18 January, 2015

Irina And Justin Harris

Parents Justin and Irina Harris with daughter Charlotte. Picture: Tim Hunter

Sydney couple Irina and Justin Harris had all but given up hope of becoming parents when they stumbled on a Barnardos Australia ad seeking adoptive parents.

Six months later, after rigorous assessment, the Sydney University lecturers were handed Charlotte, aged nine months.

Placed into care by the courts, the girl had faced the prospect of moving around foster homes before Barnados took up the case to find her a permanent home.

For the past 20 years, the charity has been relentless in finding new parents for the thousands of children who end up in foster care.

Changes to NSW law, in effect from October, have opened the door for all foster children to be adopted.

Dr Harris, 44, said she had no idea it was possible to adopt a local child prior to contacting the organisation.

"We wanted to adopt and so we looked at inter-country adoption, but we soon came to realise it was complex, expensive and would take a very long time," she said. "We also found we met the eligibility criteria in three countries.

"Someone said we should keep in mind that we could foster a child. I then saw an ad by Barnados who did permanent fostering, and found out it was a much better option." The couple took Charlotte home in May of 2012 after a six-month transitioning period that included regular meetings with the temporary carers.

"The case worker who had done all the assessment with us called up and said, 'we have a proposal'," she said.

"They wouldn't tell us her name at first, other than that it was 'a nice name'.

"When we met her, she was just so cute. She is now nearly three-and-a-half and is very confident.

"We haven't had any issues other than the challenges you might face with a three-year-old. She is just delightful. I'm glad we have been able to give her a good life." Dr Harris said the couple had regular contact with Charlotte's birth family, and speak openly with their daughter about her biological parents.

In NSW, there were more than 18,000 children in out-ofhome care in 2012-13, with just 78 adopted.

Barnardos chief executive officer Louise Voigt said her organisation had been working for over 20 years to see more children adopted, with the welfare body organising around 15 each year.

She said the figure was expected to rise dramatically under the new laws, a trend she had championed.

(This article was first published in The Daily Telegraph on 18 January, 2015 and was written by Linda Silmalis.)