Forced adoption and the Stolen Generations have influenced sentiment, says Brad Hazzard. Photo: Angela Wylie.
Family and Community Services Minister Brad Hazzard is challenging the state's "anti-adoption sentiment", encouraging child protection caseworkers to give greater priority to adoption.
It's about providing children with a family for life as opposed to carers until they turn 18.
- Lisa Vihtonen
A series of forums around NSW directed at caseworkers will emphasise the benefits of adoption over long-term foster care.
The number of children in care is expected to exceed 20,000 in 2015-16, with the Audit Office of NSW raising concerns last year that the government's foster care funding model may not meet demand.
Legal reforms introduced in NSW in 2014 were aimed at encouraging adoption over long-term foster care but the rate remains low with only 87 children adopted by a carer in the most recent financial year, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found.
Mr Hazzard said the anti-adoption culture driven by previous practices had to change.
"Mike Baird has made it clear we want to see adoption levels increase," he said.
"What I have seen are some long-standing systemic cultural mindsets among some frontline workers which make them less inclined to consider adoption
"There has been an anti-adoption sentiment for some time, coming off the back of the Stolen Generation and forced adoptions."
Speaking at the forum in Sydney on Tuesday, senior FaCS administrator Maree Walk told caseworkers to "think about how we can get better at this area".
"There is strong support for open adoption but uncertainty about practice and how and when open adoption should be used," she said.
Under open adoption, children who cannot be restored to their biological parents have access to information about their background and contact with their birth family. It is not considered suitable for Aboriginal children.
Michael Tarren-Sweeney, an associate professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, told the forum that restoring children to birth parents could be dangerous in some cases.
"Family preservation works for most children but it fails - it's harmful - for children who are manifestly in need of care," he said.
Barnados Australia principal officer Lisa Vihtonen said adoption offered a sense of permanency that long-term foster care could not.
"It's about providing children with a family for life as opposed to carers until they turn 18," she said.
Nahum Mushin, an adjunct professor of law at Monash University and chairman of the federal government's Past Forced Adoptions Working Group, said adoption required caution.
"Adoption needs to be approached with such care and the test should always be the best interests of the child. It's not about the adults," he said.
"Adoption is not a panacea to all the problems of out-of-home care. There are some adoptees who have had very positive experiences, but there are very many for whom their adoption has resulted in great pain."
The NSW government's position is supported by federal Social Services Minister Christian Porter, who has called on child protection organisations to put greater focus on adoption.
(This article was first published in The Age and was written by Rachel Browne.)