Origins Response to AIFS Report "Impact of Past Adoption Practices"

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This article was recently discovered in the Origins library

RESPONSE OF ORIGINS SPSA INC

 

TO THE AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF FAMILY STUDIES

FINAL REPORT TO THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT ON THE IMPACT OF PAST ADOPTION PRACTICES

 

ORIGINS SPSA INC

April 1 2010

 

 

ORIGINS SPSA INC

A HUMAN RIGHTS MISSIONThe only independent incorporated organization advocating for the rights of mothers and adoptees, Origins Inc has as its core objective the task of exposing the mental health and legal issues associated with past adoption practice.

By the term “independent” we identify as an organization that is not compromised by accepting funding or favors from Government and religious institutions that may have a vested interest in negating and minimizing the affects of past adoption practices, but as one intent on informing our clients of their legal rights.

We will not place the interest of third parties over the interests of mothers and their children lost to adoption, as the rights and responsibilities we defend are those of all human persons, in virtue of law and international human rights covenants. Furthermore, in respecting the dignity of each and every human person, we especially represent and defend the parental rights of the most vulnerable to the basic necessities of life – necessities that were withdrawn to the advantage of the more influential and powerful members of our society during an era commonly referred to by the social work profession of the period under investigation as ‘the bumper adoption’. 

NOTE: Attachments are in separate documents titled ‘Attachments to Origins response to the AIFS report on the impact of past adoption practices’. The latter can be requested at lilyfair1950@hotmail.com

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

While it is laudable that the Government is investigating past adoption practices, the AIFS Report into the impact of past adoption practices is more than an insult as it stands, to those who have suffered decades of serious mental health damage without acknowledgement whatsoever.

DETAIL OF THE COMMISSON OF THE AIFS REPORT

Profile of the authorRegarding the profile of the author of the AIFS Report on the impact of past adoption practices, Dr Daryl Higgins is ‘a Registered Psychologist (who has) been conducting research in child and family welfare - particularly child maltreatment - since 1993. Daryl completed his PhD in 1998 on the topic of "multi-type maltreatment" - looking at the overlap between the various forms of child abuse and neglect, and their relationship to psychological adjustment problems in the immediate and long-term.’

Given that the impact of past adoption practices is known to include psychiatric conditions (as serious as Axis 1 Psychiatric Disorder; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; Major Depression; Dissociative Disorder; Panic Disorder and other anxiety disorders; Dysthymia; Situational Stress Disorder; Alcohol Dependent Disorder; and Prescription Drug Dependent Disorder), in all due respect Origins suggests that Dr. Darryl Higgins, as a child psychologist is not professionally equipped for the commission he has undertaken on behalf of the Government.

This is further demonstrated by Dr. Higgins’ failure to recognize and thereby give due reference in the AIFS report, for example, to the Submission of Dr G. Rickarby to the NSW Parliamentary Committee into Past Adoption Practices. Instead, the latter is given but a passing mention though detailing the vast experience of an eminent psychiatrist and leader in the field of the impact of past adoption practices.

Also conspicuous by their absence from literature examined by Higgins are the following key pieces:

- Attached: Policy Circular 1081, which went out to all hospitals in 1982, according to which, past adoptions practices could readily ‘be interpreted as duress if the validity of an adoption consent is being contested’;

- Final Report of the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Past Adoption Practices (2000) – especially key paragraphs here quoted – establishing past adoption practices as unlawful and unethical;

- Attached: NSW Child Welfare Manual (1958); D. McLean, Children in Need (1956); Report of the Director State Children Department to Qld Parliament (1965 & 1967), 1965 edition noting that in 1968 the 6 months waiting period for a Commonwealth pension was waived;

- Two major research projects presented by Origins to the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry, which have been virtually ignored and censored by the NSW Government in its refusal to allow any access to the same by individuals or organizations, including, (1) mothers’ adoption “treatment”, with reference to over 300 original questionnaires submitted to the Inquiry and (2) a survey of the effects of the drugs administered to many of the mothers during and after birth; this survey attracted over 180 submissions (DES (Dyethylstilboestrol) Support Group has unsuccessfully approached the NSW government on a number of occasion for access to those submissions).

- Furthermore, though Origins provided a large submission of evidence to the AIFS to facilitate its commission, including proceedings of mental-health conferences, to date it has received no acknowledgement of the same.

Also of significance, the AIFS Report heavily references commentators who are not only unqualified to assess the impact of past adoption practices but who have an inherent conflict of interests in having overseen the unlawful practices in question.

