Queensland Adoption Records

Department of Child Safety

Adoption is the transfer, generally by order of a court, of all parental rights and obligations from the birth parent(s) to the adoptive parent(s). Legal adoption was first introduced in 1928, but numbers of adoptions in Australia have fallen in recent decades. The reasons for the decline are mainly related to social and legal factors, increased fertility control and the advent of welfare support for sole parents. There has also been a reduction in the adoption of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The introduction of the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle has meant the majority of Indigenous children are adopted by Indigenous families.

Queensland’s adoption rates peaked in the 1960s and 1970s, with over 6,000 babies adopted in one four-year period. Under Queensland law, adoption transfers the legal rights and responsibilities of parenthood from a child’s birth parents to his or her adoptive parents. The Adoption of Children Act 1964 and the Adoption of Children Regulation 1999, under review in 2005, provide the legal basis for adoption in Queensland. The Department of Child Safety is the sole agency with authority to arrange adoptions in Queensland and is responsible for administering the Act and its Regulations. Under the current legislation, children who are adopted and parents who consent to their child’s adoption can receive identifying information about each other once the adopted person reaches eighteen years of age.

Two programs, the General Children’s Adoption Program and the Special Needs Children’s Adoption Program, cover adoptive placements. Children requiring placement under the General Children’s Adoption Program are aged from birth to two years of age. Children requiring placement under the Special Needs Children’s Adoption Program include children with physical and/or intellectual disabilities, medical conditions, older children, and children from particular cultural backgrounds.

As the Bringing Them Home report noted, Aboriginal people have a different attitude to adoption than that of Torres Strait Islanders.

It is commonly recognised by the community that the adoption of Aboriginal children is alien to traditional Aboriginal child-rearing practices. It is also acknowledged that in the past, numbers of Aboriginal children were removed from their families and adopted into white families.

Customary adoption is reported to occur in the islands of the Torres Strait, as elsewhere in the Pacific, and among Torres Strait Islander communities on the Australian mainland. It involves the permanent transfer of care responsibilities and is a `social arrangement’ which serves to entrench reciprocal obligations thereby contributing to social stability. Traditionally the chosen adoptive family was in the same `bloodline’ as the birth family. However, with `inter-racial’ marriage now more frequent, adoptive parent(s) may be related only by marriage. There is also a growing practice of giving a child to family friends rather than relatives. As in general Australian law, customary Torres Strait Islander adoption makes the child fully a member of the adoptive family (Ban 1993 page 4).

In the eyes of Australian law, customary adoptions are private adoptions. They are not prohibited and are not recognised as legal agreements. Adoption in Queensland is not controlled by court orders, but approved by the relevant government department. The policy of Aboriginal Child Placement Principle is acknowledged in Queensland, but the legislation does not specifically incorporate the principles of ACPP.

The Adoption of Children Act 1984 stipulates that the Director, who makes the adoption order, will place a child from any ethnic background with an adopter from a similar background, unless such an adopter is unavailable or the welfare and best interests of the child, in the Director’s opinion, would not be best served by adoption in a family of the same background (section 18A).

Furthermore, the Act does not require preference to be given to the child’s extended family, with further options in order being another person in the correct relationship to the child, another member of the child’s Indigenous community and, finally, another Indigenous family as the ACPP requires. Regulations made in 1988 direct attention to the ability of the prospective adoptive parents to `develop or maintain the child’s indigenous ethnic or cultural identity’ as one criterion for assessing the suitability of particular adoptive parents (Schedule 6).

Queensland departmental policy spells out the ACPP preferences in a way very similar to that of Western Australia. Unlike the WA policy, however, it specifically refers to adoption as raising issues distinct from child protection. Thus, in the case of a proposed relinquishment for adoption, the parent(s) is to be counselled by an Indigenous worker and counselling is to `explore alternatives to adoption, including family support, custody and guardianship options’. There is no provision for the involvement of Indigenous agencies.

