From foster to 'forever' parents: One gay couple's path to adoption

The Upcrofts on a family holiday. Source: Supplied

Despite same-sex adoption being legal across the entire country - and WA leading the way 16 years ago - it's far from an easy road to creating a family.

This month the Northern Territory became the last of Australia's states and territories to let gay couples adopt. 

The Territory parliament agreed to change an adoption law that had previously limited the right to adopt children to married heterosexual couples, or those in traditional Aboriginal marriages.

In Adelaide, Flinders University associate professor Damien Riggs has researched foster care and adoption in Australia and says there are still some barriers to same-sex adoption. 

He says foster-care agencies can still reject applications from LGBTIQ people on religious grounds, reducing the rates of adoption by same-sex couples. 

"There still is a possibility that some agencies would say, 'No, we won't assess that one,' so that has knock-on effects for adoption, if it's adoption from care," Dr Riggs says. 

"If you can't become a carer in the first place, then that's going to limit your adoption options." 

Dr Riggs says, while the legal barriers to adoption for same-sex couples are gone, gains in reproductive medicine mean many LGBTIQ people may take the scientific route to creating a family.

"It's interesting which one has been taken up more, and I would say that foster care and adoption has been taken up less commonly by lesbian and gay couples than has IVF or surrogacy."

Making the Upcrofts an official family

Early on in their relationship Paul and Brendan Upcroft decided they wanted to have children, a dream they have achieved, firstly through fostering and, finally through adoption. 

For the couple, adopting their two foster children - siblings Aidan and Kaleb - brought a deep sense of relief.

The Upcrofts on the day the adoption was officially finalised.
The Upcrofts on the day the adoption was officially finalised.

The two boys, aged 13 and 11, had been in their care since 2014, but adoption was the final step in the formation of the family from the New South Wales regional city of Maitland.

Paul Upcroft says that when he had asked his youngest son how he felt about the adoption, he responded with reserved enthusiasm. 

"Kaleb, we mentioned to him that Friday's the day we're going to the court to see the judge," Mr Upcroft recalls.

Kaleb and Aidan were in foster care for nine years before they were adopted by Brendan and Paul Upcroft.
Brothers Kaleb and Aidan were in foster care for nine years before they were adopted by Brendan and Paul Upcroft.

"It just sort of went over him. And I asked him the next day, and he said, 'Oh, it's all on the inside, it's all on the inside.' So, they love being part of the Upcroft family." 

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare statistics show more than 46,000 Australian children now live in out-of-home care, with more than 40 per cent in care for at least five years. 

Kaleb and Aidan have spent much of their short lives in foster care, too, but, when both agreed to be adopted by the Upcrofts, the change was made. 

Brendan Upcroft says, for his partner and him, it was about giving the boys a sense of security. 

"The other driver behind us moving to adoption was the stability that it provides our sons. Aidan and Kaleb have now been in foster care for almost nine years. And whilst it's been a very stable three-and-a-half years living with us, always hanging over their heads is the fact that things could change, the agency could suddenly come in and say to them, 'Right, we need to move you to a different placement.'

"Now, they have stability, and they'll be with their parents now forever."

Biological parents can still play a role in children's lives

Despite the increasingly long-term nature of out-of-home care, few long-term placements lead to adoption.

Last year, just 315 adoptions were finalised in Australia, including international adoptions, with about 45 per cent by known carers such as foster parents or relatives.

Among local adoptions, about 88 per cent allow some degree of contact or the exchange of information between biological and adoptive families.

Aiden and Kaleb with father Brendan.
Brendan Upcroft say adoption has given the boys security.

The Upcrofts say they think it is important their sons maintain contact with their birth mother.

"We have a really fluid relationship with their birth mum," Brendan Upcroft says.

"We made a lot of commitments to her from our very first meeting, and we've worked really hard to make sure that all of those commitments have been met or, in some cases, surpassed. These days, it's less of a visitation schedule and more of just an arrangement whereby we catch up."

The birth mother recently spent an entire day with the boys and has joined them for birthdays. 

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