THE OPENING ASSUMPTION

In appearing to acknowledge the ambiguity of terms in their various uses by the various authors quoted in the AIFS Report, Higgins ‘where possible, uses the terms used by the authors of the reports being reviewed … to describe their findings’ (p. 5). However, Higgins fails to define his own use of identical terms, in expressing what can readily be interpreted as his own opinion that mothers freely gave up their offspring prior to 1973:

The Supporting Mother’s Benefit was introduced in Australia in 1973. Prior to this event (and the other social and legal changes that affected the lives of single mothers and their babies in the 1970s), it was common for unwed mothers to relinquish their babies for adoption. This act had the potential for lifelong consequences for the lives of these women and their children, as well as others… (AIFS Report on the impact of past adoption practices, p. 4).

 

As ‘to relinquish’ means ‘voluntarily (to) cease to keep or claim’ (Oxford American Dictionaries), one may conclude that Higgins is of the view that the mothers brought the dire consequences of ‘This act’ not only upon themselves: ‘…it was common for unwed mothers to relinquish their babies for adoption (with) … the potential for lifelong consequences for the lives of these women and their children, as well as others…’ (AIFS Report, p. 4).

Origins objections to the implications of Higgins’ the extract on page 4 (quoted above), are chiefly as follows:

The erroneous attribution of the introduction of the Supporting Mother’s Benefit to the decline in newborns available for adoption, as aids to help the mother keep her child were available for decades prior to 1973;

Despite the latter, Higgins speaks of coercive forces that would surely diminish the freedom of such an act;

The implication that the mothers brought the dire mental health impact of past adoption practices upon themselves and their families; that is, if relinquishment is a willing act, the agent of such is responsible for the resultant mental-health impact of the same;

Higgins attribution of social changes to the decline of newborns available for adoption, omitting acknowledgement the unlawful forces that were halted by policy circular 1081 in 1982 (not soon enough, according to the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Past Adoption Practices, 2000);

DIMINISHMENT OF THE CRIMESMajor human rights abuses and crimes – such as the refusal of hospital staff to permit a mother to see her child, to revoke consent, or to have any say whatsoever in whether or not she keeps her baby – are described by Higgins as constituting a ‘lack of awareness and respect for the rights of women’ (AIFS Report, p. 15). Origins wishes to highlight that such crimes were and are a violation of human rights, not just the rights of women (many fathers were also denied their rights). Furthermore, Justice Chisholm who gave evidence at the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Past Adoption Practices (1950-1998) described the same as ‘kidnapping in a non-technical sense’. That is, the practices constituted violations not only of human rights covenants but Common law.

As the AIFS report fails to acknowledge what has already been established regarding the unlawful character of past adoption practices, Origins cautions that its outcomes may lead to what is known by psychologists as the second injury – that of being silenced or shunned by others:

Victims not only have to struggle with primary injuries in the aftermath of the crime, but they must also battle with the "secondary" injuries. Secondary injuries are injuries that occur when there is a lack of proper support. These injuries can be caused by friends, family and most often by the professionals victims encounter as a result of the crime. Law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, social service workers, the media, coroners, clergy, and even mental health professionals can cause secondary injuries. Those individuals may lack the ability or training to provide the necessary comfort and assistance to the victim. Often, those individuals blame the victim for the crime. Failing to recognize the importance of the crime or to show sympathy can be damaging to the victim's self-worth and recovery process.

 

 

PERPETUATION OF MYTHSThe AIFS Report appears to negligently and flagrantly omit factual material relating to past adoption practice, reflecting lazy research in continuing to reinforce fabricated “myths”. The latter consist from the outset in the denial of:

The availability of financial assistance to mothers during the era in question;

that social forces are not above the law in a liberal democracy (liberal democracy espouses rule by law);

maternal trauma associated with the forced removal of a child from birth, as an impact of past unlawful adoption practices.

Available financial assistanceThe AIFS Report on the impact of past adoption practices maintains that the Whitlam Government’s introduction of the Supporting Mothers Benefit was a chief reason for the dramatic decline in the number of newborns available for adoption after 1973:

(T)he Supporting Mother’s Benefit was not introduced until 1973, coinciding with a rapid decline in adoptions from the peak of 1971–72 (AIFS Report, p. 11).

Origins believes that it should not need to continually remind the Government that the context in which the latter occurred is a liberal democracy which made and continues to make provisions for its perpetuation in the form of essential ongoing support for its most vulnerable members in defence of their lawful rights and entitlements.

Origins has on a number of occasions, provided the Government with the following ‘tip of the iceberg’ evidence:

In 1966 the Australian Association of Social Workers outlined the financial provisions available to all fatherless families and noted that the unmarried mother was entitled to the same State and Commonwealth benefits as widows and deserted wives, well before the Whitlam Government introduced the Sole parent benefits in 1973.

