Intercountry adoption applications to the New Zealand Family Court
Updated: 29 January 2019
Intercountry adoption from non-Hague countries
International boundaries affect the family placement of a child. When all of the family are domiciled in one country, a child may be securely placed within a family by means of a guardianship or parenting order, but when the parties are divided between countries it may be that only an adoption order will secure the legal parent-child relationship and enable the child to reside permanently in the country where the proposed caregivers reside.
Section 3 of the Adoption Act 1955 allows anyone whether living in New Zealand or not to apply to the New Zealand Family Court to adopt a child who may or may not be living in New Zealand. The parties to the adoption application usually have a link to New Zealand.
Direct applications often only become known to Oranga Tamariki when a request to provide a social worker’s report is received from the Registrar of the Family Court.
Engagement with adoptive applicants
An initial interview with the applicants should establish the complete circumstances of the adoption proposal.
In engaging with the applicants social worker should inform them of the role and responsibilities of Oranga Tamariki in the adoption process, and clearly establish the background of the adoption application and purpose of the adoption. Areas to cover include:
- Review all information that has been provided to the court by the applicants. This includes legal documentation such as Birth Certificates, Death Certificates, Baptismal Certificates (this are often used as legal identity documents from African countries), consent documents from birth parents etc.
- Explain the adoption assessment process to the applicants. Provide assistance to the applicants with understanding procedures and completing the application for assessment and other forms. Explain that Oranga Tamariki may seek additional independent information from other Government departments (i.e. Immigration New Zealand, Department of Internal Affairs)
- Establish the complete circumstances of the adoption proposal including names, dates of birth, addresses, citizenship and New Zealand immigration status of all the parties, and the applicants’ account of the reasons for the proposed intercountry adoption and how the proposal came about
- Discuss with the applicants that an adoption must always be in the best interest of the child
- Inform the applicants that Oranga Tamariki will seek to obtain independent information from the child’s country of residence. Explain to the applicants that the information sought will be about the child’s circumstances, their birth family and why the child is in need of an intercountry adoption.
- Ensure the applicants are aware of the potentially long time-frames for obtaining information from another country and ask them to consider the impact of this on the child. If the child in his country of residence is in immediate need of care and protection, they should notify the appropriate authorities in the child’s home country. If the child is in New Zealand on a temporary visa they should ensure that the child retains a lawful immigration status in New Zealand while the adoption process is underway. If the child is living in New Zealand discuss his or her circumstances including the entitlement, or not, to education and health services while in New Zealand.
Some applicants may have English as a second language and their understanding of adoption may be culturally determined. Social worker should give careful thought to your initial engagement and whether you need language interpreters and/or cultural advisors to help explain the purpose and the procedure of the assessment and report. Consideration should also be given to the need to seek cultural advice regarding the adoption assessment, including understanding aspects that are relevant to the assessment and the assessment recommendation.
Liaison with the International Casework Team
When a site office receives a request for a social worker report from the Family Court for a direct adoption application which involves an overseas born child, contact must be made with the International Casework advisor (NZCA_Adoptions@ot.govt.nz) for consultation and assistance early in the process. The assistance the International Casework Team can provide includes confirming the habitual residence and immigration status of the parties involved and their link to New Zealand.
An adoption application has an intercountry component when:
- the child is overseas or
- the child is a foreign citizen but is resident in New Zealand or
- the applicants and child are overseas
Each adoption proposal is unique and likely to be complex so establishing the best way to proceed should occur in consultation with the International Casework Team. After consultation with the International Casework Team, social worker should advise the New Zealand Family Court if there are challenges the particular adoption proposal presents and, if appropriate, make recommendations or request direction from the Court on how to proceed.
Adoption proposals where the child or birth family are overseas
When an intercountry adoption of an identified child living in an overseas country is proposed it is necessary to attempt to request a Child Study report from the other country. The International Casework Team will request the relevant overseas authority to provide a Child Study report. If there is no statutory authority in the child’s country of origin, the International Casework Team will explore other options available in the child’s country, including International Social Service (ISS).
Social worker (in consultation with supervisor) should complete a Child Study request and forward it to the International Casework Team for review and consideration.
Adoption proposals where adoptive applicants are overseas
In order to establish jurisdiction and process, the New Zealand Family Court may specifically request early guidance from Oranga Tamariki on these applications. This occurs in order that the Court can determine under which legislation the adoption might be appropriately considered, what steps are required to be taken and the manner in which it might be finalised.
Social worker should seek advice from the International Casework Team about jurisdiction and process relevant to the particular proposal. Once ascertained, social worker should advise the Court that:
- Oranga Tamariki is unable to assess the adoptive applicants in the usual way when they are resident overseas, and
- this will have an effect on our report under Section 10 of the Adoption Act 1955, and
- an extension of time may be required.
Social worker should complete a documentary assessment of overseas applicants based on their application paperwork. Police and CYRAS checks, medicals and references can be requested and obtained in the usual way by email or post - any clarification can be sought by phone. Applicants must provide current police checks from their country of residence. Social worker should consider whether applicants would benefit from some adoption education material and send the relevant information to them if appropriate.
Social worker should advise the applicants that Oranga Tamariki will seek a Home Study assessment report in their country of residence to obtain necessary information required to report the New Zealand Family Court. The applicants should be informed that the overseas Home Study report may require an extended period of time to obtain, and the applicants are likely be required to pay a fee for the adoption assessment service in another country.
Social worker (in consultation with supervisor) should complete a Home Study report request and forward it to the NZCA for review and consideration.
The Home Study report request should:
- Outline the adoption proposal based on all information that has been provided to the Court by the applicants
- Identify any potential issues arising from the applicants documentary assessment and affidavit to Court, and refer these issues to the report writer overseas for follow up and further assessment
- Request child protection checks (the equivalent of a CYRAS check) to be obtained from the relevant child protection agencies in the applicants’ country of residence
- Request the report writer to evaluate the applicants’ home environment and support networks in the community
- Request the report writer to assess the applicants’ ability, skills, resources, financial means and resilience to meet any emotional, psychological, cultural or religious needs the child may have. This includes the applicants’ understanding of the needs of the adopted child, their ability to deal with trauma and loss that the child may have experienced, and the child’s heritage, cultural and religious needs.
- Emphasise that assessing the attachment and bonding that the child may have with the applicants is critical to deciding whether an adoption order will promote the welfare of the child. Request the report writer to comment on their observation of the applicants’ interactions with the child and the relationship between the child and the applicants
Learn about the suggested headings and questions to include in a Home Study report request.
The International Casework Team will request the relevant child welfare authority in the applicant’s country of residence to complete a Home Study report on the applicants. However, the child welfare authorities in some states may be unable to assist by undertaking a Home Study assessment. In such cases depending on the proposal, requests for assessment may be made through the International Casework Team to International Social Service (ISS).
Some states are prepared to assist on a fee-for-assessment service. This cost is not considered to be the responsibility of Oranga Tamariki, and there are precedents of Judges requiring the applicants to pay any fee for the adoption assessment service, whether from a state agency or through a local preferred provider of assessment reports used by state agencies. Costs associated with Home Study Requests will need to be dealt with on a case by case basis.