NSW Parliamentary Inquiry Into Adoption Practices

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Urgent notice to all support
groups regarding the
N.S.W. Parliamentary
Inquiry into
Adoption Practices.

This is an historical occasion. Never in the history of adoption world-wide has any Government been interested in or ever given consideration to the natural mothers of children surrendered for adoption - UNTIL NOW. This will be the only chance we will have in our lifetime to speak and be heard. We will never get this opportunity again.

We are asking every support group Australia-wide if they have'nt already done so to include the enclosed information about the inquiry in their next newsletter for the sake of the mothers who may be members of your organization, as they may not yet be aware of the inquiry.

Every mother has a legal right to this knowledge - irrespective of how/if they wish to personally deal with it. To keep this information from any mother is to further perpetuate her abuse and suffering. Whether or not mothers who have ever lost a child to adoption wish to participate in the inquiry as part of her own personal healing process is entirely her own business, but she must have this information to enable her to make that choice herself, otherwise we are no better than the industry that denied us our rights and took our choices away in the first place. As many if not most mothers will still be unaware of their rights, we ask that you also provide the regulations which outline what their legal rights were by providing the following information: (many thanks)

New South Wales Parliamentary Inquiry into Adoption Practices between 1950 and 1998

Terms of Reference

The Standing Committee on Social Issues will inquire into and report on:

  • The professional practices in the administration and delivery of adoption and related services, particularly those services relating to the taking of consents, offered to birth parents and children in New South Wales from 1950 to 1998.

  • Whether adoption practices during this time involved unethical and unlawful practices and/or practices that denied birth parents access to non adoption alternatives for their child; and

  • If so, what measures would assist persons experiencing distress due to such adoption practices.

Put simply, the inquiry will be looking into and reporting on what options mothers were being offered ie. Whether unmarried and unsupported mothers were being provided with information prior to signing a consent, about financial provisions, foster care, state child minding facilities, and information about applying through the courts for maintenance from the child's father that were available under the Child Welfare Act to enable unmarried and unsupported mothers to keep their babies.

Also if mothers were being warned of the permanency of adoption and the lifelong implications and emotional risks of dire future regret if adoption is being considered ie. eg. "Are you sure you will not later deeply regret your decision to surrender your baby as once the adoption goes through you will never see him/her or hear of him/her again. You will have surrendered all parental rights and he/she will be as if born to strangers and not to you?"

You had to answer with the word "yes" before your signature could legally be taken from you. To ensure that you were not coerced into adoption, the inquiry will need to know if you had personally asked to sign the adoption consent and if you were unsure, were you offered more time to get your life together before makinq such an enormous decision.

The inquiry will want to know what you remember about your adoption experience eg. Were you offered the above options, what was said if you asked for your baby back within the 30 days and were refused, and if you knew of the 30 day revocation period, what sedation had been administered to you if you know that, if you gave permission for the drug stilboestrol to be given to you as a lactation suppressant, if you were forbidden to see your baby, or forbidden to see your baby until after you had signed a consent, if you were made to breast feed other babies but not your own, if you had full access to you child while in hospital or if it had been hidden from you, if you were told what sex your baby was, if you were shown the right baby if you did get to see your child, if you were told your baby had died etc.

The inquiry will also be reporting on how mothers were being treated and what was being said in unmarried mothers homes, in hospitals by doctors, nurses, social workers (called hospital almoners until 1969), and any other person involved in the adoption process, and of course how you have been affected by your experience.

The following two documents will help you to identify what legal rights you were entitled to. Read them thoroughly to determine whether your consent was legally taken and if it was a valid consent based on your options.

The following regulations of the Child Welfare Act 17, 1939 evolved in the early 1950's to explain that:

"A mother giving a consent must be fully aware of the import of her action and, must be emotionally and mentally able to appreciate all the implications of such consent. A consent should not be taken if there is any suggestion of indecisiveness or that she has not given sufficient consideration to the matter".

"To avoid any misunderstanding or any suggestion that the mother was misled or uninformed, District Officers are instructed to explain fully to the mother, before taking the consent, the facilities which are available to help her keep the child. These include homes licenced under the Child Welfare Act for the private care of children apart from natural parents, financial assistance to unmarried mothers under section 27 of the Child Welfare Act, admission to State control until the mother is in a position to care for her child, and assistance to affiliate the child and obtain a maintenance order against the putative father, when all of these aids have been rejected, the officer is expected to explain to the mother the full implications of the act of surrendering her child. (this included warning her of the risk of dire future regret if she considers adoption). Only when a mother has considered these, and still wishes to proceed with the surrender for adoption, should the consent be accepted."

The law was very clear in stating how a mother had to insist upon adoption before it could proceed.

Was your experience based on these regulations?

The new Adoption of Children Act 1965 then added offences clauses into legislation against coercion, duress, undue influence to prevent exploitation of mother and child.

Given your experience do you believe you were coerced into signing an adoption consent?

Under the Child Welfare Act 17 under Unmarried Mothers - Allowances for Children. Dept Social Welfare, 27 aid Maternity Allowance (report taken from 1968 benefit states.)

"Not all unmarried mothers wish to have their child adopted and in many cases have no family at hand to help with the care of the child. This embryo family group has an important mother-child relationship that needs both support and nurture and the Department assists the mother by acting for her in affiliation proceedings and by the granting of regular allowances once the mother's eligibility has been established. (this meant naming the father if possible).

