Bronwyn and Scott McNamara, a Sunshine Coast couple were all set to become Mum and Dad to an adopted Ethiopian child, but in June it was announced that the Ethiopia Program, which has facilitated the adoption of more than 600 Ethiopian children over 20 years, would close.
“This has been a tough decision, but a necessary one,” Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said at the time. “I know that there are families who have been committed to the program and will be disappointed."
For the McNamaras, Ms Roxon's words were a major understatement. The prospective adoptive parents have spent the past eight years patiently working their way through the process to adopt from Ethiopa, described by those who have experienced it as a labyrinth, protracted and invasive.
During that time and with no reason to believe their dream of creating a family via adoption would not be realised, they eschewed IVF (a Queensland government pre-requisite for any prospective adoptive parents), built a house with extra rooms and looked excitedly to a future as parents.
“It feels like the federal government has stolen the last eight years of our lives from us,” says Bronwyn, 43. “Not just the last eight years, but our futures as parents and possibly even as grandparents.
“All we have ever wanted is to have a family and the concept of providing a home for children already in need seemed a more rational approach to us than going through IVF. And now the Ethiopia Program is closed and we are too old for IVF. We are in shock, we are grieving. Our whole future has been annihilated by this.”
“I’m angry and sad,” says Scott, 47. “It’s like they have ripped our heart out. They’ve had us like circus animals jumping through hoops for the past eight years – which we did in good faith – all for nothing. We just look around now and our house is empty and silent.”
According to Teshome Admassu, a case worker for the Australian aid outfit in Ethiopia, Hope For Children, the closure of the Ethiopia Program could not have come at a worse time.
"There are 800,000 children in this country who have been orphaned by HIV,” he told The Weekly by phone from Addis Ababa.
“The closure of the program has left many people here, including child workers and government officials, confused and disappointed.”
If inter-country adoption activists here in Australia had previously thought it best to play nice with the government, to not criticise it publically in the hope of keeping the slow but ethically sound trickle of inter-country adoptions flowing, the attorney-general’s decision to halt the Ethiopian Program has seen a distinct cooling of relations.
President of the Australian African Children’s Aid and Support Association, Mark Pearce, is so frustrated by what he and his supporters believe is the “unjustifiable” closure of the Ethiopia Program that he led a delegation to the east African country last month to see the situation on the ground for himself.
“The Ethiopian government is doing its best, but this is an impoverished country which is still recovering from drought, famine and war.
“When our government closed the program in June, there were 27 Australian families who were in the process of having an Ethiopian child allocated to them and another 100 who had been approved by their state authorities for adoption. Most of them had been waiting for well over three years, some had been waiting for 11 years. All of them are now in limbo.”
Everyone involved in the adoption process – from the governments facilitating to the advocates lobbying and the families patiently waiting – agree on one thing: that inter-country adoption should only be considered as a last resort for any child.
Certainly, Leith Harding, who works with the Ethiopian-based Grace Centre – a charity that offers everything from food and medical aid to long-term day care to help Ethiopian families stay together – concurs.
“The real problem is Australia does not have a positive adoption attitude,” she says.
“Children come to adoption as a result of trauma and loss of family. Adoption provides them with a supportive, loving family environment to help them cope with this loss. Children growing up in institutions or non-permanent care may not ever learn to love and trust others. The large majority of adopted children are stable, well-adjusted and happy, growing up to be successful, responsible citizens.”
And, she says, she has four inter-country adopted kids to prove it. For her part, 18-year-old Zed says she is grateful – pure and simple.
“I am so blessed to have everything I have in my life,” she says, posing with her parents for The Weekly’s cameras in Brisbane.
“Every day, I thank God that I am here and not in Ethiopia. That I wake up in a warm bed and not on the side of the road. If I had been left in Ethiopia, I most likely would have died on the side of the road without anyone even knowing who I am.”
This week is National Adoption Awareness week. For more information or to join the campaign to change adoption laws, visit National Adoption Awareness Week.
Video: Deborra-Lee Furness discusses her adoption battle