ACT Barnardos Mother of the Year winner Chauntell McNamara with her family, (from left) husband Andrew, Chauntell, Cooper, 6, Annabella, 8, and Brodie, 13. Photo: Jamila Toderas
A Canberra mother who spent six years waiting for approval to adopt two local children has backed calls from Senator Zed Seselja to aim for a more efficient, NSW model of adoption.
Chauntell McNamara, the 2015 ACT Barnardos Mother of the Year, said the children's interests had to be at the centre of government action – and once it was decided a return to birth parents was not possible, that meant the option for faster adoptions.
The leading benefit for the children – cared for by the McNamaras from ages four years and 14 months – was the legal identity they wanted.
"My son didn't want to receive an award because the school wouldn't put his [new] name on it," she said.
Senator Seselja joined Queensland LNP Senator Joanna Lindgren this week in calling for adoption to be available as an option to "far more children than is currently the case".
They encouraged the nationwide use of the NSW model, which would soon make it mandatory to decide within six months of a child entering care for those under two, or within 12 months for those over two, whether the child could be returned to their parents. If they cannot, court applications would be made so they could be adopted.
The senators said a major Senate committee report on out of home care had not focused enough on adoption reform.
The ACT government announced A Step Up For Our Kids model in January, which involved an extra $16 million spend for children living out of home and parents and carers across five years. A spokesman for the Community Services Directorate said the model promoted "significant increases in permanency, including adoptions", with "speedier access" to this permanency promised when children would not be returning home.
Law changes would reduce the time an ACT carer had to wait to apply for an enduring parental responsibility order from two years to one. Specific details on any adoption changes were not provided.
"It should be noted that the main difference between an EPR and adoption is that unlike adoption, which changes a child's legal identity and replaces the birth parents' names with the adoptive parents' names on the birth certificate, EPR maintains the child's original legal identity," he said.
Senator Seselja said this meant the open adoption model provided more benefits for a child's identity, and the ACT government's claim its last round of changes in 2008 would provide more adoption opportunities had failed to deliver.
"Until the ACT changes the systemic and institutional bias against adoption too many kids will continue to be denied the benefits of genuine permanency," he said.
During the Senate committee hearings, Barnardos Australia said Australian governments were failing to ensure that children left out-of-home care, with six to eight placements normal for a child.
Barnardos Australia chief executive Deirdre Cheers said the latest models in both NSW and the ACT rightly encouraged increased permanency for children, as did a Senate report recommendation.
She said while some carers, who had the consent of the birth parents, could have adoption applications granted within six to eight months, the more excessive time frames occurred because systems and case workers across Australia were not geared towards considering adoptions due to mistakes in the past.
There were 17 adoptions in the ACT in 2013-14, up from six the year before, although 10 of these involved children from overseas.
The ACT'S rate of adoption was more than double the national rate, at 8.3 per 100,000 children. There were 592 children and young people under the directorate's care in 2013-14.
Mrs McNamara, who with husband Andrew received adoption approval in October last year after a six-year process, said even ongoing foster care rights until the child was 18 did not provide the same permanency as being able have birth certificates changed, avoiding a constant need to prove the family connection.
"It was, quite simply, torture," she said. "To explain your story every time, and your kids have to stand there and hear it."
(This article first appeared in The Canberra Times on 22 August, 2015 and was written by Matthew Raggatt.)