Adoptions pathway guidelines
Adoption work within Oranga Tamariki encompasses enquiries from birthparents considering placing their child for adoption, from applicants for local and intercountry adoptions, and proposals to adopt a child from within the family either in New Zealand or from another country. It also includes applications from adopted adults who want to find out about their birth family and birthparents who want to find out about the child they place for adoption. Adoption is the legal transfer of all parental rights and responsibilities from a child's birthparents to the adoptive parents. When this process is completed, the child's legal status becomes as if born to the adoptive parents. Access to the original birth registration is closed and a new one is issued in the adoptive name. Access to the original registration is only accessed under the provisions of the Adult Adoption Information Act 1985. The following sections provide a brief overview of the adoption process.
Explore options for the child
If birthparents choose adoption for their child, it is essential they make well-informed, child-centred choices regarding their child's future that they can accept in later years as the right decision for that time in their lives. Social workers provide the opportunity to discuss their situation, ensuring that they are well informed about the options open to them for their child and that they are making their own decisions without duress. Wider family/whānau, with birthparent agreement, may be involved but the decision is ultimately made by the parents alone.
Select adoptive family from profiles
Birth parents are encouraged to discuss the kind of family they want for their child. The social worker will first provide profiles of applicants in the local area, but if no suitable family is found locally, further profiles may be requested from other areas. Choosing a family is not a commitment to adoption, as no placement can occur until consent to adoption is signed, at least 10 full days after the birth, that is, not before the 12th day.
Adoption enquiry: People who want to adopt a child
It is in the interests of children that Oranga Tamariki hold a ‘pool’ of potential parents who have been prepared and assessed for parenting a child not born to them, in order to be available for matching with a child in need of placement. Social workers handle applications with sensitivity recognising that while adoption is a service for children, they should be aware of the individual emotional situation of the applicants.
Ways to Care: Preparation for adoptive applicants
People who are considering adopting a child can find out more by attending a group information meeting introducing Ways to Care, in which they learn about the children for whom families are needed – whether by adoption or care. Those who decide that they want to adopt a child then complete an application with their local Oranga Tamariki office comprising:
- Application for assessment
- Medical report form
- References (2)
- Police check
- Permission to access Oranga Tamariki records.
The same initial application process applies to adoptions both in New Zealand and from overseas. There may be additional criteria and documentary requirements specified by particular countries with whom New Zealand has intercountry adoption agreements
Applicants then attend two days of the Ways to Care preparation programme to explore the issues of parenting a child not born to them, attitudes and beliefs and a child’s fundamental need for attachment and identity. An additional workshop is provided for intercountry adoptive applicants.
Assessment is an interactive process focussed on the ability of the applicants to meet the needs of an adopted child through life. Assessment informs the statutory report to the Family Court about the applicants’ suitability and eligibility to adopt the child. It also informs the Home Study Report that is required for intercountry adoptions.
Following a favourable assessment applicants may be approved for either domestic or intercountry adoption. Although approved for both options, if a child becomes available for adoption either within New Zealand or from overseas the other application is placed on hold. If one adoption proceeds, the second application is withdrawn.
Prepare a profile: Domestic adoption
When approved as suitable to adopt within New Zealand, the applicants prepare a profile giving written and pictorial information about themselves, their lifestyle, and their thoughts and plans for child-rearing. Profiles are made available to birthparents to help them choose a family they consider will be the best fit for their child. As birthparents come from a broad range of backgrounds, it is important to also have a broad range of applicants.
Facilitate a domestic adoptive placement
Expectant parents considering placing a child for adoption during the pregnancy must be enabled to review their decision after the birth. As much time as is reasonably needed must be given to this consideration before consent is signed. The child’s birth must be registered.
Placement procedures focus on working with birthparents and adoptive applicants to ensure informed decision-making about the placement of the child and the understanding of their roles in relation to the child. It brings together key expectations of open and on-going communication between the parties in the best interests of the child.
Interim care for the child
Consent to adoption cannot be valid until signed after the 12th day following the birth. During this period, if remaining with the birth parent or extended family members is not an option, the child can be placed with a Oranga Tamariki approved caregiver under a s139 temporary care agreement. Birthparents remain the legal guardians until such time as they sign consent to adoption, and may visit the child. Adoptive applicants may also visit with the permission of the birth parents. The social worker will assist by coordinating visits to accommodate both sets of parents and the caregiver.