By 1958, according to the NSW Child Welfare manual of adoption practice, provisions were made to protect children from maternal deprivation by assisting the unwed mother in keeping her child out of institutions and foster homes by providing financial assistance. The training manual explains that:

In these cases the mother is visited in hospital by a specialist Lady District officer who explains to the mother the facilities (assistance) which the Department can offer to affiliate the child." These include:

To assist with monetary allowance (section 27 aid. Destitute Persons Act). Or by admission to State control until the mother is better placed to resume custody and control of the child. When all of these aids have been rejected and the mother still desires to surrender the child for adoption the full import of surrendering her child is explained (this included warning the mother of the risk of dire future regret if she should decide upon adoption).

Only when the mother still INSISTS does the department's officer prepare a form of surrender. This form must be witnessed by a Justice of the Peace who in turn must furnish an affidavit to the effect that the instrument of consent was read and explained to the mother and in the belief of the Justice was understood by the mother.

A Victorian government website continues to advertise the following:

Why has there been such a decrease in infant adoptions since the early 1970s? During the 1970s the number of infants placed for adoption decreased dramatically. In Victoria, for example, in the 1971-72 financial year 1,529 children were placed for adoption. By 1973-74 the number had dropped to 827, and by 1976-77 it was 476. In 1999-00, 20 infants were placed for adoption in Victoria and in 2005-06 17 infants were placed with adoptive families. This decrease was the result of a number of interrelated factors: The introduction of government benefits for single parents. Increasingly tolerant community attitudes toward exnuptual births and single parenthood. Improved contraception. The widespread availability of pregnancy terminations.

 

Mrs. Margaret McDonald, in referring to past failure of the Catholic Adoption Agency to inform unmarried mothers of their lawful entitlements, revealed to the New South Wales Parliament Standing Committee On Social Issues: Inquiry Into Past Adoption Practices, that: ‘(O)ptions were not routinely offered, discussed or brought up,’ though contradicted that position during a lecture at the Australian Catholic University in 2009, when she attributed ‘a decline in the number of babies available for adoption (to) the supporting parents benefit.’

Origins wishes to stress that the ‘options’ to which Mrs. Margaret McDonald refers are in fact essential provisions. Essential provisions are not optional but are entitlements offered in respect for the dignity of every human person. Failure of social workers to inform their clients of such aids is a serious breach of professional conduct.

Social forces or unlawful forces? (How the tyranny of social context continues to usurp lawful parental duty)

 

Regarding factors correlated to the high incidence of newborn babies available for adoption during the period in question, the AIFS Report quotes commentators who attribute the latter to ‘social forces’:

Commentators acknowledge that there were seen to be limited choices for these women, and “coercive social forces” led many women to sign consents for adoption up until legislative reform in 70s and 80s (AIFS Report on the impact of past adoption practices, p. 15).

In contrast, Rickarby describes the unlawful forces of those who in various professions, deprived vulnerable sole mothers of their rights upon entering maternity homes:

Part of the awful thing was that they were separated, the young women. They were in an incredibly powerless position dealing with a linked series of people who had marked them out in what was, frankly, conspiratorial activity to abduct their babies…The antecedents were done by the people in the antenatal home; the nursing staff in the labour ward; the doctors in their prescribing of drugs; and the other professionals, in changing their attitude to the brainwashing procedures that went on for months beforehand…a number of different people working together to one end, to take the baby…They were not allowed by law to come until the fifth day…(however a)ll this was done to the guardian of the baby, before the adoption Act could start when the consent was signed.

Rickarby’s interpretation is supported by Policy Circular 1081 – a report that went out to all hospitals in 1982 warning them to desist from the practice of denying a mother her lawful parental rights on mental-health and legal grounds.

The following is an extract of a preamble to that policy circular:

A single mother whatever her age is the sole legal guardian of her child and remains so until a consent to adoption is signed. She therefore has the rights of access to her child and cannot legally be denied this. An adoption consent may be proved invalid under the terms of the Adoption of Children Act, 1965 (section 31 (b) if the mother has been subject to duress or undue influence. Refusing the mother permission to see or handle her child prior to signing the consent, or putting obstacles in the way of her asserting this right, may readily be interpreted as duress if the validity of an adoption consent is being contested. One challenge to the validity of a consent on these grounds has already been heard in the New South Wales Supreme Court. In the same context any comments or actions by staff members which the mother could see as pressure to persuade her to place her baby for adoption run the risk of later bearing the legal interpretation of duress.

Policy Circular 1081 was the outcome of the McLelland Report, released in 1976 by the New South Wales Adoption Legislation Review Committee. The purpose of that Committee was “To inquire and report on what changes are necessary to the law on adoption.” Although it had always been an offence under the Adoption of Children Act 1965, those professionals employed in the social work industry, who were members of the McLelland Committee declared that “It is now an offence for a person to exercise undue influence or restraint to persuade a person to consent to adoption” - citing s57 of the Adoption of Children Act 1965.

