Open adoptions to go under Barnados microscope

Removed by the courts from her drug-addicted mother as a baby, now 18-year-old HSC student Tori Peden has become a fierce advocate of the benefits of open adoption.

“I’ve known about it, well, forever. It was never a secret,” she said of her adoption at 15 months, after the courts permanently removed her from her mother.

On Friday, Barnados Australia, who placed Ms Peden with her family, will announce the first-ever study looking at the impact of open adoption – where children and the birth parents continue to have contact. It will study 217 children who had open adoptions after the courts removed them permanently from their families because of abuse, neglect or problems with addiction.

The study, which marks 30 years of open adoption, is part of Barnados’ campaign to encourage adoptions as better for children and better for the state's resources. ‘“We know from experience that the state is not a good parent for children who must spend their childhood in a dysfunctional foster care system,” said Barnados’ CEO Louise Voigt.

The average child in foster care will experience eight changes in placements. Sometimes children as young as five have had as many as 10 breakdowns in foster care. These children are more likely to end up unemployed, homeless, suffer from drug or alcohol problems or in jail. 

Not only do foster arrangements often damage the child, they are also expensive. Every day that a child is adopted saves the government $100. That adds up to about $547,500 for a three-year-old who ends up staying in care until they turn 18 years of age, Barnados' research shows.  

Barnados' Dr Susan Tregeagle, who is heading the research, said children "never feel quite loved or quite secure in foster care, no matter how long they are in foster care. It is that sense that they will continue to belong to a family after they turn 18 after the money runs out.”

The study will also work with a British researcher to identify the best age to do an adoption, identify ways to help families adapt to a new child, and most importantly look at how children in open adoptions deal with adolescence.

Ms Peden said her parents discussed her adoption from the moment she started to talk.

"I love them, they have always been my parents, I have never thought of them any other way," she said.

Ms Peden, from Castle Hill, has even written a paper on the “psychological affect of the adoption triangle – the tension between the two sets of parents and the child.” Her results: open adoption is "definitely better" than having no or very limited contact with birth parents.

Ms Peden has been in contact with her birth mother off and on over the years, seeing her, talking via telephone, and now communicating via Facebook.

Dr Tregeagle said research showed that children like Tori who knew their birth parents were less likely to idealise them, and less likely to suffer identity issues as teenagers. 

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