Parents desperate to adopt from overseas will be assisted by a new bureau of dedicated federal Government advocates who will help them negotiate with foreign governments and cut through red tape, in Tony Abbott’s landmark overhaul of the adoption system. According to reports a team of Australian officials will travel to Vietnam this week to revive our lapsed adoption agreement, and hopes to have a deal finalised with the United States of America by July. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has also instructed Attorney General George Brandis to pursue agreements with the US and Poland while talks continue about programs with four other countries, including Latvia, Kenya, Bulgaria and Cambodia.
The new Inter-Country Adoption Support Agency will open as early as April to streamline the adoption process for prospective adoptive parents. It will include a dedicated 1800 hotline, a website, trained advocates who will negotiate with foreign and state governments for parents, direct referrals to decision-makers and funding for family support services to smooth the often tortured process. Mr Abbott has vowed to cut the average five-year wait for overseas adoptions. “Prospective parents have told me they simply don’t have anyone advocating for them,” Mr Abbott said. “Now there will be someone to guide them and support them.”
Mr Abbott said the changes would make it easier for parents in navigating the adoption process. “For too long, it has been too hard to adopt and for too long, this has been a policy no-go zone,” he said. “It shouldn’t be that way — because adoption is all about giving children a better life. This is all about helping families who want a child, and the children who need a safe and loving family. “There are millions of children in overseas orphanages who would dearly love to have parents. There are thousands of Australians who would dearly love to help those kids have a family.” Adoption Advocacy Group, Adopt Change, welcomed the announcement.
Adopt Change chief executive Jane Hunt said: ‘‘‘Every step we take in reforming the process is important, and we commend the PM for his commitment to improving relationships with more countries and ensuring children are connected with safe homes here.” “This service will provide much-needed support, guidance and advocacy for prospective adoptive parents. It is important we remember there are vulnerable children who cannot be cared for by their biological parents. Our focus is to make sure they grow up in a loving, caring family, setting them up for the best possible chance in life.”
Adoptions in Australia are at a record low, with just 317 international and domestic cases finalised last year — a 76 decline since 1989-90. According to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data released in December last year, around one-third of children were adopted from overseas with the majority coming from Asia. While the median wait time for an inter-country adoption to be finalised was five years, the processing time in China was almost eight years. Among Western nations, Australia has among the lowest rates inter-country adoptions with agreements operating with 13 countries, although four are on hold. The latest agreement was made last year with South Africa.
Taiwan has been the main country of origin for overseas adoptions since 2011-12, making up more than one-third of all intercountry adoptions. At a State level, the NSW government last year legislated to make it easier for would-be parents to adopt a foster child in a bid to find permanent homes for more than 18,000 local children in out-of-home-care. Opponents to inter-country adoption warn of the increased risks of baby-trafficking occurring, especially in poor countries. Others have questioned whether it is the best interests of children to be removed from their culture. ‘It’s not a black and white issue’
The Vietnam War was still raging when six-month-old Lynelle Long was handed over to her new father, Australian Don Beveridge, in Saigon for a down-payment of $200. It was December 1973 and Mr Beveridge, a dairy farmer with a wife and four children of their own, had flown over from country Victoria to adopt a Vietnamese baby after hearing how many children had become orphans in the conflict. Ms Long, whose Vietnamese name is Vong Ung Thanh, does not know what happened to her birth parents. The Saigon agent organising the adoption with her Australian family claimed she had been “found” at just three days old. The only document that exists is a letter the agent sent to her adoptive mother beforehand.
Dated August 21, 1973, it read: “Dear Mrs Beveridge, this is to present to you: Miss Lynelle Ung-Thanh Beveridge. She is more than pretty with Asiatic eyes, small nose and clear complexion”. It included a postage stamp-sized photo of baby Lynelle. After flying to Saigon, Mr Beveridge parted with $200 and promised to deposit $100 instalments into the agent’s son’s bank account towards his university education. He returned home with the new baby, who would become sister to their four biological children. Ms Long was among the first Vietnamese children to be adopted in Australia.
The next wave came towards the end of the war, which triggered Australia’s inter-country adoption program that saw around 200 babies brought to Australia each year for about a decade. Vietnam is on the list of countries the federal government is exploring to reopen an inter-country adoption plan as part of an ongoing review. Now living in Castle Hill, in Sydney’s northwest, with two children of her own, Ms Long, 41, said moves to boost inter-country adoptions needed to be undertaken with caution. She also said fast-tracking the process should not be at the expense of proper vetting of overseas organisations to ensure poor families were not being lured into giving up unwanted babies.
