Federal push to review adoptions
FEDERAL Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin will raise past adoption practices with her state counterparts after calls for an apology or inquiry from some women coerced into giving up their babies.
The federal government commissioned the Australian Institute of Family Studies to review past adoption practices to help piece together what happened. The recently released review found that relinquishing a child for adoption had the potential for lifelong consequences for the women and their now grown children. But it says there is no reliable data on the number of women coerced into adopting out babies, or how many report continuing negative effects. It says understanding of the full impact of past practices is needed to be able to help those affected.
It is believed to mainly affect single women who were pregnant between the 1940s and the 1970s. The report says research suggests that from the 1940s it was ''seen as desirable to relinquish children as early as possible - straight after birth''. Women's magazines became fierce advocates for adoption and in the 1940s and '50s waiting lists of prospective adoptive parents grew.
The report's author, Daryl Higgins, general manager of research at the institute, said: ''No one is disputing what has happened in the past. There are opportunities for doing further work to understand the current need - the emotional needs, the psychological health needs - of those who were affected by past practices. The breadth of the evidence shows that this was not a unique or isolated event and it's associated with significant long-term impacts for these women, including grief and loss and trauma.''
Some women have said they were heavily drugged, affecting their capacity to give consent. Other women were not permitted to see their baby after birth and not told of their right to change their mind about relinquishing a baby.
This was raised in parliamentary inquiries in Tasmania and New South Wales but, the report says, it would take significant research to determine the extent to which these practices were widespread.
Kate O'Dwyer, who is on the committee of the Association of Relinquishing Mothers, is one who has been pressing for an apology. She does not oppose an inquiry but says other inquiries have left women with no support after they told their stories.
''They are left feeling bereft,'' she said. ''The thing that women need is counselling.''
A spokeswoman for Ms Macklin said the report would be carefully considered, and the minister would raise the issue with her state colleagues at their next meeting in June.
''We have started a dialogue with women affected by past adoption practices,'' she said.
Denise Cuthbert, a professor in Monash University's school of political and social inquiry, is one year into a four-year project looking at past adoption practices. It is a historical investigation of adoption legislation and policy in Australia. There is also an interactive website, where people can share their stories.
''There were probably many occasions where, judged by today's standards, women weren't treated well,'' she said.