Open Adoption Awareness Month | Busselton child protection advocate says open adoption is key

Busselton child protection advocate Martin Dearlove hopes to undertake a PHD to develop a framework that can be used across multiple agencies to achieve the best outcomes for children in protection.
Busselton child protection advocate Martin Dearlove hopes to undertake a PHD to develop a framework that can be used across multiple agencies to achieve the best outcomes for children in protection.

More than 340 South West children in Busselton, Bunbury and Collie are in care, according to child protection minister Simone McGurk.

Throughout the last five years, between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2018, there have been only nine carer adoptions in WA.

Despite these alarming figures, foster carers in WA are eligible to apply for adoption after two years of care, but not-for-profit organisation Adopt Change stated the process was often lengthy taking many years.

Busselton child protection advocate Martin Dearlove is shining a spotlight on open adoption as part of Open Adoption Awareness Month hoping one day every child will have a safe home and bright future.

Mr Dearlove has worked in child protection for 11 years and is an advocate for children’s welfare, their long-term future and well-being.

He said while open adoption was controversial because of past history, it was about keeping a child’s culture, religion, identity, history and connection alive.

“It is so children do not lose that, there are no secrets, no forced or closed documents, it is open so that connection remains,” he said.

“The outcomes for children who are in open adoption, which has been proven time-and-time again, is very good.”

The outcomes for children who are in open adoption, which has been proven time-and-time again, is very good.

Busselton open adoption advocate Martin Dearlove

Mr Dearlove said child protection numbers were increasing and many of these children were drifting through care putting them at risk of homelessness, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues and suicide.

A study looking at the number of adverse childhood experiences a person had in life, found the more adversity a person suffered through childhood the more problems they would have in adulthood.

Mr Dearlove said these types of experiences could include abuse, a deceased parent, a parent in prison, physical trauma or something which was detrimental to a child who had little support.

“Resilience comes into this as well, if you had great support, great parents, a great school and great relatives around you then you could probably pull through that with less problematic mental health,” he said.

“But a lot of these children do not have that, they are removed or placed in care, and being place in care is a frightening experience for a child.”

Part of the problem with care is that it could take a long time to become permanent, which Mr Dearlove said was different in every state of Australia.

According to Australian not-for-profit organisation Adopt Change, the number of children in WA who were adopted from out-of-home care in 2016/17 was two.

Adopt Change chief executive officer Renee Carter said in a report, these children “have been living away from their birth parents for over two years, with many of them moving too many times, missing out on having a permanent place to call home.

“Instead, these children experience a range of negative outcomes during childhood and in later life including difficulties with education and relationships, poor health, early pregnancy and homelessness.

“And while there are many families wanting to provide a permanent, loving and safe home for these children, there are a myriad of roadblocks and barriers keeping these potential families apart.” 

And while there are many families wanting to provide a permanent, loving and safe home for these children, there are a myriad of roadblocks and barriers keeping these potential families apart.

Adopt Change chief executive officer Renee Carter

Mr Dearlove said children craved stability and permanency, and if a child was happy with their foster family and wanted to stay with that family, then permanency should be given with that family.

“I know that from experience as a child protection worker, it is really important that children are asked for their view,” he said.

“Children can tell you from a very young age if they are safe or unsafe, children’s voices are really important, they should always be involved in what’s happening to them.

“That is why open adoption is transparent. They come with their family history and they come with their story of their harm which is really important because they need to know why they are in care.

“Children need to know they were abused or harmed and even though it is really hard to hear they do better when they know what has happened to them.

“If they do not know that children end up with breakdowns, go missing, runaway or go back to their family where they are unsafe – that is what happens if you are not told what happened to you.”

WA Government to review the Adoption Act 1994 (WA)

Child protection minister Simone McGurk said adoption was just one of a number of options that could provide long term stable care for a child.

Ms McGurk said a statutory review of the Adoption Act 1994 (WA) was currently being undertaken and it was anticipated it would be tabled in Parliament prior to the end of 2018.

“It is my view that the paramount consideration in any decision regarding a child in out-of-home care must always be the best interests of each individual child and on identifying and meeting their long term needs,” she said.

“Adoption is only one in a range of options. Other options are special guardianship orders and permanent foster care which both provide a child in care with a long term, stable home, but also supported children to maintain connections with their birth family where it was appropriate.

“I want to encourage people in the South West to consider opening their hearts and homes to the rewarding possibilities of foster caring.” 

The Department of Communities is developing a trial in WA with Anglicare to allow young people to stay in care until the age of 21 years if they chose.

Ms McGurk said the intention of rolling out a trial program in WA was to ensure the benefits of the program for Western Australians and the opportunities for it that exist in WA, rather than trying to retrofit a model from a different jurisdiction. 

Vasse MLA Libby Mettam said considering the growing number of vulnerable children that clearly needed support, it was time to rethink WA’s policy to look at ways to create opportunities for adopting children.

Ms Mettam said low adoption statistics was an indication that we were not meeting the needs of vulnerable children in care.

“In my role as local member I have met with foster families and one in particular working towards adoption which demonstrated some of the issues that currently exist,” she said.

Anyone interested in becoming a foster carer should contact the Department of Communities on 1800 182 178​.