I have only known about the permanent care program (adopting from foster care) in Victoria for just over a year. I had poked around looking at intercountry adoption as an option and had become very disheartened very quickly. While China and Ethiopia used to offer adoption for singles in Australia, those programs have now ceased. I have since discovered that the Philippines have a program, but it can be unreliable and they won’t consider singles for children under the age of 6 without medical issues or complex social backgrounds. There are also strong indicators that China may reopen its adoption program again to single women, so maybe the tide will turn back again. The Federal Attorney General’s page on intercountry adoption and each country’s program and eligibility requirements is here.
Once I knew there was a program in Victoria to allow singles to adopt local children though, I was instantly engaged. As a former preschool teacher in a pretty rough area and a former political staffer for state politicians, I am surprised I didn’t come across the program earlier. I was incredibly fortunate that a lovely mum of two joined the single mum forum that I hang out on and was so willing to share her experience about becoming a mum through permanent care. Clearly, it completely reconfigured my approach to creating a family.
So, what is permanent care? Here’s the Department of Human Services information about the program. Hopefully, my version won’t differ too much from theirs!
Children who are placed on permanent care orders have been permanently removed from their birth families. Unlike regular infant adoption, where birth parents relinquish the child/ren, these children have been involuntarily removed. Terminating parental rights is a big deal, so these children have most likely been exposed to some of life’s most unpleasant experiences early on. Neglect, abuse, trauma, you name it. They will have been in foster care while the Department figured out whether reconciliation is an option or not. A permanent care case plan is made for the child/ren if reconciliation is not considered possible and a guardian ship order is sought from the courts.
Once an order has been granted, the permanent care team take over the case from the foster crew and a forever family is sought. The department’s stated aim is to find the ‘right’ family for the child. Once a forever family is found for the child/ren, they are placed and a new family is formed. Usually two years after the placement, the adoption is finalised with the guardianship rights being handed over from the Department to the new parents. Usually within this order, access to the birth parents or extended biological family is written in. I’ve been told this can be up to 8 times a year, but I’ve heard anecdotal stories of access being more frequent annually, and it can also be less. This is not really different from infant adoption, since open adoptions are the status quo these days.
The main differences between infant adoption and adoption through foster care from a legal perspective is the birth certificate will always reflect the birth parents as the parents and there is no automatic right to inheritance. So as an ‘adopt from foster care’ family, you would need to be explicit in your will about where the money and assets go if you pass away. You can also change the child’s surname and sometimes their middle name, but their birth parents will always be listed on the certificate.
The application process
It begins from the very first phone call to register interest in attending one of the mandatory information sessions. I thought I’d register quickly on a lunch break at work and finally got off the phone 40 minutes later!
The information session is over a couple of hours of an evening. I’ve completed this stage and was expecting it to be pretty intense. I get the impression that most information sessions for adoption programs tend to be difficult – maybe to weed the drifters out. I actually didn’t find it all that confronting as it turns out, but I suspect that’s as a result of setting my expectations to Realistic on the dial. I plan on trying to do this as often as possible.
After the information night, you are then required to attend educations sessions. I am aiming to attend the June session and they occur over three Saturdays, from 10am to 5pm. I had to fill in a 5 page form to register for those.
It all ramps up in the life invasion stakes after that. There’s formal application paperwork and the process includes medical checks, police and child protection checks, referees and the writing of a life story. Then there are interviews, as many as they see fit, and home inspections. An assessment report is written and a meeting takes place with caseworkers, the head of the program and yourself (and half the local country club, by the sounds) and a decision is made whether you’ve been approved and on what grounds. Piece of cake, right?! I have been told that they often don’t wait until that stage to reject an application – they’ll weed them out through the process if the application is going to be unsuccessful for whatever reason.
And then the wait for a placement begins. You can say no to placements and you can also be specific throughout the application about what you realistically think you can and can’t handle when it comes to the background and characteristics of the child/ren. You can specify a gender and an age range. As above, most children are not available for placement until they are over the age of 2, and can go up to the age of 12. I’ve also been told that if you’re prepared to take on a sibling group, you may get placed quicker. If you have not been placed after 12 months, you application will be reassessed and consideration will need to be made about the tightness or otherwise of some of the parameters. You will obviously receive a placement quicker if you don’t put too many restrictions on the background and characteristics of the children you’re prepared to welcome in to your life. That said, being realistic about what you can and can’t handle is imperative. I think I’ve said all that twice. Worth repeating though.
You can’t apply within 6 months of receiving fertility treatment or within 5 years of being treated for cancer. They won’t mess with the birth order if you have kids already and it’s usually the case that your youngest child has to be 2 years older than the child you will be placed with.
