The notion of family is important in a changing world where globalisation is producing far reaching social, political and economic opportunities as well as providing challenges for nations, communities, families and individuals. Recent sociological literature on family life focuses on the apparently increasing scope for individual choice in forming meaningful, intimate relationships (Giddens 1991; Giddens 1992; Beck & Beck-Gernsheim 1995; Beck-Gernsheim 2002; Bauman 2003). Most people create families through biological production of children, but when this is not possible they look for other ways. Some may try assisted reproduction technologies and be successful, while others not successful continue searching. Adoption is one way of forming a family, but with so few children currently available in Australia for local adoption, individuals are turning overseas to create a family through intercountry adoption.
This article presents the findings from research undertaken to understand the motivations and attitudes of prospective intercountry adoptive parents and intercountry adoptive parents living in Australia. These results form part of a larger PhD study which also investigated intercountry adoption from the perspective of adoption professionals and support group representatives (Young 2009, 2010, 2012a, 2012b). To frame the present study, I begin with an overview of research on intercountry adoption, focusing on studies which examine adoption motivation, and then briefly outline the local Australian context for this study.
Research on intercountry adoption
Much existing research on intercountry adoption deals with trends and developments in the practice as well as outcome studies. In early studies of adoption, research focused on individual outcomes for both local and intercountry adoptees and their adoptive parents (Pilotti 1993). Undertaken in fields such as social work and psychology, research explored behavioural and educational adjustment (for example, Kim et al. 1979; Cederblad 1982; Hoksbergen et al. 1987), attachment issues (for example, Harper 1986; Loenen & Hoksbergen 1986) and issues of cultural and racial identification (for example, Kuehl 1985; Dalen & Saetersdal 1987; Pilotti 1993; Triseliotis et al. 1997). The introduction of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Conference 1993) also prompted research into the policy and practice implications of the Convention (Brennan 2000; Duncan 2000).
Against this backdrop, there is relatively limited research which examines prospective parents' motivations for forming a family through intercountry adoption and little explanation of the current high level of demand for intercountry adoption globally (Maim & Welti 2010; Zhang & Lee 2011). Historically, research has discussed motivations for intercountry adoption as arising from altruistic and humanitarian responses to war and the social instability which followed, or to natural disasters such as famine (Altstein & Simon 1991; Hoksbergen 1991; Selman 2010). Later, intercountry adoption became seen as a solution to increasing rates of infertility (Hoksbergen & ter Laak 2005; Haworth et al. 2010; Selman 2010).
Altruism continues to be highlighted as a major motivating factor in intercountry adoption in more recent studies (see Tyebjee 2003; Hoksbergen & ter Laak 2005; Maim & Welti 2010; Zhang & Lee 2011). Tyebjee (2003), for example, asked prospective American adoptive and foster parents about their attitudes and motivations towards adoption and foster care. The most compelling motivation participants reported for fostering or adopting was the 'plight of children', rather than the individual focus of fulfilling parental need for a child. Maim and Welti (2010) conducted quantitative research with American adoptive parents who had used foster care, private domestic adoption or international adoption to form their families. …