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About us

Focusing on children removed from their families by law
The Institute of Open Adoption Studies focuses on children removed from families through the statutory care system, and their right to permanency, continued relationships and connection to culture.

Taking a rights-based approach, we seek to have an impact on practitioners, the judiciary, and policymakers to promote the best interests of children and their families.

To achieve our aims, we are fostering multidisciplinary collaborations (for example, with academics in economics, sociology, psychology) as well as translation of research findings to inform policy and practice in the out-of-home care sector. Projects include research commissioned by government and non-government organisations.

Our goal is to understand more about the different pathways to permanence for children in out-of-home care, and their families. Research into the long-term impacts of professional decision-making and the effectiveness of services provided to children and families has the potential to improve children’s outcomes and relationships.

Our history

In January 2015, the NSW government announced a $2.8 million package to establish an Institute of Open Adoption Studies to focus on matters relating to open adoption for children and young people in out-of-home care (when reunification with their family is not appropriate). The University of Sydney and Barnardos Australia were selected to form the institute as a joint venture.

The institute operates as an independent centre and conducts research under the University of Sydney’s governance and ethics policies.

Barnardos is one of three non-government adoption agencies in NSW. In the past 30 years, it has overseen open adoptions of more than 200 children. Barnardos staff are considered national experts in adoption practice and are often consulted to provide expert advice and evidence to governments, courts, and other key bodies.

Our aims

The Institute of Open Adoption Studies aims to:

  • research factors that influence pathways to permanent placement for children and support decision-making within a child’s developmental timeframe
  • study the long-term outcomes for children involved with the statutory out-of-home care system, with a particular focus on relationships, identity and culture
  • influence the policy and practice of permanency planning in NSW so that decision making relies on empirical evidence and sound theory
  • facilitate the exchange of information between researchers, families, practitioners in the field and the courts – keeping the views and lived experience of children, young people and families as central to our agenda and the way we operate.

Our people

The institute comprises a research team, a governance committee and an advisory group.

Program Manager
  • Suzanne Pope


  • Professor Debra Hayes, Head of School, Sydney School of Education and Social Work, The University of Sydney


  • Associate Professor Amy Conley Wright, Director
  • Judith Cashmore, Professor of Socio-Legal Research and Policy, The University of Sydney
  • Deirdre Cheers, GAICD, chief executive, Barnardos
  • Professor Marc Stears, Director, Sydney Policy Lab

This group provides advice and guidance to the Director. We acknowledge there are diverse views on adoption and thus the need to engage with a range of stakeholders.

Members of the group include representatives spanning a range of perspectives and expertise in open adoption. This group provides a means of engaging stakeholders in the life and work of the institute and ensures the views and lived experience of children, young people and families, as well as practitioners and peak agencies, is central to the institute's research agenda.

  • Professor Susan Goodwin, Sydney School of Education and Social Work, The University of Sydney
  • Associate Professor Amy Conley Wright, Director, Institute of Open Adoption Studies, The University of Sydney
  • Suzanne Pope, Program Manager, Institute of Open Adoption Studies, The University of Sydney
Advisory Group
  • Elizabeth Byrne, Senior Program Manager, Anglicare Adoption and Guardianship
  • Fiona Cameron, Team Leader, Post Adoption Resource Centre, Benevolent Society
  • Renee Carter, Chief Executive, Adopt Change
  • Professor Karen Healy AM, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, The University of Queensland
  • Matthew Jones, Director, Strategy, NSW Families and Community Services
  • Dr Trevor Jordan, President, Jigsaw Queensland
  • Steve Kinmond, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Associations of Children’s Welfare Agencies
  • Janet Schorer, Children’s Guardian, NSW Office of the Children's Guardian
  • Jacqui Reed, Chief Executive, CREATE Foundation
  • Deb Tipper, DJ Tipper Consultancy Services
  • Lisa Vihtonen, Operations Manager, Adoptions, Barnardos Australia
  • Helmut Uhlmann, Social Entrepreneur
  • Dr Robert Urquhart, Head of Knowledge, Outcomes and Research, Barnardos Australia
  • Professor Harriet Ward, Emeritus Professor of Child and Family Research, Loughborough University
  • Roger West, Director and Principal Consultant, WestWood Spice
  • Kylie Williams, Manager, Child and Family Services, Benevolent Society