CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE (SAFETY) (MISCELLANEOUS) AMENDMENT BILL

Thank you, Mr Chair, and I would like the opportunity to respond to the member for Reynell. Adoption is an emotive issue. I think it is something that many people would avoid and not bring to parliament, but I believe that being a member of parliament and being a minister requires difficult decisions and difficult discussions. That is part of being a leader: bringing difficult discussions to the house. 

This is something that I have considered for seven years now. This is not a new issue. This is something that has been raised many, many times. I was the shadow minister for four years. I have been the minister for more than three years. For seven years, I have contemplated this. I have researched this. I have looked at what is done in other countries, in other states and in other jurisdictions. I have met with people who have been adopted. I have met with people who would like to be adopted. I have met with foster carers who would like to adopt. 

I have met with people who believe this is related to the abortion law and that if we had adoption there would be fewer abortions. There are many different aspects and angles to look at. I can assure this committee that I have taken this matter very seriously. This is not an ill-considered policy: it is a well-considered policy. As a government, we announced this in September 2019—a long time ago. Since then, we have held workshops and we have discussed it with people. I have met with young people in care, with foster carers, with workers, with staff, with many people. We have held a formal gathering and we have also had written submissions. 

I have done my very best to bring to this house the best adoption policy possible. I have met with people who have adopted children and I have said to them, 'If you could design an adoption policy from the ground up—which I can—what would it look like so that we are supporting you and the child so that they can have permanency and stability and the life that I believe our children deserve?' 

In reference to the dual adoption policies, rightly so, there is an Adoption Act and this is being put in the Children and Young People (Safety) Act because it relates only to children who have already gone through the court process—some of them many times—which has determined that the children are not safe to be with their biological family. There have been court orders based on the evidence through the Youth Court. 

This government is spending a lot of money and putting a lot of effort into early intervention and prevention, into family group conferencing and into strengthening families because wherever possible I would much prefer the children to be with their biological family where it is safe to do so. Where it is not safe to do so and a court has determined on the facts, on the evidence of the case, that a child is not safe with their biological family, they are brought into care under the guardianship of the chief executive as it stands. 

In that instance, these children form relationships with their foster carers. Many of the carers I have met have had their children for many, many years—five, 10, 15 years—some from babies, some from young children, and they see those children as their children, as their family. They want the opportunity to make that child part of their forever family and to show the child they are chosen, they are safe, they are in a family who loves them forever, not just until they are 18 but forever. They want to make them part of their will and part of their family and let them know that they have been chosen, and it makes a big difference to the child. 

I can tell you, Chair, nearly all the foster carers I have told that this was available burst into tears at the thought that finally the child they have cared for and loved for many years can now be part of their family. This is not about removing children from birth and getting them adopted out. This is not a stolen generation. We have already decided and determined that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are not part of this. We have made every safeguard to ensure that the ills and the wrongs of the past will not be repeated. We have put every protection possible in this bill. 

This is for people who already have an established relationship. They have already been a carer for the child for at least two years. They have gone through the assessment, they have a working with children check, they have gone through all the child safety checks and all the requirements. They have been with a child for two years, they have had caseworkers, they have had annual reviews, and we have had ample opportunity to look at how that relationship is going, how the child is faring. 

This is not about the adult determining they want the child. The voice of the child is incredibly important. Whoever would force a child to be adopted? It is ridiculous. That is not our intention. This is simply another option that would be available. It might be suitable for five children a year, 10 children a year. I am not expecting or anticipating that the 4,500 children we have in care are all going to suddenly be adopted. This is an option for those who want it. 

Emmah Money, who came out and spoke and did all the radio interviews when we announced this in September 2019, was a former model of mine. She was adopted from foster care and has a wonderful story to tell about how her life turned out, about that opportunity and how it felt to be chosen. Another of my former models was open in connecting with foster carers. I did not know that she was a foster child, and when I told her at that time the then Labor government had made adoption available for over 18s she was delighted. She always wanted to be adopted. She is in her 30s. 

This is something that is still so precious to people, even as adults—to be part of a family legitimately. This is an open adoption. We have integrated birth certificates, where the biological family and the new family are both acknowledged. This is not about denying the child access to their former family or knowledge of the former family or pretending they did not exist. This is an open adoption with an integrated birth certificate. This is all about giving a child and their foster family the ability to make that commitment together. In recommendation 157, the Nyland royal commission actually said that adoption should be considered when it is in the best interests of the child, and the former Labor government accepted that recommendation. I am just going forward from that recommendation and putting the legislation in place to make that possible. 

The people I have met with said that, if you were financially well off, the most important thing to them was access to therapies, access to health care and access to the extra education supports that guardianship children have currently. I have negotiated with both the education minister and the health minister to ensure that those services will continue because we do not know if the child might need more help as they go through different stages in life, and we want that to be available. 

I then looked at the fact that in South Australia around 80 per cent of foster carers are on benefits. I did not want to exclude these wonderful people who have done an amazing job, some of whom have been foster caring for many, many decades. I did not want to exclude them from the ability to adopt a child simply because they could not afford it. I want this to be the best possible piece of legislation and policy that is in the best interests of children and their carers. 

That is why we have considered, and we have a letter from the tax office, that the money—just as it is for a foster carer or a kinship carer, the same payment—would be considered in the same way as a reimbursement and not as income, where it is considered to be a reimbursement. That would need to be determined on a case-by-case basis. Those families who are eligible for Family Tax Benefits A and B would be eligible for that payment to continue. 

The idea is that this is all about what is in the best interests of the child. Research shows us that permanency, stability and forever families are incredibly important. We know that mental health is a huge issue in our state and in our country; it is quite prevalent. We know that that stability, a family that will be there to support you through that forever, is so incredibly important. That is what this legislation is about, and that is what I am trying to establish here. 

Where there has been consultation, the voice of the child is incredibly important. The payments are consistent with the foster carer payments; that is, if they are eligible for Family Tax Benefit A, families can elect to not be part of that. If they financially do not need it, there would be money—I think it is $1,500—for their education expenses and to settle the child in. 

It is important to clarify that applications for adoption orders will still be made pursuant to the Adoption Act and that, unless otherwise stated, the operation of the Adoption Act has not been modified. Consistent with article 21 of the CRC, the best interests of the child are still the paramount consideration of the court when determining an application for adoption pursuant to section 10 of the Adoption Act. I think this is very important, and I do hope that I have the support of the crossbench to pass this legislation tonight.