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Our research

Understanding permanency practice in Australia
Investigating how to embed the best interests of children in restoration, guardianship, kinship care, open adoption, and long-term foster care in providing children with permanency.

Our focus

The Institute of Open Adoption Studies pursues an active, applied-research partnership with a focus on:

  • Children and family: to examine and develop the best approaches to assist children, parents and carers before, during and after permanency orders and to support children and their families to maintain long-term connections with birth relatives.
  • Permanency practice: to equip practitioners with the understanding and tools that support good practice in permanency planning.
  • Role of the courts and judiciary: to expand the understanding of legislation and court procedures in permanency decisions, including opportunities for improvement.

Our projects

The Institute will engage in participatory and arts-based research to explore the views of permanency for young people in out-of-home care and how they approach the future.

Young people will come together in small groups and a method called Photovoice will be used. The participants will be invited to represent permanency by taking photographs. Groups will work together to write captions to explain the images and to prepare a photographic exhibition to showcase the results.

This project is done in collaboration with the CREATE Foundation and FACS with young people aged 16-to-24 years. For more information, please contact Susan Collings.

This is a collaborative project with the Parenting Research Centre to review, design, implement, trial and evaluate a practice framework for permanency support. This project is about practices and approaches for supporting parents and carers to have the required parenting supports, skills and confidence to be able to offer and sustain a permanent home to children through restoration, guardianship or open adoption.

This project will develop and trial an evidence-based, well-designed and well-documented service model for permanency practice, integrating delivery of targeted support packages aimed at family restoration with other permanency planning options, with processes and tools to guide its implementation within organisations.

The institute is conducting a rapid evidence review on permanency practice, including the areas of restoration, kinship care, and adoption. This rapid review will contribute to developing a framework, through a co-design process with out-of-home care agencies that self-nominate in an expression of interest process. The institute will also guide evaluation of the permanency practice model.

This evaluation will assess the extent to which the NSW Family Group Conferencing program has contributed to reducing risks for children and young people, avoiding entries to care, and promoting engagement of families and communities in decision making.

Mixed methods will be used for the implementation, outcome and economic evaluation of family group conferencing, triangulating qualitative and quantitative data.

An essential component of the evaluation is to determine whether the NSW implementation of family group conferencing is culturally appropriate for Aboriginal families, and whether it is an effective program for safely diverting Aboriginal children from the out-of-home care system.

This project has been commissioned by the My Forever Family program. A literature review will be conducted on recruitment of carers for children in middle childhood and/or adolescence, including carers who are Aboriginal and culturally and linguistically diverse and children’s views about carers.

The literature review will conclude with a short summary of potential messages for media campaigns, to be shared with My Forever Family’s media team. Media messages developed by My Forever Family will be tested with a representative sample of potential carers in NSW.

A report will include recommendations regarding recruitment efforts and will form the basis for a peer reviewed journal article. This project will be conducted in collaboration with Professor Melanie Randle at the University of Wollongong, who has previously conducted research on foster care recruitment.

A second study has been commissioned by the My Forever Family program. This study will involve a review of existing national and international models to discern contemporary best practice in carer training. Focus groups will be conducted with foster carers to gain insights into views on current training programs, the topics of most interest to them, and preferences for the timing and access to training.

The Institute has been commissioned to undertake a developmental and process evaluation of a project funded by the National Disability Insurance Agency through its Information, Linkage, Capacity-building Grant. The project will use co-design and action research with parents with learning disabilities to develop a resource that builds parent skills and knowledge to navigate service systems when their children are in, or at risk of, entering out-of-home-care. The project is led by Dr Margaret Spencer, Sydney School of Education and Social Work.

To date, there has been very limited Australian research into children’s outcomes in different placement types, including open adoption, kinship care, guardianship and other permanency orders. The Institute is commencing proof of concept work in collaboration with the NSW Department of Communities and Justice and NGOs in the Children in Care Collective to develop a survey for families post-orders in open adoption and guardianship. This work will contribute to a greater understanding of the need for ongoing placement supports and the impacts of different permanency pathways for children in out-of-home care, relevant to the Australian cultural and policy environment.

Conducted in 2018, this qualitative research study aimed to understand what helps children in permanent care in NSW and their families to build long-term connections with birth relatives by exploring the perspectives of children, carers and birth parents. We used qualitative, arts-based methods to explore the views of children aged eight years and over, birth parents and permanent carers (adoptive parents, guardians, kinship and foster carers).

The study focused on south-west and western Sydney, the Illawarra district, the Hunter, Dubbo and surrounding areas. We are currently finalising a report and several journal articles on this data, as well as a series of research briefs.