“Although it may seem an altruistic act, it is not always in the best interests of the child,” she said. “I am neither pro or anti adoption, I just believe the better option for all children is to be raised by a member of their own family. An inter-country adoption should be a last resort.” Ms Long said growing up as the sole Asian on a Gippsland dairy farm was challenging. Her message to parents considering adopting from overseas is to be aware that many children will struggle with cultural and identity issues. “They look different to their parents and their friends. I was in my late-teens when I first met other Asian people,” she said. “The journey for an adopted child is always going to be complex,”
AUSTRALIAN WOMEN ENTICED BY FALSE GLAMOUR OF ISLAMIC STATE
Australian officials have reported that an increasing number of Australian women are travelling to Iraq and Syria to fight with the Islamic State (IS). Attorney General George Brandis said the administration’s concern has shifted under the growing IS recruits. “At an earlier time, perhaps even six months ago, we were concerned almost entirely about young men,” Brandis said. “But a more recent estimate by the national security agencies suggests that a growing number of young women are travelling to participate in that fighting as well.” The ABC has reported that 90 Australians have joined IS this year, compared to 70 last year, and Brandis said the expats don’t know what they are getting themselves into.
“They are enticed and ensnared here in Australia with the false glamour of participating in the civil war on behalf of IS,” he explained. “The Australian people should be aware that this is a real and growing problem.” Brandis also addressed the problem in December, when he reported that 20 Australians were killed in the Iraqi conflict last year. The senator accused IS of using foreign fighters as “cannon fodder” and “propaganda tools.” Australia’s Parliament recently passed legislation outlawing travel to countries considered terrorist hotspots. Violation of the law is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
WHOEVER WINS QUEENSLAND ELECTION CHAPLAINCY AND RELIGIOUS EDUCATION APPEAR SAFE
With the result of the Queensland election still in the balance it is of comfort to Christian voters to know that both major parties have committed to support chaplaincy and religious education in Queensland. Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) Queensland director Wendy Francis said that in their answers to ACL’s pre-election questionnaire, the Liberal National Party (LNP) and the Australian Labor Party committed support for Christian chaplaincy services. The parties also committed to maintaining existing arrangements for religious instruction provided by churches and faith groups in Queensland schools. The bi-partisan support to shows that both parties recognise the place religious instruction has in our education system.
“It is important for students to have the option to learn about the faith that has so much shaped Australia into such an attractive society,” Ms Francis said. The parties also indicated they supported restricting outdoor advertising to age-appropriate material. The Labor Party said “We would support measures to ensure that children are not exposed to age-inappropriate material.” The LNP said it accepted the recommendation of a Parliamentary inquiry to increase penalties for advertisers who do not comply with the code of ethics. “Children and families should be able to enjoy public spaces free from demeaning, violent, or sexualised images,” Ms Francis said. “Both parties have shown they understand how important this is.”
NATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER AND FASTING TAKING PLACE IN CANBERRA SUNDAY 15th FEBRUARY
This year’s National Day of Prayer and Fasting will be held Sunday 15 February 2015. This Australia-wide day of prayer is followed by 40 days of Prayer and Fasting from Ash Wednesday 18 February to Palm Sunday 29 March 2015. This is the fifth year that the National Day of Prayer and Fasting has been held. The first National Day of Prayer & Fasting, on 24 July 2011, was proposed by Christian leaders who met at a Strategic Planning Consultation which took place in Parliament House, Canberra on 28 February 2011. With a great a sense of urgency, they made a unanimous decision to proceed with such an event.
Since then these annual events have been excellent opportunities to pray for the three focus areas of Religious Freedom, Marriage and Family and Human Life. The National Day of Prayer & Fasting 2015 will be celebrated in our nation’s capital in a prayer service on 15 February from 10AM to 4PM in the Great Hall of Parliament House. The theme this year is Destiny and the celebration of our Christian heritage. The Day will be proceeded by prayer events in other capital cities and regional areas across Australia. For more information as to how you can be involved and where local events are being held please go towww.nationaldayofprayer.com.au