The McLelland Report had also admitted that the true purpose of the Adoption of Children Act was based on the premise that a couple not unsuitable to adopt had an inalienable right to a child when their name on the adoption register came up.

The Committee had also acknowledged its own professional negligence in having conducted very little research into the field of adoption although paradoxically the Department had provided one of the largest adoption services in the world.

It was various members of the McLelland Committee, and more specifically Mrs. Margaret McDonald (principal social worker of the Catholic Adoption Agency in 1975) who were instrumental in the process of putting an end to those illegal hospital procedures by drafting up the Health Commission Policy Circular on Adoption File No.1081 one year later in 1977.

The NSW Standing Committee on Adoption and Social Services was established in 1967 with the introduction of the Adoption of Children Act 1965. The Committee comprised of representatives of the Department of Child Welfare Adoptions Branch, members of the Australian Association of Social Workers, representatives of private adoption agencies, a member of the medical profession, and members of adoptive parent organizations.

Under the new chairmanship of Mrs. McDonald from 1976 and in collaboration with the N.S.W. Obstetrics Committee, the NSW Standing Committee on Adoption and Social Services drafted the NSW Health Commission Policy Circular 1081 in 1977. The paper presented by Mrs McDonald at that conference is titled Has Adoption A Future?

In 1978, the NSW Standing Committee on Adoption and Social Services then presented that draft policy circular to the Health Commission who waited four years to distribute it to all hospitals within NSW on the 1st September 1982.

The Health Commission distributed its Policy Circular to warn all medical staff that the practice of preventing unmarried mothers from seeing their babies, or putting obstacles in their way of asserting that right prior to a consent being signed was in breach of the Adoption of Children Act 1965 on mental health or legal grounds as well as being in breach of the mother’s common law rights as a parent.

That same Policy Circular had identified the practice of preventing the natural mother from seeing her child or putting obstacles in her way of exerting that right as constituting a breach of s31 (b) of the Adoption of Children Act 1965 and therefore had defined those established hospital procedures as obtaining a consent by fraud, duress or other improper means within the meaning of the Adoption Act.

Instead of advising those who had been subject to the unlawful practices in question, under its continuing duty of disclosure that they had a right of action to bring a claim in negligence and for breaches of duty of care and for breaches of statutory duty, and for breaches of fiduciary duty against those responsible for the unlawful practices in question, for failing to provide unwed mothers with the same professional standard of care as afforded all other new mothers and their newborn infants, and failing to protect their rights, the 1982 policy circular had instead served as a warning to hospital staff that they faced the risk of litigation by continuing those practices if a mother should contest the validity of her consent.

Final Report titled Releasing the Past - Adoption Practices between 1950-1998, the NSW Standing Committee on Social Issues had determined the following:

7.60 The Committee believes professionals failed to act quickly enough to halt what was already recognised as a damaging and inappropriate practice. As discussed above, the Committee is particularly concerned about the failure of the Hospitals Commission and Health Commission to prevent the practice and considers that more could have been done to ensure hospital practices reflected the patient’s needs.

Origins wishes to stress the point that professionals who participated in the unlawful acts in question cannot excuse themselves on the grounds of ignorance because ignorantia legis neminem excusat.

 The need for reality-based counselling in validation of human suffering associated with human rights abuses and crimes

Within the broad scope of its commission, beginning with the false assumption that mothers relinquished their offspring prior to 1973, the AIFS Report invalidates the serious harm suffered by those who have been unlawfully and unethically separated by past adoption practices, relying heavily on the opinions of those untrained in matters of law and mental health while ignoring what is invariably acknowledged across cultures and ages. The latter alludes to what is perhaps best summed up in the words of consultant psychiatrist Dr G Rickarby in giving evidence to the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Past Adoption Practices (2000):

One of the things that struck me with some of the professionals—I know that people with a social work degree are not trained in psychopathology at all—was that their knowledge of grief was so thin that they not only did not understand grief, but they did not understand the relationship between grief and breakdown and psychiatric illness. I can accept that there is that sort of ignorance because that sort of thing was not in their course, but for them to be that abysmally blind to what the general public knew about—that a person losing her baby is in a stressful situation—and to be that blind to the degree of grief that that person would suffer, I find totally implausible. I cannot think that anybody of that intelligence to get themselves a social work degree or another comparable degree could be that blind.

Origins believes that the following classification of mothers on the basis of their feelings appears consistent with epistemological assumptions intended to deflect from the unlawfulness of past adoption practices:

From the stories of relinquishing mothers, Marshall and McDonald (2001) concluded that mothers’ responses fall into three groups:

• mothers who feel they were coerced;

• mothers who continue to feel sad and regretful but still believe it was the right thing to do; and

• mothers who feel they made the decision on their own and are content with that decision (pp. 62–63).

