Alternatives to adoption include permanent care and fostering. In permanent care arrangements, a carer can become the legal guardian of a child until age 18. Fostering is a form of out-of-home care for children deemed unable to live with their parents and may be short or long-term. In 2020 there were around 9,000 foster care households in Australia. Similar to adoption, each state and territory in Australia has its own laws and regulations about permanent care and fostering.
To learn more about adoption and fostering please see ‘Further Information’ at the end of this page.
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Megan describes some of the frustrations she encountered when looking into adoption as an alternative to IVF.
I think at least in our experience of infertility and fertility treatment, there’s various points at which you wonder what’s ahead of you.
Somewhere in the middle of our IVF cycles to date, I did start trying to look into what was involved in adoption a little bit more deeper, particularly local infant adoption; and the thing that was really, really upsetting was that the only way to start getting information about adoption beyond just researching on websites, the only way to start talking to some of the agencies that offer it, is to attend one of their information sessions; and you can only attend one of those information sessions if you register in a particular way, and you’re only able to register if you have been finished IVF for at least six months, and you’ve had supportive counselling. At least that was the rule at the time; that may have changed, now.
So that was really hard, to not even feel like we could start to see what was involved in that process. And I understand the reasons why; they don’t want to start a process with someone who may not ultimately see it through. But I found that really hard, that you were faced with a wall before you’d even begun; that you couldn’t find out more information until you were done with IVF. And the strange thing about that was, it’s sort of a chicken and egg thing; because perhaps if you knew more about adoption, it might make your decision as to whether to continue or stop IVF a bit easier. You might decide that actually adoption was something that you did want to pursue, and therefore you were done with IVF. Because I think there’s a lot of misinformation about adoption as there is about IVF. If you can’t get all the information you need on both sides, how do you know what decision is right?
I think the other thing that has been hard for us, and has possibly kept us going down the road of IVF for now… In terms of infant adoption, I think it’s less than 20 babies a year available for adoption here. So you are going into a very limited pool. The birth mother has the right to choose who her child goes to – and rightly so. So I think there’s an awareness that the odds there are small also, and you may never get chosen. So it can feel like your other option is perhaps not an option either. So, yes, having ruled that out for now, because we can’t proceed down that path any further at present, and then with international adoption and surrogacy not an option at the moment because of COVID, we’re trying not to look beyond the future of where we’re at right now, too far. My focus at the moment is just to try and do these last couple of cycles.
Kim was open to adoption but in her state was ineligible as a single person.
Both my parents really loved kids. They were actually going to – after they had me my parents were trying to adopt a sibling for me but that didn’t work out so then they had my brother. I guess that was something that I’ve always known and that’s why I looked into adoption myself because I’ve always thought that that would be a nice thing to do. I’ve got a couple of cousins who are adopted as well so it’s kind of always been something that I’ve known about and thought about.
But it’s just too – it’s very difficult here and in [state] you can’t adopt anyway as a single woman so it’s not even possible.
Mary and her husband were offered the chance to adopt a family member’s child but eventually decided not to go ahead.
Mary: One of my cousins, she must’ve picked up that I was struggling to have children. So she had contacted me and my husband. She was expecting baby number five. And so she had offered me and my husband, she asked us if we wanted to adopt her child.
And at the time it was, yes, that’s what I really wanted, that’s what we both wanted. But then over time I found it really hard to take a child away from its own mother. And then we just had issues over the whole thing, what she wanted and expected of me and my husband as parents to her child. It just got a bit overwhelming.
And so, me and my husband opted not to take the child. Yeah, not to become the child’s guardian.
Interviewer: And that cousin that offered you the baby, I’ve heard that some Tongan families do that, they have that sort of open adoption thing. Is that common in Australia? I mean among the Tongan community here?
Mary: No, it’s not common in Australia. It’s really rare, I think. I find that with older generation it’s… I was just talking about it with a girlfriend the other day. It’s almost like Tongans give away their children like they’re giving away a loaf of bread or something. It’s like, “Oh, I’m having a child, would you like it?” Whereas the generation here, growing up, it’s much more harder for them to give away a child like they would in Tonga, the older generation would.
Probably because it’s easier for them in Tonga because it’s very family orientated, everyone’s neighbours, everyone lives down the road, you still see each other, I don’t know, whereas here it’s like you’re actually giving away and they actually understand what they’re giving away.
Jacinta and her husband started doing respite foster care while trying to conceive. The experience was not only rewarding but helped prepare them for parenthood.
Jacinta: For quite a while we were really adamant that we would never do IVF, a) we thought we would get pregnant without it, and b) we kind of thought, ‘Well if we get to that point and my body’s really not doing it perhaps it isn’t meant to be. Perhaps I’m not meant to carry a baby.’
So in the meantime we started doing foster caring, so we kind of thought we were ready to become – we were really ready to become parents so we started having kids come and stay and just doing some respite stuff. In that time we realised, ‘Oh you really don’t need to give birth to a baby to fall in love with these kids.’ We’d fall in love with kids in the space of a weekend and they became part of our family.
When it wasn’t happening, when we weren’t getting pregnant, we just felt like we really had that space in our hearts that we wanted to be able to nurture children and play the role of mum and dad, even if it wasn’t for our own children.
So we felt really compelled to do something and probably one of the most rewarding things that we’ve done, I think. I think it probably shaped the way that we are as parents now. I think we feel really fortunate that we did all the fostering before we had children. We still do it now, so we still have kids coming for respite weekends. It’s really beautiful and I think it’s something that we intend to keep doing as well because it’s, we see the value in raising kids in a loving and nurturing home.
I think it’s given us a greater understanding of the importance of children’s safety and nurturing and the value in them being in control of their life story in a little way. It’s kind of hard to explain, I guess, but we’ve looked after a lot of children with significant trauma and it’s really – I think the sort of trauma-informed care and giving children autonomy over their choices around things that affect them and being really child-centred in that way has really shaped the way that we parent. I think we’re quite mindful of also, our interactions then with, say, friends’ children or our nieces and nephews and just being really mindful that the way that you interpret things as an adult might be really different to how a child interprets things as well.
We mainly just do weekend respites but that very quickly can move into short-term care. So the longest that we’ve ever had a child continuously for is just three weeks. We’ve had week-long stints at a time but generally, we try and stick to weekends just because we were both working full time and it becomes really difficult when it’s not your child and you’re having to take days off for sick leave or things like that.
We’ve had some respite relationships where we have the same child come back every month and that might have lasted for six to 12 months. Other times, it’s just the weekend and then we never see them again. So, we still find that most of the kids we fall in love with over the course of the weekend, which is pretty amazing. It doesn’t take very long.
Interviewer: Yeah, wow. That’s an amazing experience. Just in a practical sense as well.
Jacinta: Yeah, absolutely. I feel like it’s really prepared us for parenting because we’ve dealt with some pretty kind of challenging behaviours at times from a whole lot of different ages. We’ve got to know the whole giving food and changing nappies and doing all that kind of stuff that lots of other people don’t get to necessarily do – and parenting some tricky, challenging scenarios as well before [child’s name] gets to that age.
Adoptions – Australia’s welfare snapshots, AIHW (2020)
Adopt Change – An advocacy group that focuses on improving policy and services around adoption and permanent care in Australia
Infertility, IVF and intercountry adoption – French’s story – Healthtalk Australia Emotional Experiences of Early Parenthood online resource
Foster care in Victoria – Department of Families, Fairness and Housing
Child Protection Australia 2019-20 – AIHW