Meeting and contact agreement
Once the birth parent/s indicate their decision to proceed, they are encouraged to meet with the adoptive parents they have chosen. This provides the opportunity for both parties to find out more about one another and to discuss and clarify their intentions with regard to on-going contact in the proposed adoption. This is a significant event as the two families become linked through the child.
The arrangements for contact are informal and although the families are encouraged and assisted to produce a written agreement, these cannot be legally enforced. Adopted children, as they grow older, may have a personal view about the contact they want to have with their birth parents or family. Hence the contact agreement, whether verbal or written, may well change over time.
Consenting to adoption
As an order of adoption is final and virtually irreversible, giving consent to adoption must be fully informed and freely given. The effect of adoption must be clearly explained to the birthparents by the solicitor who witnesses the consent.
The legal requirements regulating consents to adoption and/or dispensation of consents give the right to consent to the birth parents of the child. No formal consents are required from any other family members, although adoption severs the wider family’s legal links with the child. Formal consent is not required from persons to be adopted. If the child is of sufficient age and understanding the Family Court must take his/her wishes into account.
Approval for placement
The Adoption Act 1955 requires that before a child can be placed in a home for the purpose of adoption a placement approval must have been issued by a social worker or there must be a court order (the exception being where the child is already in the home as a relative of the adoptive applicants or a foster child).
Placement approval is not normally issued until after the adoption consent has been both signed and also received by the solicitor for the adoptive applicants. The adoptive applicants are then informed that they may take the child into their care.
The placement approval lasts for 28 days, during which time the applicants, through their solicitor, apply to the Family Court for an Interim Order of Adoption.
Reporting to Court
Before the Court may make an Interim Order of Adoption, the social worker must provide a report to the Family Court detailing the circumstances of the adoptive applicants, including an assessment as to whether they are adjudged as ‘fit and proper’ to provide for the child. The report will also describe the circumstances of the birthparents which have led them to choose adoption for their child. Every report requires a summary to support the social worker’s recommendation with respect to granting the order.
An Interim Order of Adoption may be in force for between 6 and 12 months, after which a further brief report is called for which describes the child’s progress in the care of the adoptive parents. When the final Order of Adoption is granted the child becomes as if born to the adoptive parents.
Family/whānau applications received from the Court
In some situations the child to be adopted is already part of the family and may have been there from birth. Usually the child will be a relative or occasionally a non-relative foster child. Where the child is already in the home, prior approval will not have been required.
In order to provide a report on the adoption, social workers will interview the applicants, the birthparents (usually) and the child. The birthparents will have already given their consent and while the Adoption Act 1955 does not require it, their information will add to the overall understanding of the adoption proposal. It may be that the family/whānau have not considered an alternative to adoption, and will agree to secure their parental status via the Care of Children Act 2004, rather than by adoption, which alters natural relationships.
The usual application documents will be required. All relevant information must be put before the Family Court, balancing the applicants’ ‘suitability’ with the attachment the child has to the applicants and other family members, considering any alternatives and taking the child’s opinion into account. The report will include a recommendation of the legal arrangement that in the social worker’s view best fits the circumstances of the child. Ultimately the Court makes the decision. When recommending in favour of adoption it is usual for a final Adoption Order to be recommended in the first instance.
Intercountry adoption is a service for children being adopted from another country. New Zealand is a contracting state to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (The Hague Convention). Oranga Tamariki is the Central Authority for the Hague Convention in New Zealand and responsible for the operation of the Convention.
New Zealand has agreements with a number of Hague Convention contracting states for intercountry adoptions. Each has its own requirements and processes for the placement of a child when it has been decided by the authorities in that country that an intercountry adoption is the only opportunity for a child to experience a home and family life.
Intercountry adoption from one of the countries with which the New Zealand Government has an intercountry adoption programme is an option for family formation presented during the Ways to Care preparation programme. Individuals or families may apply to adopt an identified child that is a relative living overseas. In both of these situations the Adoption Intercountry Act 1997, which embodies the principles of the Hague Convention, will apply.
