Adoption law: Changes must stop severing ties with birth parents, research says

6:57 pm on 25 June 2021

Changes to the adoption law must enable adoptees to have an ongoing relationship with their whānau, a Māori adoption researcher says.

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University of Canterbury Māori health and well-being lecturer Annabel Ahuriri-Driscoll Photo: University of Canterbury

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi has released a discussion document, Adoption in Aotearoa, on potential reform of New Zealand's adoption laws including the Adoption Act, which has not been updated since 1955.

There have been calls to update the Act for decades but attempts to do it within Parliament have ultimately gone nowhere.

This is despite reviews by the Law Commission in 2000 recommending an overhaul, and the Human Rights Tribunal finding in 2016 that seven provisions of the legislation was inconsistent with the Bill of Rights.

This includes single men applying to adopt to have 'special circumstances' before being allowed to adopt a girl, and the inability for same-sex couples to adopt.

In 2018, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated adoption reform was a priority for the Labour-led government.

Annabel Ahuriri-Driscoll is a Māori health and well-being lecturer at the University of Canterbury. She was adopted and subsequently investigated the impact of adoption on children.

Ahuriri-Driscoll is hopeful this time the reforms will go through.

"I hope that the time is right now to hear and listen to the voices of people who've been most affected by this archaic legislation," she told Nine to Noon.

She said adoption law "severs the ties" between the adoptee and their birth parents and "denies an adoptee a significant part of who they are".

"It does cause a lot of pain and angst that not knowing and even legally, the denial of your birth heritage, your family, it affects your sense of belonging, your security in the world, your identity and has flow-on effects for your children as well."

It was common for adoptees to never have contact with their birth families, Ahuriri-Driscoll said, because of the stigma about adoption, with many birth parents not wanting to be contacted.

"It's devastating, there's a big kind of void, this sense of 'I don't really know who I am because I don't have that biological information', it's profound in a society that puts so much value on self and identity," Ahuriri-Driscoll said.

"I think the key issue is for adoptees, we feel we're being denied something that many people take for granted as a right and that in itself is a profound injustice."

Whāngai was not legally recognised by adoption law because consultation with Māori when adoption law reform had previously been considered found it was difficult to define the concept.

The result of this has been that whāngai parents can have difficulties accessing government or medical assistance for their tamariki, the Ministry of Justice discussion document said.

It was now calling for feedback from Māori on whether the law should give effect to whāngai arrangements.

There needed to be careful consideration of legislation, tikanga and what whāngai as a cultural practice looked like, Ahuriri-Driscoll said.

She said it was also important the new legislation upheld the Treaty of Waitangi by giving adoptees tino rangatiratanga.

"Enabling people choice and options, ongoing whānau participation, is absolutely critical and not even just enough to give people information about who they are, but enabling that relationship."

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