Friday, July 30, 2010

Adoption in NZ

Pre 1881
Adoption in this time period was informal and the courts always found in favour of the birth mother if there was a dispute between the adults unless the mother was found to be grossly unsuitable.
Before the 1867 abolition of the Provinces Act, neglected children were the responsibility of the provinces. The Neglected and Criminal childrens Act was introduced in 1867 for children under 15yrs and the Industrial schools became the responsibility of the Justice Dept. Caversham Industrial School opened in Otago 1869 and Burnham Industrial School in Canterbury 1874. In 1880 the Industrial schools became the responsibility of the new Education Dept.

Post 1881
The 1881 Adoption Act. A private members bill introduced by George Waterhouse provided for adoption of children under 12. Under this act, adopted children retained their original name and added a hyphenated new name as well. The Howe St Industrial school in Auckland was taken over by the Education Dept in 1881. Parents could leave their children at the Industrial schools, if they were in poverty or could not control them but still retain guardianship. Otherwise the school took over guardianship until the person was 21. Baby farming, an age old practice whereby a couple could get paid for fostering or adopting other people's children happened too. Minnie Dean murdered two children, a famous case at the time, she was executed.

Post 1893
The Infant Live protection Act provided for foster and adopting parents to submit to home inspections. There must have been private adoptions as well though because Minnie Dean went under their radar. In any case, this act also made it illegal to receive payment for adopting a child without the consent of a magistrate. And although the parent or parents continued paying others, the government administered it, paying up when the parents could not.
The Infants Act in 1908 meant foster and adoptive parents could be licensed. In 1825, the Child Welfare Act increased the responsibility of government supervision of these homes, and the conferring of a new Christian name for the child.

Post 1955
The Adoption Act 1955. This increased the governments powers again. Firstly to screen prospective parents, have a judge take the report of a social worker into consideration and install a six-month probationary period during which all is observed in the home and the welfare of the child. It has never been illegal for parties to an adoption to have contact with each other. It was the Social Welfare depts subtle influence on changes to legislation and internal procedures which led to closed adoptions. Birth parents were prevented from choosing a more open adoption by not being presented with the forms to do so. Pity they didn't have the Internet then, it would have made front page news. This Act also;

  • Conferred a new Surname for the child.
  • Closed the court for adoption procedures.
  • Hearing attended by only the adoptive parents and child.
  • Consent for adoption could be without knowledge of the identity of the adoptive parents.
  • Adoption orders gave the adoptive parents all rights. 
  • Source: Adoption New Zealand by Sheryn Gillard Glas and Jan England (2002). In this book there are many adoptive children's stories.
  • Source: Our Stuff... at Rootsweb.


  1. post 1990s Although the 1955 Adoption Act remains in place, despite several endeavours to bring it up to date, Child Youth and Family - CYF (formerly a part of the Department of Social Welfare)supports open adoption. Birth parents frequently chose the adoptive hive, parties to adoption often remain in contact well after the adoption is finalised. CYF also supports and assists parties to closed adoptions reunite

  2. Proud relative of George. While only Premier for a short while, his Adoption Act has made a much greater impact on your fair country. South Africa later modelled it's Act on yours (see Sandra Ferreira unisa). Another first for NZ (at least in the British Empire).
    Rod Waterhouse Geelong, Vic