Sunday, September 28, 2008

Deborra Lee Furness trying to change adoption regulations in Australia

adoption-campaign /story/0, 21985,22189611- 661,00.html

ACTOR Deborra-lee Furness believes the Federal Government is fostering
an anti-adoption culture that thwarts thousands of childless couples
from adopting overseas babies.

The wife of Hollywood star Hugh Jackman says she and her celebrity
husband would be childless had it not been for her US residency.

Furness has told of the trauma of "red tape and bureaucracy" that
forced them to return to the US to adopt Oscar, 7, and Ava, 2.

And she revealed they were present at the births of their children.

Furness wants to meet Prime Minister John Howard to discuss
overhauling adoption procedures.

She wants a government body established immediately to take sole
responsibility for adoptions.

"We've experienced it first-hand -- we tried to adopt in Australia and
couldn't because we were overwhelmed by the hurdles and obstacles they
put in our way," Furness said.

But the adoption process in the US took less than a year.

Furness -- in Australia while Jackman films the Baz Lurhmann epic
Australia -- is on a crusade to help the couples with "horror stories"
of futile attempts to adopt.

"I'm fortunate," she says. "I have two beautiful children and that's
why people come to me and say, 'Deb can you help me?'.

"I tell them it will be long, expensive and may not happen."

Furness says it is "an outrage and an embarrassment" that Australia
ranks last in inter-country adoption throughout the world.

"It breaks my heart to think there are thousands of abandoned children
overseas waiting for loving families to take them, but the Government
is making it so hard."

A parliamentary inquiry found in 2005 that the "current system is not
working" and that adoption was a low priority for state and federal

It recommended the Federal Government plays a bigger role in the
process -- to make it quicker and less expensive.

While the Government said it "accepted" most of the inquiry's
recommendations, it did nothing to implement them. Instead, it devised
more restrictions -- announcing last week legislation to stop same-sex
Australian couples adopting a child overseas. The child would not be
granted a visa.

Furness is worried the Government's attitude may be a return of
a "White Australia policy".

"This is a humanitarian issue. Australia has a generous spirit, yet
this to me reeks of fear and a lack of generosity," she says. "You see
it with the refugee crisis as well."

SHE said she was prompted to speak out on the issue when she read of
the plight of a Sydney woman whose adopted baby was still in China
because the Immigration Department would not grant her a visa.

"When I hear these stories, it breaks my heart. I know what happens to
these babies; they end up institutionalised or on the streets,"
Furness said.

Denise Calligeros, 45, revealed this week she had been trying for 13
years to adopt but has been rejected for a second time because now she
is too old.

The adoption crisis has escalated since 1998 when Australia signed the
Hague Convention in respect to the protection of children and

The agreement resulted in the Federal Attorney-General delegating the
administration to state governments. But that stopped voluntary
organisations from helping facilitate inter-country adoptions.

As a result, queues have grown into thousands and some states have
stopped taking registrations.

Furness says the Department of Community Services in NSW is too busy
coping with local issues of child abuse to worry about inter-country

"You have children who are abandoned and homeless and you have people
desperate to have a child, but because of this bureaucracy and lack of
resources they can't," she says.

Adoption has become such a long and expensive process for Australian
couples that many simply give up.

Some states have fees up to $10,000 to lodge the initial application --
and it is non-refundable, even if the couple is unsuccessful.

On top of that there are airfares, visas, medical and processing
bills. The total outlay can reach $40,000.

Ricky Brisson, whose program to assist couples to adopt was stopped by
the Government three years ago, said: "The costs are becoming more
prohibitive and a lot of families are giving up."

She said it now took about seven years to process an adoption, which
meant some couples failed because they grew too old.

"We have thousands of kids waiting for families and thousands of
people in Australia looking to adopt them, but we have a system which
is useless in delivering a proper service," she said.

In 2004-05, 410 overseas babies from 25 countries were adopted in
Australia -- compared with 21,000 in the US.

Furness said the process in the US was quick and inexpensive "and not
made impossible like it is here".

"We are the most blessed people in the world, but I have friends here
who are coming up against so many brick walls," she said


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