Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Australia Apologies for Adoption Policy, sort of


Jane
Amazing but true, the Western Australia Parliament apologized to mothers who lost children to adoption last week:

“(1) That with regard to past adoption practices, it is now recognised that from the 1940s to the 1980s the legal, health, and welfare system then operating in Western Australia, in many instances, did not strike the correct balance between the goal of minimising the emotional and mental impact of the adoption process on unmarried mothers, with the goal of achieving what was considered at the time to be in the best interests of the child; (emphasis added)”
Although the apology is qualified--the government does not take full responsibility—it is still a victory for thousands of Australian women and their children victimized by misogynist policies of the past, wrapped in a cloak of pseudo-science and promoted by those standing to gain financially or emotionally.

Evelyn Robinson
To our knowledge, this is the first time leaders of any country have said publicly “We were wrong!” While the U.S. adoption industry has changed some practices, tactically admitting that the old way of doing things wasn’t in the best interests of mothers or children, it has not come out and officially apologized to the mothers of the Baby Scope Era (1945 to 1973) who lost their children in closed adoptions, the only choice they had. 

Credit for the Australian apology goes to the mothers of Western Australia and first/birth mother Evelyn Robinson, who has committed much of her adult life to adoption reform. Robinson, the author of Adoption and Loss, Adoption and Recovery, and Adoption Reunion, attended the apology proceedings with her relinquished son, Stephen.

I’ve been asked whether I think it would be possible to obtain a similar apology in the U.S. The question reminds me of the scene in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath where the sheriff comes to seize the Joad property which goes something like this: Pa Joad takes out his rifle to defend their property. The sheriff explains that shooting him would not do any good because he is acting on behalf of the bank. “I’ll shoot the banker,” says Pa. “That won’t work,” answers the sheriff  “because the bank is owned by another bank back east which is owned by investors all over the country.”


“Who do we shoot?” asks Pa.

Who should apologize? Leading the way might be the United States Children’s Bureau and Maud Morlock, the supervisor of programs and services for unmarried mothers from the late 1930’s to the late 1950’s. Morlock promoted maternity homes and adoption as a solution for white unwed pregnancy. (I’ve never seen a picture of Morlock but I visualize her as a cross between Mortica Addams and Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers in Daphne DeMaurier’s Rebecca.) I should add that, to her credit, Morlock believed that an adoptee had the right to know “who he is and who his people were.”

Then there are state social services agencies who failed (and continue to fail) to provide competent services to needy families. And let’s not forget vital statistics registrars who promoted amended birth certificates and the sealing thereof.

Governments were not the sole culprits. The “helping” professionals–psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers--and their allies, the Child Welfare League of America and the American Public Welfare Association-- did their part along with adoption agencies and maternity homes to assure a steady supply of white infants to those who could afford them while purporting to rehabilitate young women. Physicians and lawyers lined their pockets by charging heafty fees to desperate couples seeking to adopt while offering minimal financial assistance to desperate pregnant women.

Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe v. WadeThe parade of horrors includes churches, school counselors, Ann Landers, the media, particularly mass circulation and romance magazines, and family members who could not endure the shame of their daughters bringing home a bastard. The list is almost endless. It reminds me of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express  where all the suspects stabbed the victim with the mothers of the BSE girls making the unkindest cut of all.

The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted AdoptionLet’s not forget the notorious Georgia Tann, director of the Tennessee Children’s Home during the 1930’s and 40’s who literally stole babies from poor folks in Tennessee and sold them to wealthy clients throughout the country. Tann convinced would-be parents and the public at large that having an adopted child was just like having your own child. Tann also advocated sealing adoption records with the twin goals of protecting adoptive parents from birth parents and covering up her crimes.

Unlike Australia which has put in place reforms resulting in few adoptions, Americans still believe in the adoption fairy, allowing coercion and corruption to abound. Influential people and organizations on both the left and the right fly the adoption banner. NPR’s Scott Simon extols adoption as a blessing; the liberal think tank Center for American Progress supports a public relations campaign to encourage women to surrender their “surplus” children (more about this in a few days). Reactionaries like Columnist George Will repeat the same old racist rants about the evils of illegitimacy, particularly in black families. “Christian” churches play the shame card while touting adoption as a loving decision.

Pushing for an apology from a government--federal or state–might help counter the pro-adoption mantra reverberating across the land. On the other hand, lobbying for an apology might divide birth mothers, pitting post-Roe mothers against BSE mothers.

The one thing we can agree on is that we need to stop unnecessary adoptions. To do this, we first mothers need to tell our stories. Otherwise, those who profit from adoption will continue to mislead the public into believing that mothers give up their babies willingly with no regrets.

The girls who went away need to come roaring back.

The apology to mothers who lost their children to adoption and their children issued by the Western Australian Parliament, read aloud by Premier C. J. Barnett on October 19, 2010:

“(1) That with regard to past adoption practices, it is now recognised that from the 1940s to the 1980s the legal, health, and welfare system then operating in Western Australia, in many instances, did not strike the correct balance between the goal of minimising the emotional and mental impact of the adoption process on unmarried mothers, with the goal of achieving what was considered at the time to be in the best interests of the child;”

“(2) that processes such as the immediate removal of the baby following birth, preventing bonding with the mother, were thought at the time to be in the mother’s and the child’s best interest;

“(3) that this house recognises that in some cases such practices have caused long-term anguish and suffering for the people affected; and

“(4) that the Parliament acknowledges that previous Parliaments and governments were directly responsible for the application of some of the processes that impacted upon unmarried mothers of adopted children, and now apologises to the mothers, their children and the families who were adversely affected by these past adoption practices, and I express my sympathy to those individuals whose interests were not best served by the policy of those times.”

