The Adoption of Children Act 1896 first governed legal adoptions in Western Australia, which since 1995 have been subject to the Adoption Act 1994 and Adoption Rules and Regulations 1995. The first adoption was granted by the Supreme Court in 1898 but it was not until 1917 that the Secretary of the State Children Department was required to give permission for a state child to be adopted.
From the 1930s, the government was proactive in encouraging the adoption of children who were state wards, even publishing pictures of 'available' children in the newspaper. Rising numbers of adoptions were proudly reported in the annual reports of the Child Welfare Department.
By 1937, the Child Welfare Department (CWD) was reporting that there were more children living in institutions than in foster-care. This concerned them, because it was believed that children did not get a sense of the social side of life when they grew up in an institution and that they needed to have contact with adults and children 'leading normal lives in the outside world'. Adoption was seen as a good long-term solution which would also relieve the short-term problem of overcrowding in the institutions. This was coupled with a genuine belief that the best outcome for a young mother and her illegitimate child was a 'fresh start' for both of them through adoption.
In 1926, the original Act had been amended to increase secrecy provisions so that the identity of the child from its birth parents, and vice versa, was hidden by law. The 1994 Act relaxes these secrecy provisions somewhat.
The Western Australian Department for Child Protection and Family Support (2012) describes adoption as follows:
Adoption is a service that provides a family for a child who is unable, for a range of reasons, to live with their birth parents. It is a permanent legal arrangement (finalised by an Adoption Order from the Family Court of Western Australia, or an overseas Order recognised by the Family Court) that cuts a child's legal ties with their birth family. Full parental rights and responsibilities are given to the adoptive family. This means the birth parents no longer have legal rights over the child, and cannot claim back the child. The child becomes a full member of the adoptive family. This includes taking their surname and assuming the same rights and privileges as if born to them, including the right of inheritance.
Adoptions, including the adoption of children from overseas, are arranged within a highly regulated framework. The Adoption Act 1994 which guides the provision of adoption services in Western Australia is based upon the central principle of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child - that the best interests of the child are paramount. The Act also gives effect to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in respect to Intercountry Adoption. In Western Australia, the Department for Child Protection and Family Support, through its Adoption Service, is the only agency allowed to arrange adoptions.
The undesirable consequences of past adoption practices, which were shrouded in secrecy, have led to changes in adoption law both nationally and internationally. West Australian legislation endorses open adoption which recognises a child's birth parentage and cultural origins and promotes contact between the parties to adoption is encouraged where this is possible and appropriate.
Sources used to compile this entry: 'Happy and Carefree Natures Caught By the Cameraman In These Studies of Young Western Australians', Sunday Times, Sunday Times, 5 February 1939, p. 5, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59000153; 'Removal of Children from Unmarried Mothers - Apology [Hansard p7881a-7889a]', in parliament.wa.gov.au, Parliament of Western Australia, 19 October 2010, http://www.parliament.wa.gov.au/Hansard/hansard.nsf/0/fff526da4cf39505482577c900279425/$FILE/A38%20S1%2020101019%20p7881a-7889a.pdf; Department for Child Protection Western Australia, 'Adoption website', in Department for Child Protection website, 2012, http://www.dcp.wa.gov.au/FosteringandAdoption/AdoptionAndHomeForLife/Pages/AllAboutAdoption.aspx; History of Adoption Project: Western Australian Holdings [website], 2011, http://artsonline.monash.edu.au/historyofadoption/; Western Australia. Child Welfare Department, Annual Report of the Child Welfare Department, Child Welfare Department, Perth [W.A.], 1928-1972. 1928, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1951.; Western Australia. Department for Community Development, ROADS. An index of locations and access to adoption records., with Adoption Service, Department for Community Development, Dept. For Community Development, 2005, https://web.archive.org/web/20110327071024/http://www.dcp.wa.gov.au/FosteringandAdoption/Documents/ROADS2006.pdf.
Prepared by: Debra Rosser
Created: 25 October 2011, Last modified: 27 February 2015