I’m sure I’ve left out lots of things, which is pretty easy to do since I haven’t actually applied yet. That’s what this blog will be about!
I’ve posted some questions below that I actually asked when I very first heard about permanent care – one of the ‘yay ’consequences of the internet being written in ink. I’m actually pretty impressed with how thorough and non-superficial my questions were, given how new my understanding was, and now I am pleased I can answer them without even cheating and looking at the answers that were provided to me at the time. Winning.
Can you go straight to permanent care without doing foster care?
Yep. I know a few mums who applied for the permanent care of a child they were fostering at the time and it sounds brutal. As a foster carer, you’re supposed to be motivated by the desire to ultimately see reconciliation with the birth family, so suddenly applying to be a forever family is at odds with that. The department also express that they see it as a ‘back door’ method to getting a younger child. Hmm.
How much notice would you normally get if a child was placed with you? This is something that’s always worried me about foster care – if I work full time, how can I organise time off if I have short notice?
OK, my question was a bit whack there – looks like I was getting foster care and permanent care mixed up. Anyway, the team at the Department told me that a long transition time is considered two weeks. Eek. So, you get the call, accept the placement and have to organise to take a year off (oh yes, this is a requirement too) within 2 weeks. Having understanding employers sound like another criteria! That said, I know of a case where the transition is more like a month. It depends on the stability of the home the child/ren are currently in, I would imagine.
What is the actual legal differences between adoption and permanent care?
I think I covered this above. They also cover this at the info night and on the FAQ section of the DHS website.
Do the children call you Mum?
When you become a parent through permanent care, you are mum (or dad). Just like other domestic or intercountry adoptions, biological parents are often referred to as ‘birth parents’ or ‘birth family’, but you are now their real, permanent parents and family.
Do the children still maintain a relationship with their birth parents?
I think I covered that above.
Do you have to provide updates to DHS? Do they ‘check’ on you regularly?
OK, I did cheat on this one and looked back at the answer given to me at the time. After the adoption is finalised (usually 2 years after the placement) then the Department usually fades into the background. If the birth family is tricky to deal with during access visits, then perhaps DHS can continue to be involved.
Are you allowed to take the children overseas?
Yes, you can apply for a passport and take the children overseas. Not sure about whether this is achievable in the first 2 years of placement though, while guardianship is still legally with DHS. I’ll find out the answer to that and amend this post.
While you don’t have to own a house, how do they evaluate ‘stability’ in living arrangement?
Renting is OK, but if you had flatmates that would make life a little tricky. Probably best that you’re living alone with a spare room. If you’re looking to be placed with a sibling set, it may be a struggle if you live in an apartment.
Is there a good support network of families to tap into who are permanent carers?
Based on my experience so far, there’s not nearly the support base online as there is if you choose solo parenthood through donor conception. It’s one of the reasons why I started this blog, and something my dear friend over at Tortoise Tales has written about. That said, I have met some lovely ladies who are awesomesauce ( a Gen Y, Twitter term. Carry on) and I’m not convinced that I need a huge additional network that is solely focused on adoption from foster care. I am an information junkie though and LURVE anecdotal stories, so the more the merrier. In short, this answer is too inconsistent. Argh.
What would the ‘average’ time periods be – from application through to approval and then from approval through to being placed?
Of course, there is no average. Blerg. I personally am not expecting to be approved under 12 months. It took this lady 13 months.
As for the time between being approved and being placed – I wouldn’t dare estimate. If your criteria are wide, I suspect sooner rather than later. The department have been known to hasten an application if there is a child already waiting that they think is the perfect fit for the prospective family.
Is there a preference to placing siblings in the same family, or is really a case-by-base basis?
It’s case by case, but I think they do try when they can. At the info night they spoke about trying to place a family of 6 kids. They ultimately had to break them up, but they all get together regularly to maintain their relationship. I think when I was asking this question, I was going for the baby angle here to see if there was an automatic process where I would receive any other future children born to the birth parents that were removed from their care. The answer is no to automatic placement, yes to being considered.
Did you think there were any extra layers of scrutiny that you went through because you’re single? Was there any other single people going through the process when you were?
The department will say that it’s all about the right child and the right family. I have heard that the attitude is to put the younger, less damaged children with the couples. I’m choosing to focus on the former.
I’m sure there’s more, but I’m sure we’d all agree that this is super long, if there actually was anyone left reading this. I’m just working on building up stamina for the application process. To my friends who have gone through the process and have experienced the real time, live process, let me know if I’ve majorly borked any of this and I will rectify.