Recent sociological literature on family life focuses on the apparently increasing scope for individual choice in forming meaningful, intimate relationships. One important arena for the exercise of such choice is adoption, which is increasingly taking place across national boundaries, taking the form of intercountry adoption. Little attention, however, has been paid to this aspect of contemporary family life by these broader accounts of family change. The research which deals specifically with intercountry adoption focuses on the development and trends of the practice as well as outcome studies, often undertaken in the fields of social work and psychology, and there is little research which investigates the interaction between the general trends in family structure and intercountry adoption.
This study responds to these gaps in the literature by examining the experiences of individuals choosing to form families through intercountry adoption in the Australian social policy environment. Documentary evidence was used to understand the development of Australian intercountry adoption and provide the historical and social policy context for the qualitative component of the study. Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted to develop an understanding of the choice participants made to form their family through intercountry adoption, and to examine how the state manages this area of social policy.
My study found that individuals choose to form families through intercountry adoption because children are a crucial means by which they can add meaning to their lives and intimate relationships by providing another human being to love and nurture. This child focus was seen as ‘natural’ and, for some, as an inevitable extension of their relationship. The research also generated findings about the nature of relationships within intercountry adoptive families and the factors which influence how these families are different from biological families. The complex policy environment in Australia creates difficulties for individuals negotiating the system and diversity in legislation and practice among states results in an unclear policy orientation. The movement of children across international boundaries, while not new, has been influenced by a number of global forces including improved transport, enactment of international treaties, media coverage and the introduction of the internet. These advances have resulted in increased knowledge and access to information about intercountry adoption and a more developed understanding of how the process operates in other countries, which impacts on the experience of the process in Australia.
The sociological account of family formation involving intercountry adoption in Australia that I have developed in this thesis confirms that relationships of choice are being formed in postmodern society, despite messages from a variety of authorities regarding family life which are often mixed, contradictory and dominated by particular family types, rather than by the concept of choice. My study differs from existing studies on intercountry adoption in its achievement of an account of the personal experiences of the intercountry adoption process and family life that links the two together, to show both how broader issues in postmodern family formation structure intercountry adoption, and how intercountry adoption constitutes a vital element of contemporary family formation.