One mother's view on fast-track adoption: 'I want my children back'
State Politics Editor, The Sun-Herald
Anne had told the foster parents it was only until she was
Anne wants to tell a mother's story. But if she can't find a lawyer to go to the
Supreme Court, she fears her children will be adopted without her voice being
The adoption agency Barnardos wants her two oldest children adopted to their
foster parents, and has issued Anne with consent papers to sign.
A victim of domestic violence who has pieced together her life to care for their
younger brother, Anne instead wants her family reunited.
But the Baird government's new outsourced adoption system, with its focus on
fast-tracking, has become her living nightmare.
Anne's saga began when her husband became addicted to ice four years ago. Until
then, she says the family was like any other, renovating their home, with
children in daycare.
There was little awareness at the time of the dangers of ice and no programs to
help, she says. "I had the wool pulled over my eyes," she recalls.
Her husband was jailed, and she got a job as a cleaner to pay the mortgage and
For two years, things worked. Then Anne was falsely accused by an associate of
her husband, and faced charges. Court delays meant it was six months before her
innocence was proven and the case dismissed. In the meantime, her children were
A shortage of foster care, and her insistence that the children be kept
together, saw them sent to Sydney where Barnardos arranged foster parents. Anne
was unaware they had entered the Barnardos Find a Family program – marketed to
childless couples as a path to adoption.
"I sent the foster parents letters at the beginning, thanking them but making it
clear it was just until I was settled," she says.
To see her children once a fortnight, she drove for eight hours. By Christmas
2014, the stress became too much.
In the same week she had negotiated the sale of her home while simultaneously
buying another house in her new town, she made the long drive to Sydney for a
Christmas access visit after finishing a late shift at work. It grated that
Barnardos had stipulated what Christmas presents she could bring.
She stopped off in Gosford overnight and drank a bottle of wine. Anne says she
took out her frustrations by attacking the local RSL club's Christmas tree.
She was arrested and issued with a good behaviour bond. Anne was instructed not
to drink, but lapsed.
When the court case for the return of her children was finally heard after 12
months, the judge saw the alcohol convictions and decided she wasn't ready.
Since then, Anne has completed parenting programs and alcohol programs to prove
she can provide a stable home. "I have made significant changes," she says.
FACS caseworkers are satisfied with the care Anne provides for her 10-month-old
baby. She moved to Sydney this year to be closer to her older children, set up a
new apartment and found a job.
"FACS said Barnardos should be looking at increasing visits, instead they have
done the opposite. They are looking after their client," she says.
The head of Barnardos has been granted the same power as the head of FACS to
invite foster parents to adopt. Introduced by former families minister Pru
Goward as a way to "speed up" adoption, the new law also requires courts to
prioritise adoption over foster care, and gives a deadline of 12 months for a
decision on family restoration.
Ms Goward promoted adoption as an alternative to IVF for childless couples, and
a solution to find permanent homes for the 20,000 children in often revolving
foster care. But women's legal services warned the fast timeframes were too
rigid, and would disenfranchise mothers.
Anne says she was "gutted" to discover her children would fall under the new
adoption law. Looking at the Barnardos website, with photographs of smartly
dressed children seeking "forever families", Anne says: "I felt sick my children
were in that at one stage. What is this – a shop?"
"The adoptive parents would be thinking they are helping a child in need. I
understand their point of view. They have been given these children and told
they can keep them."
Such is the Baird government's push to increase the rate of adoptions that in
February an "adoption roadshow" travelled around NSW to persuade FACS
caseworkers to give adoption greater priority. Families Minister Brad Hazzard
accused them of having an "anti-adoption sentiment".
But Women's Legal Services NSW executive officer Helen Campbell said: "We are
concerned that the emphasis on adoption is the wrong way around. It should be
taken as the last resort not the fast resort."
"Speaking to the now adult Stolen Generation we know that although there was a
short-term benefit in childhood, when they grow up they experience great
feelings of loss and grief. We are not doing them a favour," she said.
Anne doesn't understand how FACS can approve of her mothering for her youngest
child, yet Barnardos wants adoption.
She sought Legal Aid but was told she doesn't qualify for any more legal help
because she owns a rental property. She says the property, in regional NSW, is
unlikely to sell quickly. She has approached another lawyer seeking pro-bono
assistance, but time is running short.
A Barnardos spokeswoman said the first priority under the law was restoration to
families, and no promises are given to foster parents that the placement of a
child will result in adoption.
"The Children's Court decides whether it is safe for a child to return home or
not, not Barnardos," she said.
Mr Hazzard's spokeswoman said: "Individual family situations are complex and the
Supreme Court is best placed to look at all the issues and decide what is in the
best interests of the child with regards to open adoption."
His office said birth families can access Legal Aid or community legal centres.
Community Legal Centres NSW executive director Polly Porteous said its services
were facing a $2.9 million federal government funding cut.