Home Study report
Approved applicants for intercountry adoption will work with the social worker to create a Home Study report from which the authority in the country of their choosing may find a match for a child they judge able to benefit from adoption in another country.
The Home Study report will cover all aspects of the home and family environment in order to allow the sending country to determine if the welfare and interests of the prospective adoptive child will be promoted by the adoption. In particular the social worker will include how the child’s cultural or any specific needs will be attended to by the applicant family.
Intercountry placement proposal
When satisfied that the applicants are eligible and suitable to meet the special needs of an intercountry adopted child, the social worker makes a proposal to the New Zealand Central Authority that the adoption application be forwarded to the identified sending country. A report detailing the approval of the applicants is provided to the Central Authority of the sending country.
When a child is matched with the intercountry adoptive applicants, both Central Authorities must approve the adoption proceeding. If approval is given to proceed, the adoptive applicants must travel to the overseas country to complete the legal requirements and accompany the child back to New Zealand. In some countries applicants may choose to work with an accredited body may work with the overseas authority to assist placement. Depending on the nature of the agreement between New Zealand and the sending country, the adoption will either be finalised in an overseas court or administratively through agreement and exchange of certificates between the two Central Authorities or the applicants will travel to the overseas country, return with the child and the adoption will be finalised in the New Zealand Family Court with the approval of the overseas authority.
Post-placement reports for intercountry adoption
Each country has its own requirements for the number of post-placement reports to inform the overseas Central Authority of the child’s settling and wellbeing, since having been adopted. Post placement reports are accompanied by photographs of the child undertaking normal activities with his or her adoptive family.
Assessing applicants for a surrogacy adoption proposal
Couples or individuals who wish to produce a child of their own genetic origin by in vitro fertilisation in New Zealand (intending parents) are required to have the prior approval of the Ethics Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology (ECART). In order to obtain approval, amongst other requirements, intending parents must have a plan to secure the child’s status with them, as, in law, the woman bearing the child on their behalf, the surrogate mother, is the legal parent. Adoption is the only legal mechanism which will provide the child with a birth certificate in the name(s) of the intending parents.
These applicants are directed by the fertility clinics to Oranga Tamariki to obtain a letter of potential suitability to adopt, should a child be born. The social worker makes an assessment appropriate to the situation. The applicants are not required to attend Ways to Care as they are already undertaking counselling and preparation at the fertility clinic.
If their application is approved (for surrogacy adoption only) they are given a letter to this effect to present with their application to ECART. When a child is born as a result of this procedure, the social worker may consider issuing the placement approval before consent can be signed if the surrogate mother indicates that this is her wish.
Intercountry surrogacy arrangements
When New Zealand citizens or permanent residents enter into a surrogacy arrangement in an overseas country with the intention of returning to New Zealand with the child, they may encounter difficulty. The arrangement may not be compatible with New Zealand law in a number of important particulars and complicated immigration and citizenship issues may result. Regardless of whose name is on the birth certificate or what legal orders the intending parents may have acquired in the overseas country, under New Zealand law the birthmother and her partner, if she has one, are the legal parents of the child.
In order for the intending parents to become the legal parents of the child in New Zealand, they may apply to adopt the child. Where such an application is before the court, as a social work report is required, a full adoptive applicant assessment is completed in accordance with relevant policy.
Depending on the circumstances of the case (e.g. country of birth, wishes of the intending parents) Immigration New Zealand may be involved in considering issuing a Temporary Visa for the child to enter New Zealand and the Department of Internal Affairs may be involved with considering applications for a grant of New Zealand citizenship. Each case will be dealt with on its merits as each will have distinct characteristics.
Adult Adoption Information Act 1985
The Adult Adoption Information Act 1985 enables adult adopted people and their registered birthparents to receive identifying information about each other once the adopted person has turned 20. Both parties have rights to place restrictions on information about themselves being disclosed, where the child was born before 1985. Birthparents of children placed since 1985 are no longer able to restrict this information.
All enquiries from birthparents about adults who were adopted are handled by the Adoption Services Unit in Wellington. Counselling, search and contact functions are available at all Adoption Services sites.