Adoption and the social construction of reality: A comparison between Australia and Scotland

I arrived in Scotland at the beginning of March this year and was (not so warmly) welcomed by the ‘The Beast from the East’. This was the very first indicator that things were going to be a little different here in Scotland!

Before leaving my home country of Australia, I spent some time considering the value of an international placement as a social work student. Of course, the differences in weather conditions can create a bit of excitement (at first…), however, it was the differences in social work practice that I was really keen to explore, specifically, the differences in adoption practice.

Number of Adoptions

The first difference I was already aware of was that more adoptions were happening in Scotland than in Australia. But exactly how much more?

  • The Australian Institute of Health & Welfare (2018) reported that of the 47 915 children that were in Out-Of-Home-Care in the year 2016-17, 143 were adopted.
  • The Scottish Government (2018) reported that of the 14 897 children that were looked after in the year 2016-17, 367 were adopted.

Whilst these statistics cannot be used to definitively outline the difference in numbers of adoptions, due to the difference in how adoptions are progressed in each country, they do provide a useful initial comparison. Based on these statistics in the year 2016-17 approximately 0.29% of children in Out-Of-Home-Care in Australia were adopted and 2.46% of looked after children in Scotland were adopted.

Now, mathematical skills are not my strong point, but I have deduced that based on these statistics, Scottish looked after children are being adopted at approximately 8.5 times the rate of Australian children in Out-Of-Home-Care.

Openness in Adoption

The second difference I was already aware of was that adoptions in Australia are more open than those in Scotland. But exactly how much more open?

A study of 372 Australia children who were adopted by their foster carer(s) (del Pozo de Bolger, A., Dunstan, D., & Kaltner, M., 2017) reported the following findings:

  • Face-to-face contact was the most common form of contact. Where it was not possible for contact with birth parents to occur, contact would instead be had with siblings, grandparents, and other extended relatives.
  • Face-to-face contact happened on average four times a year and supervised contact was only stipulated in a few cases.

A study of 200 Scottish children for whom POs, POAs or direct AOs were made (Henderson, Hanson, Kurlus, Hunt and Laing, 2015) reported the following findings:

  • 92% of POAs and AOs specified no direct contact with parents, although indirect (letterbox) contact was permitted in 48% of POAs and 16% of AOs.
  • For 3% of AOs and 6% of POAs, the Sheriff set conditions of continued direct contact with birth parents.

Again, I must note that these statistics cannot be used to definitively outline the difference in openness in adoptions due to the difference in how adoptions are progressed in each country, however I feel they still do provide a useful, and stark, initial comparison.

Adoption as a social construct

Head With Gears

The third difference I was already aware of was that Australia and Scotland are simply just different! We have different cultures, different histories, different legal systems. What I was yet to learn however was how these differences are inextricably linked to adoption practice.

Social constructionism is the idea that an individual’s beliefs, thoughts and perceptions are used to make sense of reality. These beliefs, thoughts and perceptions are a product of “social construction processes, under the influence of cultural, historical, political, and economic conditions” (Şahin, 2006)

Having learnt all that I know about adoption in the Australian context, coming to Scotland and seeing it being done so differently led me to consider adoption as a social construct. I began to wonder how Australia’s culture, history, politics and economics have shaped its adoption practice…

Has our history of forced adoptions practices and the subsequent national apology led us to place more importance on openness in adoption?

Does knowledge of the cultural loss and devastation caused by Stolen Generation lead us to be warier of legally severing a child’s ties to their birth family and therefore result in smaller numbers of adoptions?

Is the lack of post adoption support available to families a factor that leads practitioners to decide that adoption is not in the best interest of children in Out-Of-Home-Care for whom it is highly likely that they will require ongoing support and intervention?

I also began to wonder how Scotland’s culture, history, politics and economics have shaped its adoption practice… A question I will leave with you to ponder…

Whilst I have been able to identify differences in adoption practice and begin to consider why these differences may exist, there is still a discomfort in knowing that children in Scotland and children in Australia have very different experiences of being adopted. So how can we as individuals address this?

I found that the following quote helped me to begin to think about this and hope it will do the same for you. Şahin (2006) stated that social constructs are:

learned and internalized through the process of socialization. This knowledge gradually becomes a part of one’s own worldview and ideology. People rarely question their worldview and, unless they are challenged, they take their version of reality more or less for granted and think of it as the same for everyone else”

The task moving forward is to ensure that we do not take our version of reality for granted. Always question why things are the way they are and challenge yourself to consider other ways of “thinking, doing and being” (Pawar & Anscombe, 2015).

About the Author

Jacqui Goodwin is a Master of Social Work (Professional Qualifying) student from Charles Sturt University in Australia. She is currently undertaking a field education placement with the Centre for Child Wellbeing & Protection at the University of Stirling and with the Adoption & Fostering Alliance, Scotland. Jacqui has worked as an adoption caseworker for a not-for-profit organisation in Sydney for the last four years and will return to Sydney to pursue her career as a social worker following her graduation at the end of August 2018.



Australian Institute of Health & Welfare (2018). Adoptions Australia, 2016-17. Retrieved from AIHW website:

Australian Institute of Health & Welfare (2018). Child protection Australia, 2017-17. Retrieved from AIHW website:

del Pozo de Bolger, A., Dunstan, D., & Kaltner, M. (2017) Descriptive Analysis of Foster Care Adoptions in New South Wales, Australia, Australian Social Work, 70(4), 477-490, DOI: 10.1080/0312407X.2017.1335759

Henderson, G., Hanson, L., Kurlus, I., Hunt, H. and Laing, A. (2015). Permanence Planning and Decision Making For Looked After Children In Scotland: Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007). Retrieved from

Pawar, M. & Anscombe, B. (2015). Reflective social work practice. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.

Şahin, F. (2006). Implications of social constructionism for social work, Asia Pacific Journal of Social Work and Development, 16(1), 57-65. DOI: 10.1080/21650993.2006.9755992

Scottish Government (2018). Children’s Social Work Statistics Scotland, 2016-17. Retrieved from Scottish Government website: