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Are you trying to tempt me, because I come from the land of plenty?

A discussion of the South Australian Parliamentary apology for forced adoptions.

[I have edited this, due to stupidity on my part on not realising that the Australian definition of ‘forced adoption’ is different from that used by critics of our UK system. It nagged away at me, so I looked at it more carefully and cleaned this up. Apologies to anyone who has had to read it twice, and potentially been given a misdirection by the first version, which was rubbish. My apology is heartfelt, but not as moving as the Australian apology that I’m blogging about]

The Australian term ‘forced adoption’ refers to the policy in the 60s and 70s of compulsory and wholesale removal of babies and infants from Aboriginal mothers (*and I am corrected by a helpful commenter, also from white mothers, both in massive numbers)  and placement with more middle class  families.  It is vital to realise that this policy was not only lawful, but came about because professionals who believed this was in the best interests of the children had persuaded legislators that it was right.  The value of the apology is therefore chiefly about recognising that what can be accepted good practice on the State’s role in the lives of children can in later years seem not only catastrophically wrong, but actually abusive.

The Australian ‘forced adoption’ , although much more pernicious and racially dubious, is more akin I think to our UK Victorian values whereby unmarried mothers either gave up their babies or were committed to madhouses.

I know that this is a different country, and I don’t like the term ‘forced adoptions’  (just as, I suspect, Ian Josephs of the Forced Adoption website doesn’t like an awful lot of the terms that are used in Court proceedings, like ‘family justice’, so fair play)

I’m aware that Australia’s level of adoption is about half that of the UK, and much much lower than the US.  I suspect that adoption remains an emotive topic in Australia, and some of the language used in the apology can really be embraced by the critics of our current system.

But Australia doesn’t seem all that different to us (apart from the being tanned and good at sports thing).  We have a common language, and a fairly similar country. So when they condemn the practice of adopting children against the wishes of the parents, it bears a bit more listening to than when you hear that some country that we share no cultural overlaps with have done it.

I’m not in a position to argue whether the UK approach is right, or the Australian approach is right, but if two countries with fairly similar outlooks on life and one presumes broadly similar social problems, can reach such markedly different conclusions, then there’s a genuine debate to be had.

  In any event, it highlights the point that what is culturally acceptable and considered good practice may appear abhorrent to a later generation, and we should have an eye on the fact that dogma can be wrong.  No doubt our critics will say that such an apology may come in the future, and is long overdue. Who am I to say that they are wrong? If you had asked the Australian legislators and professionals whether history would judge them harshly, I’m sure they would have robustly denied this as a possibility.

This bit is from the Premier,  John Wetherill

“These adoption practices were the product of multiple failures. They failed to meet a basic standard, whether or not they were in accordance with the law at the time. They reflected a failure to apply a simple test of human conduct – a test which we should all try to apply to ourselves every day. They reflected a failure to ask what has become a famous question: how would I feel if this were done to me? For those failures, and for everything they led to, we are sorry…”

 

“We apologise for the lies, the fear, the silence, the deceptions. We apologise for the lack of respect, the disbelief, the grief, the trauma and loss. We offer this unreserved apology not just as an act of atonement but as an expression of open-hearted admiration and support for those to whom it is owed. I commend the motion to the house.”

And this bit is the speech given by their equivalent of Ed Milliband, but don’t hold that against him, he seems like a nice chap.  You can read that HERE

http://www.johngardnermp.com.au/parliament/speeches/951-18-july-2012-forced-adoption-apology.html

but I’m going to publish the whole thing, because it is (A) interesting and (B) it took me forever to find it, so at least publishing it makes it slightly easier to find for someone else.

Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (11:36):Today our galleries are full to overflowing. It is sadly ironic, perhaps, that on a day when we gather here as a special sitting of this house to acknowledge the past adoption practices that have caused such distress, it is because of another overhang of the 19th and 20th centuries—the asbestos in the House of Assembly chamber—that we are denied the opportunity to have that chamber available, where so many more people might have had the opportunity to see this directly.I welcome all those mothers, sons, daughters, family members and other people who have been affected to our galleries today. I acknowledge also those in other rooms of the parliament who are watching this live and those people who are watching the web stream. We are grateful that that has been made available on this occasion. Many more people, of course, are watching through that online.I recognise the contributions made by the Premier, the minister, and the Leader of the Opposition on behalf of the Liberal Party in particular, but also in seconding the motion to the parliament. This afternoon, members of the Legislative Council will have an opportunity to comment on the apology, and other members of the house in due course.It is an important day for the South Australian community. It is an important day for this parliament and the institutions that this parliament is responsible for. Most importantly, of course, it is an important day for those affected by past adoption practices: the mothers, the sons and the daughters, and their families, so many of whom are here bearing witness today. Madam Speaker, with your leave, I seek leave to directly address my opening remarks to them.

To the mothers who had their babies taken away from them, we know that an apology cannot return a child who was taken for so many years. The loss of a son or daughter taken cannot be restored by a simply apology. Words alone cannot heal the hurt that you have suffered over decades. We hope, though, that they may provide some comfort. You may at least walk from this building feeling vindicated that your community understands that you did not freely give up your child and that your children and your community understand that you never gave up on your child either.

The coercion that led to your child’s adoption, whether it was overt or whether it was subtle, was brutal and wrong. It was inappropriate, it was unethical, it may have been illegal, and today this parliament makes a statement that it is condemned. It is condemned by this parliament on behalf of the institution itself and on behalf of the South Australian community.

On behalf of the parliament, which shares in the responsibility for these actions, we are sorry. In this day and age, children are put up for adoption in South Australia only when there is genuinely no opportunity for family to stay together and we work very hard to ensure that the very few adoptive parents who have this opportunity are everything that they might be; but in our history we have not always been so virtuous.

To the adoptees, to the sons and daughters who were taken at birth, I imagine that your experiences in life have been varied and diverse. Many of you may have been adopted into loving families who did their best for you at every turn. Some of you were not so fortunate, and your negative experiences make this apology all the more important.

Whatever the nature of your experience growing up, you share an understanding, a shared experience, a common bond; only you can truly understand what it is like to go through life for years—decades even—knowing that there is a missing piece. What was done to you, what was taken from you, the denial of a mother’s love and the kinship of your blood brothers and sisters, was wrong, and, on behalf of this parliament, which shares in the responsibility for these actions, we are sorry.

While the centrepiece of this apology is an acceptance and an expression of sorrow for the denial of informed consent when children were taken from mothers at birth, its terms are broad, and with good reason. I commend the government for the framing of this motion. We are apologising for a wide range of practices that have caused hurt and distress. We are apologising for a range of practices that have led to a varied set of experiences.

My own experience was to grow up knowing a beautiful, loving big sister. She was adopted with love by our father and her mother. She has done well in life. She has been successful in her career. She has the most beautiful, charming and caring daughter that any of you here are ever likely to meet. However, what I could not have understood growing up was her sense that there was a missing piece in her life. Nearly 30 years later, she discovered that she had been separated at birth from her twin brother who now lived across the country. Last night she wrote to me on Facebook, in a sign of the times, with her thoughts on what we are doing today. She said:

It is such an important day for all adoptees, their adopted families and their mothers that gave up their babies so many years ago. Tomorrow—

this was written last night—

is a day to reflect on the past. I have been one of the lucky ones who have found both my twin brother…and also been able to tell our birth mother that we do not blame her for what has happened in the past and that we look forward to the future as brother and sister. Thank you for your support in this.

Despite not knowing each other for nearly the first 30 years of their lives, they have a bond of iron that stretches from Perth to Brisbane.

Twins were separated at birth all over the world, just as they were in South Australia, but that does not make it right. That does not make it acceptable. For that, and for so many other practices undertaken in our community by our government and non-government institutions with the endorsement of the parliaments of the day, either tacitly or overtly, we are sorry.

Members of parliament on both sides over the last several months in particular, but for a number of years before, have heard so many stories from mothers and adoptees about things that have happened to their families: stories of mothers prevented from seeing their child during and after childbirth; stories of mums hearing their babies’ cries and wanting to hold them but being denied; stories of mums who could not hear their babies’ cries and wanting to find out why but who were held down and denied the opportunity; stories of mothers drugged to reduce their resistance to the coercion and drugged to dry up their milk.

In originally moving this motion encouraging the government to undertake this apology on 29 March, I said that in addition to the lack of financial support provided to unwed mothers there were also cases where they were subjected to grooming by those around them and pressure, including from state institutions. Moved from their community into the confines of a home, women were told that adoption was the right thing to do and the best thing for the child. Women had the details of their pregnancy and the future of their child concealed, while alternatives to adoption and information on potential financial assistance was often withheld. Relinquishing a child for adoption was often a traumatic process, and mothers have detailed their accounts to us and to the Senate inquiry, and the minister, the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition have detailed some of those accounts today.

In many cases consent was surrendered under duress, others were denied the right to revoke consent and some had the right to consent withheld altogether. There is no excuse that it is based on the understanding, the morality, of the time. There were people at the time who were saying that these practices were wrong. There is record of that. There was no Christian morality in what was going on there. I have had calls recently to be reminded of the Ten Commandments in relation to another matter, and I can tell you that commandment 4 is, ‘Honour thy father and thy mother.’ These children, these adoptees, were denied the opportunity to do that. Commandment 7 is, ‘Thou shall not steal.’ These children were stolen. There was no morality in this.

The value of an apology is important. It is a moment of healing, reconciliation and opportunity for the parliament to demonstrate to those who are hurt that we have respect for you and that you are vindicated—those who have felt hurt all these years. When we as individuals going about our business commit a wrong we apologise, and when an institution commits a wrong its representatives must apologise, and we do so today.

We follow in the steps of the first apology of this nature in Australia undertaken on 9 June 2009 by the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, the Western Australian parliament on 19 October 2010, a number of other non-government institutions and churches that have done so since then, the Senate inquiry reporting in February (and I look forward to further activity at a federal level), the support of the Liberal party room, the Greens, the Labor party room, the government and bipartisan support in this house.

It is a time for healing and reconciliation, and we applaud those who have had the courage to come forward and to contribute to this apology. I conclude by reflecting the words of the Premier earlier:

This South Australian parliament recognises that the lives of many members of the South Australian community have been adversely affected by adoption practices which have caused deep distress and hurt, especially for mothers and their sons and daughters, who are now adults.

We recognise that past adoption practices have profoundly affected the lives of not only these people but also fathers, grandparents, siblings, partners and other family members.

We accept with profound sorrow that many mothers did not give informed consent to the adoption of their children.

To those mothers who were denied the opportunity to love and care for their children, we are deeply sorry.

We recognise that practices of our past mean that there are some members of our community who remain disconnected from their families of origin.

To [the adoptees] who were denied the opportunity to be loved and cared for by their families of origin, we are deeply sorry.

To those people who were disbelieved for so long, we hear you now; we acknowledge your pain, and we offer you our unreserved and sincere regret and sorrow for those injustices.

To all those hurt, we say sorry.

Honourable members: Hear, hear!

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About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

7 responses

  1. It’s not just Southern Australia. Their were apologies and debates in the governments of Western Australia and New South Wales too. And two recent editions of the Australian Journal of Adoption have a number of open access articles on the subject.
    I suspect there will be many chickens coming home to roost for a number of British cases of opposed adoption in future, leading to trauma for adoptive parents and adopted children. What would one expect when local authorities were given large sums of money by the Blair government for isimpy ncreasing adoption numbers rather than decreasing numbers of children languishing in long term care without a settled future.? Babies were the ideal adoption material rather than children who had already developed problems, and the numbers taken have increased and are increasing. The scandalous financial incentive has gone, but a target to increase adoptions continues.
    Is it surprising that the public is suspicious?
    Jean Robinson, Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services

  2. “The Australian term ‘forced adoption’ refers to the policy in the 60s and 70s of compulsory and wholesale removal of babies and infants from Aboriginal mothers and placement with white families.”

    Sorry – while Aboriginal mothers were also subject to this – it was (primarily?) caucasian middle class mothers who lost their children.

    There was a huge inquiry into this and this is the outcome – apologies. The link opens to the chapter on the apologies.

    http://www.nla.gov.au/openpublish/index.php/aja/issue/view/216/showToc

  3. It is ironic that all Australian States are apologising for the devastating impact of the history of forced adoption, at exactly the same time that the UK government is actively promoting significantly increased use of this practice. I predict a similar UK parliamentary apology in approximately 30 years – particularly the “risk of future emotional harm” has been a factor in the dispensation of parental consent.

    Below are more quotes from the four speeches in the South Australian Apology. Note, in particular, that the Hon John Gardner said: “There is no excuse that it was based on the understanding of the morality at the time. There were people at the time who were saying these practices were wrong. There is record of that.”

    2012 Government apology for forced adoption practices in South Australia: excerpts from speeches in parliament:

    Following an extensive period and process of campaigning by those affected, all States in Australia are providing formal apologies to those affected. The apology of the South Australian government took place on 18th July 2012. This was a shared cross party heartfelt undertaking.

    Excerpts from the four speeches include:
    The Hon J.W. Weatherill Premier:
    I move: That this house recognises that the lives of many members of the South Australia community have been adversely affected by adoption practices which have caused deep distress and hurt, especially for mothers and their children, who are now adults.
    We accept with profound sorrow that many mothers did not give informed consent to the adoption of their children. To those mothers who were denied the opportunity to love and care for their children, we are deeply sorry. To those people adopted as children who were denied the opportunity to be loved and cared for by their families of origin, we are deeply sorry.

    Our apology today extends to all past forced options, whenever they may have occurred. These adoption practices were the product of multiple failures. They failed to meet a basic standard, whether or not they were in accordance with the law at the time. They reflected a failure to apply a simple test of human conduct – a test which we should all try to apply to ourselves every day. They reflected a failure to ask what has become a famous question: how would I feel if this were done to me? For those failures, and for everything they led too, we are sorry.

    Children who are separated from their mothers and placed for adoption have, as adults, shared their experiences of being separated from their family of origin and of learning that this had not been voluntary. This wrong practice denied them the opportunity to be cared for by the parents who brought them into the world – and the opportunity to be loved by them and attached to them. Some have had to grow up believing that they were rejected by their mothers. They were denied access which they might otherwise have had to their identity and their history. They were deprived of contact with their heritage. Indigenous children were denied their relationship with culture and country.

    There are some, no longer with us, for whom this apology comes too late. We know that some mothers took their own lives as a result of the grief of forced separation. Others also died without ever knowing anything about the child they had lost to forced adoption. I hope this day, this recognition of their hurts, provides some comfort for those mourn them.
    We apologise for the lies, the fear, the silence, the deceptions. We apologise for the lack of respect, the disbelief, the grief, the trauma and loss. We offer this unreserved apology not just as an act of atonement but as an expression of open-hearted admiration and support for those to whom it is owed. I commend the motion to the house.
    Honourable members: Hear! Hear!

    Leader of Opposition Honorable Isabelle Redmond MP:

    However well intentioned the authorities were, their practices are now viewed as inhumane at best, and barbaric at worst.

    Both sides of this house were complicit in this appalling practice which is focused on the 1940s, 1950s and stretched into the 60s and 70s and even beyond.

    Taking these babies and forcing of adoptions was unethical, immoral and in some instances illegal.

    As the mother of three children I found the brutality and sheer inhumanity of all that happened quite difficult to accept.

    Minister for education and child development Hon Grace Portolesi MP:

    I have enormous sorrow for those affected by forced adoption practices. It is harrowing to hear the lasting impact of those practices from our past.

    I believe in the fundamental human right for mothers and fathers to be parents to their children and that children have a fundamental rights to be careful and loved by their parents.
    Nurture of children and preservation of family goes right to the heart of our society. That is why the day of apology for all of those affected by forced adoption is so important for our community.

    A mother whose child has been stolen does not only remember that child in mind, but with every fibre of her being.

    People are still struggling to reconcile what could have been, what should have been, with what is.

    Today’s apology says we cannot and will not hide behind our history. There were no excuses for these forced adoption practices then, and there is no excuse now. Because those practices left a legacy of loss and grief. They left people living with secrets and without a sense of belonging.

    All of these painful experiences created a ripple effect that has touched the lives of so many in our communities.

    I have been deeply moved by experiences of the women and men who were taken away from their mothers. I have learned of the joy, and anguish, of people who were reunited.
    I offer you my own deeply felt sorrow for what was done; for what should never have been done – I am sorry.

    I hope this is also a day for looking forward beyond the sorrow and the grief. Each and every one of you affected by forced option practices do belong.

    Shadow Minister for Families and Communities: Hon John Gardner MP

    To the mothers: we know that an apology cannot return a child that was taken for so many years. The loss of a son or daughter taken cannot be restored by a simple apology. A word alone cannot heal that hurts you have suffered over many decades; but we hope they might provide some comfort. You might at least walk from this building feeling vindicated that your community understands that you did not really give up your child – and that your community understands that you never gave up on your child either.

    The coercion that led to your child’s adoption whether overt, or whether it was subtle, was brutal and wrong. It was inappropriate, it was unethical, and may have been illegal. And today, this parliament makes the statement that it is condemned. It is condemned by this parliament by the institution itself, and on behalf of the South Australian community. On behalf of the parliament which shares in the responsibility for those actions, we are sorry.
    To the adopted – to the sons and daughters who were taken at birth – I imagine that your experiences in life have been varied and diverse. Many of you may have been adopted into loving families who did everything they could to do the best for you at every turn. Some of you were not so fortunate, and your negative experiences make this apology all the more important.

    Whatever the nature of your experiences growing up, you share an understanding, a shared experience, a common bond – one only you can truly understand: What it is like for you to go through life for years, decades even, knowing there is a missing piece. What was done to you, what was taken from you, the denial of your mother’s love, the kinship of your blood brothers and sisters was wrong. And on behalf of this parliament which shares in responsibility for these actions, we are sorry.

    The centre piece of this apology is the acceptance of an expression of sorrow for the denial of informed consent when children were taken from mothers at birth… we are apologizing for a wide range of practices that have caused hurt and distress.

    Twins were separated at birth all over the world, just as they were in South Australia, but that does not make it right. It does not make it acceptable, and for that and for so many other practices undertaken in our community by governments and non-governmental institutions – with the endorsement of parliaments of the day either tacitly or firstly, we are sorry.
    In many cases consent was surrendered under duress, others were denied the right to revoke consent, and some had the right to consent withheld altogether. There is no excuse that it was based on the understanding of the morality at the time. There were people at the time who were saying these practices were wrong. There is record of that.

    The value of an apology is important. It is a moment of healing, reconciliation, an opportunity for Parliament to demonstrate to those who were hurt that we have respect for you, and you are vindicated.

    We accept with profound sorrow that many mothers did not give informed consent to the adoption of their children. To those mothers who were denied the opportunity to love and care for their children, we are deeply sorry. We recognise that the practices of our past mean that there are some members of our community today who remain disconnected from their families of origin. To the adoptees who were denied the opportunity to be loved and cared for by their families of origin, we are deeply sorry.

    To those people who were disbelieved for so long we hear you now, we acknowledge your pain, and we offer you our unreserved and sincere regret and sorrow for those injustices. To all those hurt, we say sorry.

    Honourable members: Hear! Hear!

  4. Human being are largely cruel when acting like robots to carry out duties given to them by those in power. This is a feature in most cases of the ‘professional’ fraternity who remain largely untouched by the practices they subject others to..

    Only when you realise the ‘other’ is also ‘you’ and not different and that it could also be ‘you’ in some other time and place, but for the grace of…. can you understand your own cruelty in not speaking out and walking away- whatever the consequence personally.

    One has to have great admiration for those who speak out against what they know to be wrong and harmful to the majority of others, regardless of the consequences to them and their ‘own’. It is precisely because they see the danger to the much wider community of which they are part that makes them act. They are brave.

    Apologies for things that wilfully destroy the only life that people will have should not be necessary if humans were not so self interested and blinkered in their ‘beliefs’.
    Here Jimmy Saville comes to mind as the most recent matter. Many not only thought he was a saint but he was given honours for this ‘sainthood’- too late to apologise for being blinkered now.

  5. I was just about to draw attention to Peter Dale’s response to Martin Narey, when I saw that Dr Dale has himself added a comment here. So perhaps I can provide the link to his interesting paper

    http://www.peterdale.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/ContactPaperResponseAug2012.pdf

    Many child care practitioners – not just those who act for parents, be it noted – are troubled by the current changes. However, reforms really do have to take place and they should, I suggest, also take into account three considerations. First, reforms must be evidenced based, secondly, they must confront the acknowledged problems of delay in the current system and, thirdly they must address the urgent need to reduce the costs of child care interventions.

    Finally, isn’t it usually the case, whatever the topic being considered, that constructive changes take place from the bottom up? Such as local initiatives that can be shown to work and then lead to development of national policy, rather than ideologically driven, top down, Any Questions rabble raising stuff?

    So it’s up to us.

    • “First, reforms must be evidenced based, secondly, they must confront the acknowledged problems of delay in the current system and, thirdly they must address the urgent need to reduce the costs of child care interventions.”

      Robust evidence base does not come from small scale studies over short periods of time. In science the evidence is ‘weighted’, according to the quality of the research, e.g. types of studies. Unfortunately social sciences tend not to be large scale, there is a tendency to ‘transfer / transport’ findings from one setting to another on an no sound basis and there are a lot of analysis which amount to little more than subjective opinions.

      The problems of the current child care system are not just about delay- Rochdale, Birmingham etc…come to mind. There are not scores of people coming forward to adopt or foster and social workers do not make the system ‘friendly’. I know of people who have adopted recently (the situation was different 30-40 years ago- I know people from that time too).

      In a climate of false and malicious allegations being not uncommon and hearsay being accepted in Family Courts with the lower threshold for ‘proof’, one might predict that the growing public concerns of children being removed from adequate but unfairly judged parents might actually put people off.

      Finally, the costs of child care interventions are high because there are gross inconsistencies in practises of local authorities in respect to who they target, and how, for investigation / interventions.

      I agree with Dr Dale. THe recent example is the the apology Gordon Brown made to children who were shipped off to Australia decades ago on a lie, whose lives and ties were severed. I actually personally knew one of these persons over 20 years and he spent the time trying to piece his lost ‘family’- the effect on him was not small, as this kind of emotional disruption has lasting affects on many.

      We have seen it before in the UK.

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