The survey of Queensland welfare authorities commissioned by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody found that the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle had not been fully or comprehensively implemented across Queensland due largely to the lack of proper monitoring. There was concern that some departmental officers were unaware of the policy (O’Connor 1990). In Queensland, the standard definition of an Indigenous person is used; meaning identification by the parent is substituted for self-identification of a baby or child.

An Indigenous agency may be consulted, but only where there is no parent or other relative to provide the identification. In light of the relinquishing parent’s right to confidentiality, this means that an Indigenous child will not be treated as such where the relinquishing parent does not identify as Indigenous herself or himself or does not identify the baby as such or where a non-Indigenous relinquishing parent does not notify the department that the child’s other parent is Aboriginal or a Torres Strait Islander.

The Queensland Department advised the Inquiry that,

… in the case of a child whose parents were not married to each other at the conception of the child, and in relation to whom there is no other guardian by virtue of s. 6 of the Act, the consent required for the adoption of the child is that of the birth mother. However, this is not to say that the birth father is not considered and consulted by the Department in relation to the custody and guardianship of the child. Wherever possible, the Department attempts to ascertain the identity of the birth father of the child, and what his wishes are in relation to the child’s future. The identity of the birth father is, however, often totally dependant on whether the birth mother wishes to, or will, identify him. Birth mothers are encouraged to discuss this with the birth father of their child.

Since 1 June 1991, legal changes meant adopted adults and birth parents may have access to identifying information and original/ amended birth certificates. Objections may be lodged to contact and/ or disclosure of identifying information. Non-identifying information from old records is available to adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents. Further information and application forms are available from

Adoptions Services
Dept of Child Safety,
GPO Box 806 
Brisbane 4001 
Phone: (07) 3224 7415 (for referrals to accredited local adoption counsellors) 
Fax: (07) 3210 0350 
Email: adoption@families.qld.gov.au 


State Library of Queensland

The State Library of Queensland holds some resources for tracing parties to an adoption, including Searching in adoption: a guide designed to assist people who have been separated by adoption (PAM 362.73409945 1990). Another resource is Self search – a program for adult adopted persons: the Adoption Information Service Research Project 1990 by Susan Tabak (PAM 362.8298 1990)


Community and Personal Histories Unit of DATSIP

Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy (DATSIP) regulates access to government records of Indigenous policy. Legislation such as the Aboriginals and Protection and the Restriction of Sale of Opium Act 1897 and subsequent protection acts enabled past Queensland government departments and agencies to exercise wide-ranging control over Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ lives. In doing so the Government compiled large volumes of records about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples until about the mid 1980’s. Today these records are a valuable resource for establishing connections to family and traditional homelands. Community & Personal Histories facilitates access to the records for research into family and/or community history and other issues relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, such as proof of date of birth. All services provided by Community and Personal Histories are confidential and free of charge.

Contact details:
Community and Personal Histories Branch
Address: Floor 4, 75 William Street, Brisbane

1800 650 230 (toll-free within Australia, calls from mobile phones charged at applicable rates) 
(07) 3404 3622

(07) 3224 7304


Archival holdings

Queensland State Archives is custodian of the State’s largest and most significant collection of government records. These include the following departmental files