McDonald and Marshall (2001) noted, however, that some mothers’ experiences may cross over two or more groups, or their responses may shift over time as they face new experiences or as particular events occur—such as a reunion experience. Again, empirical evidence for the existence of the groupings, or relative size of each, is lacking (AIFS Report, p. 15).

Origins highlights the need for reality-based counseling in noting the unqualified grouping of mothers by Audrey and Marshall according to what they ‘feel’ (AIFS Report, p. 15) occurred, despite extensive evidence that what they feel occurred and what actually did occur may be poles apart or appropriately and validly aligned.

Gratitude for the sale of a newborn child for a bowl of soup, for example, is surely not a valid human response. Where is the human dignity in that scenario? Isn’t that the same one that was played out recently in Haiti, which the Australian media reportedly held in contempt?

A mother’s feelings of gratitude for those who will feed and care for her child, but not both herself and her child, is a value-response which is paramount to gratitude for her own disentitlement in the stripping of her lawful rights and entitlements. Such a mother is unknowingly an instrument of her own abuse and of the degradation of the values held dear by the defenders of our democratic freedoms.

Regarding those whose ‘experiences may cross over two or more groups, or their responses may shift over time as they face new experiences or as particular events occur’ (AIFS Report, p. 4). Origins has had extensive experience in providing counseling to people separated by forced adoption practices, who have been typically unaware many decades after the fact, that their lawful rights and entitlements had been denied them. Such discovery often causes individuals to shift over to the side that is fighting for human rights, though initially increasing their trauma. Such newfound knowledge is empowering in holding out hope of justice and, thereby, reconciliation with lost children.

There are those who claim to be God, though reality counseling is what agencies involved in the unlawful practices in question should be providing.

The author of the AIFS Report himself omits recommendation that the unlawful practices of the era in question be conveyed to adoptees who have concluded that they were unwanted by their mothers:

In the absence of other information, many adoptees assume that they were unloved and unwanted. Reunion, or some form of information exchange or contact can help with communicating the mothers’ circumstances and the reasons surrounding the relinquishment, including feelings such as having no option, being coerced, or feeling vulnerable. (AIFS Report on the impact of past adoption practices, p. 13)

Origins makes the point that many of its members have been able to establish and communicate to their children, their lack of ‘option’ and experience of coercion and ‘vulnerability’ on foundations other than their feelings, as valid as the latter may be.

Origins quotes Rickarby, in support of that claim:

With this in view, their legal representatives can be given knowledge of the wide range of illegalities perpetuated on these women. In most there would be 16 to 29 (or some other number of illegal acts), some of them under common law, some criminal, such as Common Assault, some Statutory contempt in the sense that prescribed procedures and information were not known to the de facto administrators of The Act or these were ignored, some issues of breach of duty, and others of breaches of Administrative Law.

Also according to Rickarby.

In hearing the experiences of mothers and particularly in studying the literature of these agencies, there is a continuation of patronisation, invalidation and also a wide-ranging insensitivity to mothers' grief and psychiatric morbidity due to adoption, and the distress and despair in their life situation.Issues and practices carried on by them in 1998 which are untenable to mothers are:

The inability of these `professionals' to take any responsibility for the plight of the mothers, to show by any word, empathic gesture or sympathy that their actions as a group caused any distress or damage to mother, baby or adoptive family, or that they were doing anything illegal or unethical…These organisations have `a party line' which is against the interests of original mothers becoming validated or healed…It is not just that social-workers are not able to assess the psychiatric syndromes or are ignorant in this area, but that they are dabbling in an area of illness for which they are totally untrained. They ignore research about the nature of grief and the connection of Pathological Grief to breakdown in Mental Health which has been known for decades. Their unawareness of their own ignorance when dealing with the severely damaged is like taking lighted tapers into a gunpowder storage…It is for these reasons that I called for these organisations to be disbanded or unfunded in my written submission. In my view they should be replaced by services organised by a committee of original mothers with advisers from The Dept. Of Health in both the fiscal and health management areas.

Origins also draws the reader’s attention to its crimes page.

Serious mental-health issues (as detailed in his Submission to the New South Wales Parliament Standing Committee On Social Issues: Inquiry Into Past Adoption Practices) account for an array of responses to the experience of being separated from one’s child at birth, including ‘denial’ as a gauge to poor mental health of the mother: ‘The young woman with poor self-esteem and low assertiveness might take decades or forever to drop her denial and collusion with the beliefs pedalled by the agency.’

Mental-health affects associated with the separation of the mother and child

Those professionals involved in the adoption industry during the period in question were aware of the potentially harmful psychological consequences of adoption and their established adoption procedures, including the illegal nature of their practices during the period in question.

