A mere 89 children were adopted from 'out-of-home care' last year. At the same time, more than 30,000 children had been in care continuously for longer than two years.
This is a proxy figure for the number of children potentially available for adoption, were adoption not officially taboo within the child protection world. Many children in long-term care have been subjected to prolonged maltreatment at home and highly damaging instability while in care (multiple entries, exits, and reentries) as endless efforts are made to preserve and reunite dysfunctional families.
The taboo reflects the complex history of adoption, including the legacy of the Stolen Generations and discredited forced adoption practices. But the tragic lessons of these episodes have been learned. Modern adoptions are 'open', meaning adopted children can have contact with birth parents and knowledge of their family and cultural heritages so they do not grow up strangers unto themselves.
A promising sign is that the debate is changing due to the growing realisation that many children would be better off having a safe and permanent adopted family for life.
Diana Bryant, the Chief Justice of the Family Court, and Megan Mitchell, the National Children's Commissioner have both expressed support of greater use of adoption for some children in care.
But there is still a long way to go. Political leadership is needed to drive cultural change in child protection authorities, but politicians are wary of supporting adoption for fear of being accused of repeating past mistakes and 'stealing' children all over again.
On controversial issues such as adoption, politicians prefer to lead in the direction the public is already prepared to head. This is why it is crucial for organisations like the CIS, and adoption advocacy groups such as Adopt Change, to lead the debate and build community support for adoption.
Adoption from care will not become a standard part of Australian child protection, as it should be, until the idea that modern, open adoption is a socially acceptable practice is embedded in the hearts and minds of the Australian public.
Dr Jeremy Sammut is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies. His book, The Madness of Australian Child Protection: Why Adoption Will Rescue Underclass Children, will be published by Connor Court in November. He is speaking today at the CIS Consilium conference session Changing Minds to Change Lives: Breaking the Adoption 'Taboo' in Australia.