DEBORRA-LEE FURNESS has joined a chorus of child welfare advocates and carers to welcome moves by the NSW government to expand adoption, while warning more practical and financial support will be vital.
Furness, who has adopted two children from overseas with husband Hugh Jackman, pictured below, is a passionate advocate for improving adoption and is a founder of National Adoption Awareness Week. ''We just want kids to have families, we don't care if they're from Parramatta or Nigeria,'' she said.
The Community Services Minister, Pru Goward, announced proposals this week to make adoption, not long-term foster care, the preferred option for local children who cannot be restored to their own families. ''What children really need, the ideal, is a home for life,'' she said.
The focus on providing children with stability has been widely welcomed, but most argue the practical challenges will be immense. The opposition community services spokeswoman, Linda Burney, raised doubts as to whether sufficient numbers of parents would be willing to take on children.
''We know that these children, particularly the babies, are born with significant health problems and can be addicted to opiates; the older children are often deeply scarred, damaged and many have disabilities,'' she said.
Ms Goward dismissed Ms Burney's comments as ''ignorant'' and said there were 700 foster carers wanting to adopt.
But Ms Furness said appropriate support was vital: ''It's not for every family, it's a big deal to take on an older child who's been traumatised.''
Asked if she would have considered taking on a local child, she said she was not sure.
''It's a big job. In good faith, I don't know that I would have considered that. It takes a big person,'' Furness said.
The president of the NSW Foster Carer Association, Patray Moncacha, said many carers had been deterred from adoption by financial pressures.
''A lot of the foster carers are pensioners. Financially, they cannot simply support children in their care, not knowing what medical requirements are needed … they can't make that commitment,'' she said.
Previously, parents who adopted through the out-of-home-care system in NSW received $16,000 annually, but that payment was slashed by the present government last year to a $1500 annual post-adoption allowance.
Foster parents receive more financial support, though Ms Moncacha said many carers were worse off since the government transferred the operation of out-of-home-care to the non-government sector, with payments falling from about $600 a week to about $300 for some parents.
The chief executive of the Association for Child Welfare Agencies, Andrew McCallum, said the fairness of the proposed policies depended on increased support being given to birth parents to give them real opportunities to have their children restored before adoption was considered.
Positive incentives were needed for birth parents to improve their behaviour, he said, not just the threat of having children removed. ''You don't change people's behaviour with punishment,'' he said.
Clarification: This article was clarified to show that the NSW government's post adoption allowance is only available to parents who adopt through the NSW government out-of-home-care system