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Centres and institutes_

Our research

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

Our focus

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

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

Our projects

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.

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)

This research was approved by the University of Sydney’s Human Research Ethics Committee.

In 2016, we conducted collaborative research with Barnardos to examine influences on identity formation for children who have been adopted from out-of-home care in NSW before the age of five. We interviewed nine adoptees aged between 9 and 23.

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. More research and work is needed to:

  • address the slow uptake of open adoption as a permanent placement decision
  • examine the practices and procedures in the NSW legislative environment that will support the development of children in open adoptions
  • examine the characteristics and circumstances of those who have chosen to remain in long-term foster care or have benefited from such arrangements, in order to guide decisions about which permanent placement is most appropriate for a given child
  • investigate information provided to children and young people at different ages so it can act as a strong foundation when identity concerns become significant
  • examine how contact can best meet the changing interests of the child
  • examine how the beliefs and attitudes of adoptive parents can best support the development of a child’s sense of who they are, where they belong, and what it means to be an adopted person
  • explore the contributions of both adoptive and biological siblings on adoptees’ sense of belonging.


  • Professor of Child Development Dr Marc de Rosnay, University of Wollongong
  • Associate Professor Amy Conley Wright, Director, Institute of Open Adoption Studies, the University of Sydney
  • Dr Betty Luu, Research Assistant, School of Psychology, the University of Sydney 

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. 

This study aims 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 will use 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 will focus on south-west and western Sydney, the Illawarra district, the Hunter, Dubbo and surrounding areas.

What we know about contact with birth families
  • When it goes well, it can help children in permanent care adapt, overcome attachment difficulties and come to terms with their loss.
  • When it doesn't go well, children can feel rejected, disappointed and unstable, and there may be a risk of covert abuse.
  • Children can be distressed if birth parents undermine carers.
  • Contact poses challenges for adults thrown together by their connection to a child.
Why we're conducting this study

The NSW Government has introduced reforms to improve permanency for children in care. Maintaining direct contact with the birth family is central to the Safe Homes for Life initiative. Where restoration is ruled out, contact ensures children have an opportunity to build ongoing relationships with birth family in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (9.3).

What we aim to do
  • identify casework practices that help families build understanding, open communication and respectful relationships. 
  • develop a process to test and refine these promising practices in partnership with the out-of-home-care sector.
  • create practice resources and share them in our resources section below.
  • understand the types of support children and families find helpful for making relationships work.

Our resources

Collings, S., Elsbeth, N., & Wright, A. C., "Practices to improve communication between birth parents and permanent families", Advances in Social Work and Welfare Education, Vol. 20, No. 2, 2018: 144–150.

Connecting to “Roots”: A study of Taiwan and Australian Adoption (pdf, 1.61MB), collaboration between The University of Sydney and National University of Taiwan, November 2018

Sibling co-placement and contact in out-of-home care and open adoption (pdf, 246KB), Institute of Open Adoption Studies, the University of Sydney, June 2018

Open adoption of children in NSW out-of-home care: Foster carers’ perceptions (pdf, 764KB), Institute of Open Adoption Studies, the University of Sydney, June 2018. View the full report here (pdf, 409.5KB)

Response to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs Inquiry into Local Adoption (pdf, 1.7MB), Institute of Open Adoption Studies, May 2018

Post-adoption and guardianship support (pdf, 934KB), Institute of Open Adoption Studies, the University of Sydney

Identity formation in children and young people in open adoptions from out-of-home-care in NSW, Australia, Adoption Quarterly, Luu, B; de Rosnay, M; Wright, A; Tregeagle, S; 2018

Open adoption of children in NSW out-of-home care: General public perceptions and motivations (pdf, 683KB), Institute of Open Adoption Studies, the University of Sydney, March 2018. View the summary here (pdf, 586.3KB)

Response to Minister Goward’s discussion paper on Shaping a Better Child Protection System (pdf, 299KB), Institute of Open Adoption Studies, the University of Sydney, October 2017

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 here (pdf, 4.3MB)

Taking the long view on out-of-home care (podcast, 1:01). Ward, H., Fernandez, E., Delfrabbo, P., Cheers, D. Sydney Ideas, the University of Sydney, August 2018

Factors contributing to successful and unsuccessful reunification outcomes in out of home care (pdf, 542.5KB), Fernandez, E. Institute to Practice Forum, the University of Sydney, August 2018. View the video

Kinship care in NSW: Insights from the Pathways of Care Longitudinal Study (pdf, 724.4KB), Delfrabbo, P. Institute to Practice Forum, the University of Sydney, August 2018. View the video

Lessons learnt – data linkage study of Northern Territory children: to inform policy and practice in health, family services and education (pdf, 2MB). Schurer, S. Institute to Practice Forum, the University of Sydney, August 2018. View the video

What are the barriers to local adoption in Australia?, Associate Professor Amy Conley Wright and Barnardos CEO Deirdre Cheers on ABC Radio National, April 2018

What helps birth parents and permanent carers to build positive relationships? (pdf, 522KB), Collings, S; Wright, A C; presented at Australian Community Workers Association forum, Assessing parental capacity and working with parents, April 2018

Research gaps and critical areas of enquiry in open adoption studies (pdf, 2.1MB), Wright, A C, presented at the National Permanency conference, Adopt Change Connections for Life, Sydney, November 2017

Contact and openness in adoption (podcast, 1:27), Neil, E; Moggach, L; Welman, P; Uhlmann, H; Dean's Lecture Series, the University of Sydney, August 2017

Planning and supporting contact in open adoption: Implications of UK research for NSW practice (pdf, 898KB), Neil, E, Institute Research to Practice Forum, the University of Sydney, August 2017. View the video

Supporting families through the adoption journey (pdf, 1.3MB), Moggach, L (Barnardos), Institute Research to Practice Forum, the University of Sydney, August 2017. View the video

Adoptive families and birth families: Encouraging relationships (pdf, 795KB), Wyles, J,  Institute Research to Practice Forum, the University of Sydney, August 2017. View the video