This study examines how NSW Supreme Court Justices have applied the "best interests" principle in adoption decisions for children in out-of-home care, and the orders relating to children’s post-adoption contact arrangements with birth family. With permission from the NSW Supreme Court, we have conducted an in-depth review of all open adoptions from out-of-home care completed in 2017, to provide detailed analysis on contact arrangements, provisions for supporting cultural identity development and judicial decision-making regarding children’s best interests. We are in the process of developing several publications from analysing this data. 

Dr Amy Conley Wright is co-leading a research study on intercountry adoption between Taiwan and Australia, in collaboration with National Taiwan University. The University of Sydney research team includes Associate Professor Sonja van Wichelen and Dr Margaret Spencer.

The aim of this research is to explore interest in connection to culture and family of origin in the context of intercountry adoption, from the perspectives of adult adopted persons and adoptive parents in Australia, from birth mothers in Taiwan and from professionals in both countries. The research team has conducted interviews with adults adopted from Taiwan, adoptive parents, and adoption professionals, and is co-analysing this data with the data from Taiwan gathered from birth mothers and adoption professionals.

The findings provide insights into intercountry adoption on both sides of the adoption process. Initial research findings were presented at a symposium for adoption professionals in Taipei in November 2018. A full report is forthcoming.

In 2014 the NSW Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 (the Care Act) was amended to simplify the process for foster carers who wish to adopt children in their care for whom there is no realistic chance of restoration to their birth family or kinship care.

Our research team conducted focus groups with a total of 30 carers in four locations in NSW between October and November 2017. Our aim was to ensure the views and concerns of foster carers are clearly understood and taken into account in foster care and open adoption practices.

A publication based on the results is currently under review. We have prepared a summary of the major findings relating to the factors foster carers consider when deciding whether to adopt the children in their care, as well as their experience of birth family contact. We invite you to read the summary:

Open adoption of children in NSW out-of-home care: Foster carers’ perceptions, June 2018 (pdf, 764KB)

In 2017, the Institute of Open Adoption Studies conducted an internet-based survey of 1000 residents across NSW. The survey explored perceptions, motivations, and barriers to adopting children from out-of-home care, particularly from foster care. The survey questions included: awareness of open adoption and foster care, motivation to adopt, perceived benefits of adopting children from foster care, identifying suitable adoptive parents, knowledge of adoption support and training, and perceptions and attitudes towards birth families. The findings of this study strongly suggest that the general public lacks knowledge about the application process, and the availability of financial and non-financial post-adoption support.

We invite you to read the summary: Open adoption of children in NSW out-of-home care: General public perceptions and motivations. Summary of findings (pdf, 683KB), Institute of Open Adoption Studies, the University of Sydney, March 2018.

To build research skills and capacity in the sector, the institute has hosted a practitioner fellowship, through the University of Sydney Policy Lab fellowship program. Jenny Norderyd, from Barnardos Australia, has completed a three-month, full-time research secondment. Her project explored the experience of siblings placed by the Barnardos Find-a-Family program.  The Institute intends to continue to host practitioner fellowships on an annual basis.

Promoting sibling bonds through co-placement and contact is an important issue for policy and practice. A summary of Jenny’s research provides an overview of literature on sibling co-placement and contact in permanent care, and reports on interviews conducted with caseworkers, from Barnardos Australia, regarding co-placement of newborns with siblings who had been placed in permanent care or adopted between 2015-2018.

Led by Professor Marc de Rosnay and in collaboration with Barnardos, this study examined influences on identity formation for children who have been adopted from out-of-home care in NSW before the age of five. Nine adoptees aged between 9 and 23 were interviewed. The study concluded that the benefits of early open adoption should be accepted as a guiding principle in making decisions in the best interests of children for whom restoration or kin care is not possible

The full report can be found here: Young children’s identity formation in the context of open adoption in NSW (pdf, 697KB), de Rosnay, M; Luu, B; Wright, A C; in partnership with Barnardos Australia, December 2016. View the summary (pdf, 4.3MB).

We are measuring social investment for children in different child-welfare permanency pathways. In collaboration with researchers in economics, law and health statistics, the Institute of Open Adoption Studies has been awarded funding through the Sydney Policy Lab.

Our scoping study will establish groundwork for analysing permanency pathways for children in out-of-home care in NSW, including restoration, guardianship, open adoption and long-term foster care. This project will define core questions, test methodology and negotiate access to government and agency data to develop a data set on outcomes achieved for children with different placements. We aim to:

  • conduct a proof-of-concept for a category 1 grant application by uniting a network of researchers for a data-linkage workshop and to integrate relevant data sets
  • submit an article to a peer-reviewed journal
  • shift the policy conversation from measuring the costs and outputs of services and programs to measuring investments in outcomes achieved for children’s wellbeing.