  • Health and Home Affairs Department, State Children’s Department (1935-1963). The State Children’s Department was established to provide care, management and control of orphaned, abandoned and convicted children. The State was divided into 3 Districts: the Southern District (Southern Queensland from Bundaberg to the NSW Border) with a head office in Brisbane; Central District (Mackay to Miriam Vale on the Coast and West along the Central Line) with a district office at Rockhampton; and Northern District (North Queensland from the north and West of Townsville) with a district office at Townsville. In providing Child Welfare, the State Children’s Department had a close working relationship with the Health and Home Affairs Department, Welfare and Guidance Service.
  • A/27291 – The Adoption of Children Act Amendment Bill (1941)
  • RSI 15058-1-1018 – Dauan – Adoption – General (1948-1952)
  • SRS 4354-1-184 (A/70008) – Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (QLD) – Miscellaneous correspondence on adoption, repatriation etc. (1963)
  • QA00632 – Labour and Industry Department, State Children’s Department (1963-1966)
  • SRS 145-6-387 – A Bill to amend the Adoption of Children Act 1964-1981 and the Adoption of Children Act Amendment Act 1983, 1985 (1957-1985)
  • SRS 145-6-103 – Review of the Adoption of Children Act, 1964. Second draft 1981 Queensland (1957-1985)
  • The Children’s Services Act 1965
  • SRS 4892 – This series consists of a card index to Aboriginal people issued with a permit to reside on an Aboriginal reserve. Information on the cards includes: surname, maiden name, given name, date and place of birth, sex, race, certificate number, date, marital status, community, mother’s name, father’s name, children’s names, form and reference numbers. Some cards contain adoption information. (1966-1983)
  • RSI 14938 – This file (file number 8G/26) contains mostly inter-departmental correspondence, radio messages, telegrams and other documents. This subject matter of the correspondence includes: taxation; travel arrangements and allowances; employment; leave entitlements; health; adoption; education allowances and marriage. As this file is that of a Commissioner of the Aboriginal and Islander Commission, it also contains documents relating to the general business of the Commission (1969-1979)
  • SRS 737 – Index to Cabinet Minutes. Many decisions relating to adoption have restricted access. (1970-1975)
  • SRS 142 – Cabinet Minutes (Decisions and submissions) – Most decisions relating to adoption are restricted (1970-1975)
  • RSI 14914 – These files contain confidential correspondence of the Aboriginal and Islander Affairs Department, Thursday Island, included are copies of letters sent and received, copies of radio messages and telegrams. The correspondence has been stamped or marked “confidential”. The contents of the correspondence relates primarily to issues affecting far north Queensland, Thursday Island and the Torres Strait Island region. The correspondence is mainly inter-departmental, also included is correspondence with other state government departments, the Federal Government, politicians and members of the public. Matters dealt with include: general administrative issues relating to the running of the Thursday Island Office, communities and reserves on the Torres Strait Islands. These issues include the adoption of children, trust accounts held for Torres Strait Islanders by the department, employment and wages, education and health services. (1971-1974)
  • There are also a large number of records of Applications for Adoption Orders in Torres Strait.
  • SRS 145-7-12 – Adoption of Children Act and Another Act Amendment Bill (1986)
  • QA 09719 – Family Services Department. The Family Services Department was created from the former Family and Youth Services Department in 1987. This department was responsible for the provision of disability services, intellectual handicap services, young offenders rehabilitation services, alternative care services, adoption, emergency and crisis services, family and individual support services and child care services. In addition to this, under the Children’s Services Act 1965, the Family Services Department was responsible for providing protective services for children such as the investigation of notifications of children at risk; securing the safety of children through supportive services; and, if necessary, applying through the children’s court for a safe and secure environment. The department also provided grants and subsidies to community groups. Functions included adoptions and orphanages. Family Services was amalgamated with the departments of Community Services and the Office of Ethnic Affairs to form the Department of Family Services and Aboriginal and Islander Affairs in 1989.
  • QA 02568 – Family Services and Aboriginal and Islander Affairs Department. (1989-1996)
  • SRS 593-1-1088 – Adoption Privacy Protection Group (1991-1993)
  • SRS 917-3-193 – Adoption of Children Act 1964 (1992-1994)
  • SRS 917-1-21 – Adoption of Children Amendment Regulation (1993)
  • SRS 917-1-7 – Adoption of Children Amendment Regulation (1996)
  • SRS 917-3-192 – Adoption of Children Act 1964 (1998)
  • In 2003, the Queensland Government announced the first major review of adoption laws since the 1960’s. At the time, Queensland was the only State or Territory in Australia not to have recently reviewed adoption laws. The review recommended changes with a greater emphasis upon the needs and best interests of children affected by adoption. The Government considered submissions made by various groups.