In 1965 the Hon. A.D. Bridges (Minister for Child Welfare) indicated that the psychological consequences of relinquishment have always been known. In his presentation to Hansard on 8th December 1965, when drafting up the Adoption of Children Bill, the Hon. A.D. Bridges stated the following: The natural parent, regardless of their social or legal status, should have the opportunity to full consideration of all the factors involved, including the legal and psychological consequences of their decision to surrender or to retain their child before a decision is finally made.“

In circa 1966 Social Work Caseworker Miss M. Nicholas ran a course for adoption workers employed in post adoption counseling, titled The Natural Parent’s Needs After Placement of Her Child in which she outlines what was already known by 1966 about the psychiatric and psychological injury caused by relinquishment.

In 1968 Sister Mary Borromeo’s paper had acknowledged both the trauma associated with the loss of the child and the un-researched assumptions made by the profession in preventing the mother from seeing her baby.

In 1964 Viola W. Bernard M.D. adoption expert and author of the book titled Adoption, acknowledged the known “psychic trauma” to mothers by permanent separation through adoption when she asks “Shouldn’t agencies make every effort to encourage natural parents, both married couples and unwed mothers, to keep their children, in order to prevent psychic trauma from permanent separation?

In 1967 a 15 year long Australian study by Psychologist Wilfred Jarvis showed that “Mothers who surrender their children for adoption seem to suffer chronic bereavement for the rest of their lives.”

In 1966 the Medical Journal of Australia acknowledged the medical profession’s own negligence and breach of duty of care at having introduced the practice of denying mothers access to their own children without any prior research being conducted to establish the consequences to the mother or child in interrupting the birth process and preventing the mother from ever seeing the child she gave birth to. The MJA reports on a symposium titled The Unmarried mother and Child Adoption, held in South Australia in 1966 page 934 that “No one knew exactly what effect the removal of the child had on the young mother, and whether it would be better for her to handle the child, and to look at it for a short time, or whether she should not see it at all. In either case she would mourn its loss, but in the latter case she might mourn a fantasy child.

The Review of Adoption Policy and Practices in NSW known as the Marshall Report 1984 acknowledged that:

Research supports claim that relinquishment has resulted in lifelong distress with, at times serious implications for the mental health of the mother involved. Again and again the theme is represented of the powerlessness of the relinquishing mother and the denial of knowledge about her rights, options and services available to her and Social pressures, including the attitude of the parents and the value position of the professionals involved (doctors, social workers and nurses) all colluded to make them feel they had no choice.

In 1984 The Department of Youth And Community Services ‘Adoption: Options for Reform’, 1984-5 indicates that prior to 1984-5 the adoption worker had not been providing the mother with her right to alternative options to allow her to make an informed choice.

In future, before consent is taken, relinquishing parents should receive counselling and written information on the implications of adoption, alternatives to adoption and community support services which can help them if they want to keep their child.

In 1986, the Review of the A.C.T. Adoption of Children Ordinance” Report No. 23, Human Rights Commission, stated on page 3:

Adoption procedures have largely disregarded the rights of the parent considering relinquishment to be made aware of the alternative options to adoption, and to full and disinterested support in arriving at a decision. The many submissions received from natural mothers who relinquished children for adoption, describing their unresolved grief and sense of loss, bear testimony to the failure of bureaucratic procedures to protect their rights.

ON THE NATURE OF CONSENT AND THE CAUSES OF INVOLUNTARINESS OF WILL

Higgins maintains that ‘it is difficult to identify research that examines the issues of consent and the contested nature of what “voluntary” relinquishment would look like, given the social attitudes….’ (AIFS Report, p. 4). Social attitudes were as irrelevant during the period in question, to the determination of what consent and “voluntary” relinquishment looked like as they currently are. Any examination of what constituted voluntary or involuntary relinquishment back then as now must consider what a court of law would deem constituent or not with duress, not what society would consider regarding the same. Origins criticizes the AIFS Report for failing to examine relevant legal literature.

Looking at the various definitions of duress, its meaning has not changed. Duress may consist in ‘threats, violence, constraints or other action brought to bear on someone to do something against their will or better judgment’ (Oxford American Dictionaries). More to the point, Policy Circular 1081, a report that went out to all hospitals in 1982 warned that ‘refusing the mother permission to see or handle her child prior to signing the consent, or putting obstacles in the way of her asserting this right, may readily be interpreted as duress if the validity of an adoption consent is being contested’ (see attached Policy Circular 1081).