Comments of opposition leader (head of the minority Labor party), E. S. Ripper:

“The legal, health and welfare systems of this state were not supportive of young unwed mothers and many people were wrongly subject to government intervention that would have lasting and very personal consequences. … Recognising the attitudes that underpinned these policies is not to excuse the actions  of those who took babies from young unwed mothers. … The deep and profound sadness experienced by mothers who join us here today and who live across our state will be a legacy of this period in history. …We also apologise  for mothers not having the chance to see their newborn baby, bond with it and continue the love that had developed while in utero.”

Post Script. Our reader Von has pointed out that the apology came through the efforts of many of the mothers who lost their infants in Western Australia. Please post names of women who should be recognized in the comments and FMF will be add them to this article.

9 comments:

Robin said...

Well, it's a start. Though we'll never get an apology like this in the U.S.

"We also apologise for mothers not having the chance to see their newborn baby, bond with it and continue the love that had developed while in utero.”

I have often wondered what effect it had on me and other babies to be left alone for days in a hospital nursery with only a nurse giving us a bottle. I believe I had no other human contact but that until I was 4 days old. Cruel and unusual punishment and my only crime was to be born out of wedlock.

Von said...

Much as we might admire Evelyn's work and contribution to adoption reform you make it sound as if she single-handedly achieved the Apology!!She does not live in WA and has never done to my knowledge.Those who do, will have worked hard for a long time to bring this about, that includes mother, others and legislators.
The adoption of her son took place in Scotland; South Australia is her adopted home.Here in South Australia we are still working towards our Apology, hopefully it will be the second in the world!

Jane Edwards said...

Thanks, Von,

Yes, you are absolutely correct. Many women worked on getting the apology from the Western Australian parliament. Please post the names of those who should be recognized and ask others to do so as well.

Von said...

There were so many women and men involved, it would be impossible to post them all.If you check my post Declaration of Profound Loss you'll see some of the supporting groups.
Robin said -
"I have often wondered what effect it had on me and other babies to be left alone for days in a hospital nursery with only a nurse giving us a bottle. I believe I had no other human contact but that until I was 4 days old. Cruel and unusual punishment and my only crime was to be born out of wedlock."
Robin, I had my mother doing the limited caring allowed, under strict supervision, better than not at all, for six weeks.I still have nightmares about it and I expect to live with it always.It's been 66 years so far!

Anonymous said...

"I’ve never seen a picture of Morlock but I visualize her as a cross between Mortica Addams and Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers in Daphne DeMaurier’s Rebecca."

The Morlocks in H. G. Wells's "The Time Machine" were shrunken, wizened and and grey. If Maud Morlock is still alive today, she may well fit that description.

Hiagha.

maryanne said...

I really like "who do you shoot"? Like the Joad's situation, there really is no individual or even group of individuals to shoot, or to apologize to mothers who surrendered in the USA, or Canada either, I suspect.

Adoption abuses never stopped when the volume of surrenders went down sometime after the legalization of abortion and greater acceptance of single motherhood, and unlike Australia, there was no great change in the laws so anyone could truthfully say, "that was bad, we realized it, we do not do that any more."

Apology and confession of wrongdoing are useless without the intention to "confess my sins, do penance, and to AMEND MY LIFE. Amen" as we Catholic girls used to say in the old Act of Contrition!

It is the "amending my life", the action to change and stop doing or facilitating the bad behavior that really counts. We do not have that here, with abuses in international and domestic adoption carrying on as business as usual, every day. It is worse than it ever was; even though the numbers are down, the exploitation of vulnerable young mothers is the same, and the profit motive still rules.

Given this, any apology for the past would be meaningless and insulting. Fix the present and the future, then come back and tell us how sorry you are and maybe it will mean something.

Anonymous said...

I agree that an apology is very different from "amends" ... which is about changing behavior and practice. It may feel good to be on the receiving end of an apology ... for awhile, perhaps forever for some, but it rings moot to my ear when the practice continues. Perhaps some public acknowledgment will help pave the way for something more meaningful.

Lisa McDonald said...

Hi was wandering around a few web sites and came upon yours. My name is Lisa McDonald and I'm a Birth Mother. I was coerced into giving my son up for adoption in 1981 and I live in Perth Western Australia. In regard to the apology myself and Jennifer from ARCS (adoption research counselling services)met with the Minister for Health MP Kim Hames back in September 2009 where the apology was discussed and since then have been working behind the scenes. The apology is a first step in healing those affected by past adoption practices. However the pain and trauma from past adoption practices are still there. Jennifer and I have been meeting with Members of Parliament to try and obtain more funding for ARCS which is a specialist counselling services. ARCS has been providing their specialist services for over 27 years and is a very valuable resource which is critically underfunded. We need your help to reach those affected by adoption hopefully from those who read this site from Australia. ARCS also helps adoptive parents and children, foster children, step and blended families and pre-adoption. ARCS not only helps those who live in WA but also provides telephone counselling to those in Rural areas also the Eastern States of Australia and overseas. We are trying to get people to email us with their details so we can present to Parliament non identifying information(privacy assured)from those affected by adoption so we can obtain much needed resources and more adequate funding for a very valuable service. You can send you emails to me at lisaliamfinn@yahoo.co.uk
Thanks, Lisa.

Jane Edwards said...

Thanks, Lisa,

We're happy to post your comment.