Adult adoptees question Tony Abbott’s promise to fast-track adoptions from overseas
Mr Abbott promised actor Deborra-Lee Furness, an adoptive parent and lobbyist, that the Government would assist prospective parents who felt tied up in bureaucratic red tape.
But Sharna Ciotti, adopted by an Adelaide couple 29 years ago in Korea when she was four months old, said the push to fast-track adoptions was “largely about the needs of prospective adoptive parents, and not about adoptees”.
“It also has a very singular focus around the pre-adoption process,” Ms Ciotti said.
“I think it fails to recognise what happens after that initial transaction, because adoptees do grow up and we will need support.”
Ms Ciotti said she has an excellent relationship with her adoptive parents.
“Even though children and babies might find themselves in new loving families, it doesn’t mean that they won’t grieve the loss of culture, the loss of their birth family, the loss of identity,” she said.
“And also that they will feel a sense of rejection and abandonment just by virtue of being relinquished by their birth family.”
Professor Nahum Mushin was a family court judge for 20 years and chaired the reference group which informed former prime minister Julia Gillard’s forced adoption apology.
He has spoken to hundreds of local and inter-country adoptees through his work and said he believed they must be listened to more.
“Adoptees are finding their voices,” he said.
“They’re beginning to speak out.
“They are now of an age where they feel sufficiently empowered that they can say what they feel.
“They are very troubled and they have mental health problems in many instances and we can’t ignore that.”
Research finds adoptees more likely to have mental disorder
Australian Institute of Family Studies research in 2012 found adoptees were twice as likely to have a mild or moderate mental disorder and four times as likely to have a severe mental disorder.
Research in the US found they were four times as likely to suicide.
Professor Mushin said his work had led him to a radical conclusion: drastically overhaul the adoption process by bringing it within the family court national framework and even abandon adoption altogether.
“We need to be careful about not making this about the adoptive parents, we’ve got to make it about the children,” he said.
“I acknowledge that there are plenty of parents who have had fertility problems who would very much like to have a child and adoption, including inter-country adoption, particularly inter-country adoption, probably is one way of achieving that.
“We just need to be extraordinarily careful about the way we do it.
“I think that there are better ways we could do it and we still need to have that national discussion about whether we should be doing it at all.
“I think there are moral and ethical imperatives which we need to talk about.”
Ms Ciotti grew up with a fiction — that her Korean mother was single and gave her up because she could not afford financially to keep her in a country where single mothers suffered great social stigma.
But when she was 10 she discovered the truth.
“I found out … my parents were married at the time and I had three older sisters and one younger brother,” she said.
“And it was something that I ruminated over for a number of years and I think opened up fresh wounds around rejection and abandonment.”
Her experience has made her question the push for inter-country adoption and its stated aim of “saving children”.
“It’s not always the case that children are in need of saving, or are destitute or are orphanage-bound or are impoverished,” she said.
They are in the orphanage because parents are unwilling or unable to care for them – and poverty is an important part of this picture … poverty shouldn’t be a driver that separates children from their families.UNICEF Australia’s Amy Lamoin
“You know, myself, I wasn’t an orphan and many other Korean adoptees are not orphans.
“Do we measure wellbeing and happiness of adoptees according to wealth and privilege? But what about connection to culture? And language and kin?
“I think that they’re equally important.”
Ms Ciotti joined a group of inter-country adoptees who recently, at their own behest, visited Mr Abbott’s office to voice their concerns.
“We made warnings around the risk of child trafficking operations,” Ms Ciotti said.
“Children are kidnapped, parents are coerced into unfairly relinquishing their children, children have to endure pretty horrendous treatment in some of these dodgy orphanages that pop up but are really trafficking stations.”
At the end of the meeting, the bureaucrats apologised that inter-country adoptees had not been consulted more in the lead-up to the Prime Minister’s announcement.
‘Poverty shouldn’t be driver that separates children from families’
These are also questions being asked at UNICEF, which is in countries like Cambodia and Vietnam providing alternatives to inter-country adoption, and which involve keeping children in their own community with foster parents or extended family, and providing follow-up care and financial assistance.
“It’s important to realise that in Cambodia, for instance, three out of four children who are in orphanages aren’t genuine orphans,” UNICEF Australia’s Amy Lamoin said.
“They are in the orphanage because parents are unwilling or unable to care for them — and poverty is an important part of this picture.
“According to international law, poverty shouldn’t be a driver that separates children from their families.”
Jane Hunt is chief executive of Ms Furness’ organisation, Adopt Change.
She said her organisation supports open adoption which does not sever links to country or family of origin wherever possible.
“The programs of UNICEF and Save the Children and other organisations are incredibly vital because it is so important that where children are able to remain with their families and within their communities and culture, that that’s made possible,” she said.
“[But] there are also children that at the moment don’t have that opportunity and are growing up in institutional care.
“So having adoption as a possibility so that they join a loving family is also important.
“Every adoptive child and adult is worthy of our compassion and our support and our care.”