Adoption laws, dating back to 1939 forbid duress in the taking of consents. For example, sect 31 of the Adoption of Children Act 1965, on defective consents reads:

(1) The Court may refuse to make an adoption order in reliance on a consent given or purporting to have been given by a person (other than the child) if it appears to the Court that:

(a) the consent was not given in accordance with this Act,

(b) the consent was obtained by fraud, duress or other improper means,

(c) the instrument of consent has been altered in a material particular without authority, or

(d) the person giving or purporting to give the consent was not, at the time the instrument of consent was signed, in a fit condition to give the consent or did not understand the nature of the consent.

(2) The Court shall not make an adoption order in reliance on an instrument of consent signed by the mother of the child before the birth of the child.

(3) The Court shall not make an adoption order in reliance on an instrument of consent signed by the mother of the child on, or within three days after, the day on which the child was born unless it is proved that, at the time the instrument was signed, the mother was in a fit condition to give the consent.

(4) For the purposes of subsection (3) a certificate of a legally qualified medical practitioner certifying that, at the time when the instrument of consent was signed by the mother of the child, the mother was in a fit condition to give the consent is evidence of the matter so certified.

Involuntariness The causes of involuntariness of will, as first defined by Aquinas in his Summa Theologica, are ignorance, violence and fear. The latter, long applied in the courts of our Westminster system of government, are linked to duress.

Questions of relevance in determining, therefore, ‘what voluntary relinquishment might look like’ (AIFS Report, p. 4) relative to various adoption Acts, include:

Were available options offered to the mother to help her keep her child?

Did the mother sign the consent in full knowledge of those options?

Was the mother made to feel inadequate or unfit to keep her child?

Was any force used to separate the mother from her child?

What greater coercion could be applied to a mother to consent to the adoption of her child than to strip her parental obligations prior to her consenting to the adoption of her child? According to adoption laws going back to 1939, it is upon the adoption of a child that parental rights cease to exist.

Origins refers to the practice of removing the child at birth, for example, as per the universal code of which ‘BFA’ (Baby for Adoption) is a variation. Thousands of mothers were separated from their offspring due to such codes, long before they had signed any consent to the adoption of their offspring. In referring to the period prior to the signing of adoption consent, Rickarby notes:

They were not allowed by law to come until the fifth day. The Act required them to. This is at a stage when the adoption Act did not come into play until they had actually signed the consent. All this was done to the guardian of the baby, before the adoption Act could start when the consent was signed.

Dr. G Rickarby also enumerates an array of coercive practices commonly used during the era in question, by which mothers were placed under pressure to surrender their children, including: ‘Isolation, Incarceration, Suggestion, Forced Labour, Repetitive Indoctrination, Humiliation, and Moral Coercion, including Social Role Subjugation.’ Origins uses the term ‘surrender’ in connoting the precedence of a battle in which a weaker combatant is overwhelmed by a far stronger one.

Higgins quotes Swain and Howe (1995), who note that ‘(a) common response from relinquishing single mothers on the pressures of giving up a child was that they felt like they had little or no choice’: They said to me “the decision is yours” … But it was mine without any help anywhere (p. 145).

Pro-choice adoption advocates typically present the options corresponding to the ‘decision re. adoption’ as:

1. ‘…being a single parent ;

2. adoption is the other.’

Note, however, the following respective comments in regard to the latter:

1. implicit discrimination on the grounds of marital status in the use of the descriptor ‘single’;

2. the first ‘option’ is an actuality, not a possibility; however, a choice is the act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities.

There is no real option when knowledge of entitlement to the provision of essential human needs is deliberately withheld. More importantly, however, is the fact that parental duties are not possibilities (options) but lawfully incumbent acts, while a mother yet remains the sole legal custodian of her child (prior to adoption papers being signed). Feeding a child is a duty, while breast or bottle feeding are options related to that. Breast-feeding, for example was very much an option for the majority of the mothers during the period in question, though an option removed in a premeditated and systematic manner via breast binding or the administration of Stilboestrol well before mothers were caused to sign adoption consents. Furthermore, many of the records of those who were minors at the time of giving birth, contain no consent for treatment nor permission to be subject to hospital practices that have been deemed unlawful and unethical.

The usurpation of the responsibilities to guard, to clothe, to emotionally nurture and feed one’s newborn child was a chief reason the Inquiry into Past Adoption Practices

2000 was commissioned. Perhaps the most important outcome of the Inquiry, then is summed up in the following statements and their implications:

7.61 Mothers argued that the practice denied their legal rights as guardian of the child. As explained above, the Health Commission stated that the mother was the legal guardian of the child until the signing of the consent form. Justice Richard Chisholm agreed that the mother remained guardian of the child until she gave consent and that preventing her from having access to the child prior to the consent would not have been authorized.

7.62 The Committee therefore believes that the practice of denying a mother access to her child prior to the signing of consent was unlawful. Those professionals who contributed to the process where access was denied were clearly acting unlawfully.

