors such as:

  • changing views in Australian society on the circumstances in which adoption and parenthood are considered appropriate
  • changes in intercountry adoption programs and the capacity of overseas countries to provide domestic care for children unable to live with their biological parents. 

The recent increase in adoptions between 2015–16 and 2018–19 is due to the increase in known child adoptions. In 2018–19, there were 211 known child adoptions—an increase of 40% since 2015–16. The increase can be attributed to a policy change in New South Wales that has resulted in a higher number of adoptions by known carers, such as foster parents.

Adopted children and siblings

Children adopted through intercountry and local adoptions are typically younger than children adopted through known child adoptions. In 2018–19:

  • 65% of intercountry adoptees were younger than 5 years—60% were between 1–4 years and 5% were infants (under 12 months)
  • 98% all local adoptees were younger than 5 years—57% were aged 1–4 and 40% were infants
  • around half (52%) of known child adoptees were aged 10 or over—27% were aged 10–14, 10% 15–17 and 15% were 18 years or over
  • only 16% of known child adoptees were aged 1–4 and 1%  were infants (Figure 3).

The three main reasons why children in known child adoptions are generally older are:

  1. some types of known child adoptions have minimum age requirements
  2. legislation mandates that adoptive parents have an existing relationship with the child before an adoption is possible
  3. the additional time involved in forming step-families.

Most adoptions finalised in 2018–19 were for a single child, but a number of sibling groups were adopted (where a child is adopted with at least one sibling at the same time by the same family).

In 2018–19, 28 sibling groups involved 67 adoptees—55 children in carer (known child) adoptions and 12 children in intercountry adoptions.

Adoptive parents

Of the 211 known child adoptions finalised in 2018–19, 67% were by carers. Carers are foster parents or other non‑relatives who have been caring for the child and have been responsible for making decisions about the daily care of the child before adoption (Figure 4).

Age

Carers who become adoptive parents of a child in their care tended to be older than adoptive parents involved in intercountry or local adoptions. In 2018–19, 83% carer (known child) adoptive parents were aged 40 or over. In comparison, 64% of adoptive parents involved in intercountry adoption, and 49% in local adoptions were aged 40 or over.

Marital status

Most carers who become adoptive parents of a child in their care were in a registered marriage (68%), 17% were single persons (including widowed parents) and 15% were de facto couples. In comparison, 98% of adoptive parents in intercountry adoptions and 90% of adoptive parents in local adoptions were in a registered marriage. There was one intercountry adoption by a single person.

Where do I go for more information?

See Adoptions Australia 2018–19, including relevant data tables and interactive data displays.  

Information on adopting a child can be found in state and territory departments responsible for adoption, Intercountry Adoption Australia and the Department of Social Services.

See also Adoptions for more information on this topic.

References

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2019. Adoptions Australia 2018–19. Child welfare series no. 69. Cat. no. CWS 66. Canberra: AIHW. 

Alternative text for figures

Figure 1: Number of adoptions, by type of adoption, 2018–19

The diagram shows an overview of the number and proportion of adoptions finalised in 2018–19, by the category of adoption. Overall there were 310 adoptions finalised in 2018–19, consisting of 82% domestic adoptions and 18% intercountry adoptions. Known child adoptions (68%) made up the majority of all adoptions, with local adoptions only making up 14%. Ten per cent of all adoptions were from countries which Australia had a bilateral arrangement, while 8% were from countries where the Hague Convention was in force.

Figure 2: Children adopted in Australia by type of adoption, 1998–99 to 2018–19

The stacked bar chart shows that, overall, there was a substantial decline in adoptions between 1998–99 and 2018–19. A decline occurred in both adoptions of Australian children and adoptions of children from other countries. From 2015–16, there has been a gradual increase in the number of adoptions due to an increase in adoptions occurring within Australia by known carers, such as foster parents. The number of intercountry and local adoptions have continued to decrease.

Figure 3: Characteristics of child adoptees by type of adoption and age groups, 2018–19

The vertical bar charts shows that known child adoptees tended to be older than local and intercountry adoptees. The age groups of known child adoptees ranged from infants (less than 12 months) to 18+ years. Local adoptees were younger—40% were infants and 57% were between 1 to 4 years. The majority of intercountry adoptees were below 10 years, including 60% of whom were between 1 to 4 years.

Figure 4: Characteristics of adoptive parents by type of adoption and age groups, 2018–19

The vertical bar chart shows that adoptive parents involved in carer (known child) adoptions tended to be older than adoptive parents involved in local and intercountry adoptions tend to be slightly younger. Most adoptive parents of local and intercountry adoptees were between 35 to 44 years.