7.63 Whatever the rationale for the practice, the Committee believes that in all cases women should have been consulted about this issue prior to the birth and that a woman should not have been denied access to her child if she requested it. Therefore, failure to grant access constituted an unlawful and unethical action.

The AIFS Report lists a range of terminology ‘used in the literature to refer to both adoption practices, and the women affected by them’ (p. 5), noting the consideration of the term ‘voluntary relinquishment’ as ‘neutral’. Origins would like to elaborate on that, as ‘involuntary relinquishment’ is the polar opposite of ‘voluntary relinquishment’.

According to the Oxford American Dictionaries, ‘involuntary’ means ‘done without conscious control; caused unintentionally; done against someone’s will; compulsory.’ That is, one may relinquish a child, without conscious control, unintentionally or through force.

Many mothers still believe that their signature on the consent means that they freely relinquished their child, though such evidence is a material instrument alone. Consent must also be formal; that is, the signatory must have been fully informed of rights and entitlements and have been respectively free to exercise and access the latter (also, must be witnessed by a disinterested party to the adoption – reference Children in Need and Child Welfare Manual). The forced removal of a child at birth invalidates consent.

Current university ethics courses in this country use the terms ‘voluntary’, ‘involuntary’ and ‘non-voluntary’ in describing the nature of consent. The latter may also be active or passive.

The act which is non-voluntary is performed on behalf of one who is incapable of consenting, such as in the case of an unconscious patient in receiving medical treatment. The involuntary act is one caused by ignorance, violence or fear. That is, in the absence of the latter the agent might otherwise have not performed a given act.

The term ‘relinquishing’ means to freely consent to (Oxford American Dictionaries). It is used by the Association of Relinquishing Mothers, whose members were also deprived of their parental rights from the labour wards of this nation during the period in question, who under coercion relinquished their parental rights often already stripped of their parental obligations and lawful entitlements to the provision of essential needs.

AN APOLOGY BASED ON THE OUTCOME OF THE AIFS REPORT?

Only an apology proceeding from acknowledgement of the crimes and human rights abuses in question, can be acceptable to those who value the licit freedoms pursued by and enshrined in the laws of our liberal democratic nation. Origins believes that discrimination particularly against the sole mother is still pervasive because those involved in the unlawful practices in question have not been held accountable.

It is apt to conclude with the following newspaper article of the day (Sunday Truth, 1965), which was recently found under linoleum in the home of a mother who lost a child to forced adoption in the State of QLD. The article reports that those in ‘Heartbreak Ward…wait for the babies they will never be allowed to see,’ attesting to knowledge both of the unlawful removal of the offspring of unwed mothers and the pain that would surely accompany and ensue such separation.

CONCLUSION

It is a sad indictment that when faced with such an emotive and catastrophic issue to address, this Government has not risen to be a bastion and champion leader on behalf of the liberal democratic values and human rights it professes. To the contrary, it has hurriedly commissioned a report without more than lip service even to that benchmark Inquiry the Final Report of which (Releasing the Past) found the practice of removing the child at birth to be unlawful.

In conclusion, the AIFS Report fails to address the very reason for its commission, which is that of assessing the impact of past adoption practices from available literature. Nothing less than a Federal Inquiry based on the evidence of those affected will satisfy the continuing need for justice of the mothers and their children unlawfully taken to form the families of others. This outcome will continue to be pursued by Origins, with vigour until the mothers and their children receive the same right to acknowledgement and justice as all other victims of crimes and negligent practices.

Origins and our affiliates will be releasing this response to coincide with the release of the AIFS Report. The latter will be forwarded to every Member of Parliament.

Committee of Origins SPSA Inc

 

 ENDNOTES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY

Origins wishes especially to acknowledge the work of its founder

Dian Wellfare, in preparing and presenting this report.

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Mothers Legal Rights were spelled out in this Manual and the other documents give information on financial assistance available to the Mother

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New South Wales Health Commission Policy on Adoption 1982

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In Response to the "Social Mores" excuse see the following article in the New Idea
May 27th 1967
The article talks about Berry Steet Home for unmarried mothers and the New Idea asking readers  to support it  

New Idea May 27th 1967
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Children in Need by Donald McLean can be emailed on request

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Origins SPSA Inc is an unfunded organisation that relies on the memberships and donations of those that support adoption advocacy. It has not been funded by Federal, State or Church to promote adoption awareness and to the support the aims and objectives of Origins. We rely on those that believe in truth and justice for those affected by past practices, we have a large resource library that is considered to be a national asset that has enabled us to make Federal and State governments accountable for past unlawful practices .  To support us make a donation or join us, a link is available at the bottom of this page to make a contribution