The services of the social aid branch are also used in special cases to supply a layette, special foods and milk. Many unmarried mothers call upon the services of the Dept to act for them in court to obtain an affiliation order. There is no charge for this service."

Were you provided with such information?

If you had your baby in more recent times and were not warned of the known psychological harm that adoption would have on you or your child but were promised an open adoption arrangement - and the adoptive parents of your child cut you off as soon as the adoption order went through the Supreme Court, and you were not officially warned that there is no legislation for adoptive parents to stand by their promise to you, it is important that you let that be known. Please understand we will not be on trial. We are being asked to give details about our adoption experience as we remember it.

Why have we "bothered" to demand an inquiry into adoption?

Over the years the phenomenon of traditional adoptions i.e. The adoption of healthy white newborns, has always been written about through the eyes of writers who have been long-term adoption workers. However - they have persistently failed to explain that the adoption of newborns as we know it, has only been around since the late 1940's early 1950's and only after the "bad blood" theory about "illegitimate" children was debunked by the nature versus nurture debate during the post war period which decided that the quality of an illegitimate child is not determined by who gives birth to it but by whom and how it is raised.

These so-called experts have conveniently failed to explain why comparatively few babies were being surrendered for adoption prior to the 1950's when theirs was greater stigma, but while abandoned mothers were being offered help in the way of shelter and support from organizations such as the Benevolent Society of N.S.W and the Salvation Army.

And how even that modicum of humanity automatically ceased when social workers took over the control of unmarried mothers in the early 1950's and began their ferocious campaign of promoting adoption to society as a "wonderful community service for childless couples", while labelling our babies as being "unwanted children" and that simultaneously childless couples began demanding only newborns, so much so that by 1972 six month old babies were being advertised in the Daily Mirror (4/1/72) as being "too old" for adoption.

After delving into the adoption industries archives we realised that we had done what the adoption experts have never bothered to do for over forty years.

We read the rules. It says they broke the law. When a law is broken it becomes a crime. Consequently Origins has called for an inquiry to find out why such unlawful practices and such unethical cruelty perpetrated upon mothers and their babies went unchallenged for almost half a century.

By exposing how the sole purpose of the adoption industry (according to their own documentation) was to bring about the separation of babies from their mothers as the first stage in carrying out their true and only purpose as adoption agencies (their only concern being to find ways of curing the emotional distress of infertility within marriage by finding enough babies to meet the growing demand for adoptable infants). We intend to expose how that demand could only be met by failing to provide us with our legal right to alternatives which had been reduced to nil once a market had been found for our babies.

In doing so we hope to take back our dignity as mothers and as human beings.

The question that will be answered by the inquiry is why the decades between the 1950's and the 1980's has gone down as being the only period in the history of human-kind where unsupported young mothers defied nature itself and "willingly" gave away their own newborns en masse to strangers.

What can you do?

This inquiry will be the only opportunity in our lifetime to have the the history books re-written about adoption. It will be our only chance to help our children understand that they were not quite as easily "given away" as people would like to think they were. New South Wales is setting a world precedent by leading the way under humanitarian grounds with the anticipation that all other states will follow. But unless a substantial amount of mothers participate in the inquiry, other states will have little chance of getting their state Governments to follow suit.

As all mothers will know, as a consequence of adoption separation we're either in denial or in pain. Don't let those once involved in adoption continue to get away with their propaganda that other than a "small" number of aggrieved mothers, all others were happy with their "decision" willingly surrendered their babies and happily got on with their lives to make themselves feel comfortable- when we know that not to be the case.

With the inquiry about to begin we now all have the opportunity to do something for ourselves, our children and each other.

"But what can I do?"

As a result of our traumatic experiences many of us have come to feel disempowered and overwhelmed by it all. So the answer to the above question has often been simply "not much".

But this is our only chance we have to be heard - for the truth to be told as only we can tell it - that had we been given any real choice, had we been given our rights, had we not been made to feel so disentitled to our own children, had we not been lied to about adoption being in our childrens best interest, had we been supported instead of being expected to do the most unnatural thing demanded of any mother - to surrender our own babies to strangers forever - they could never have taken our babies from us and society would have accepted single motherhood 30 years earlier than it did.

We also ask that you contact your local newspapers, inform them of the inquiry and ask them to advertise the inquiry as a community service.

How Does the Inquiry work?

There is a phone number for the inquiry. It is: (02) 9230--3078. All you need to do is phone that number and a kit will be sent out to you explaining how to go about putting a submission together.

Don't be put off by the word "submission" - it is just a formal way of saying "tell us what happened to you".

Although it will be imperative that you use your correct name (anonymous submissions and phone submissions will not be accepted) please be assured that your submission will be treated with the utmost respect and in the strictest of confidence. Your submission will be given a file number and will be referred to only by that file number.

Please understand that you are not on trial. You do not have to defend yourself. And do not have to personally attend the inquiry for an interview, although you may do so if you wish. That decision is entirely up to you. If you do choose to be interviewed personally your attendance will be "in camera" if you wish, which means no media is permitted to attend and the room is cleared.

You can present your submission in writing, on cassette, on video or in person, or a bit of each.

Some mothers will have their records and others won't. Don't worry. If you don't have records just write down what you remember of your experience in a letter. Reminder: only send in copies of your original records as nothing will be returned.

We fully understand how difficult it will be to go back and recall painful events of the time when we lost our babies, but at the same time it is, believe it or not, also a healing experience. For when we journey back through time to the home we were in, the hospital in which we gave birth we are then able to realise just how little power over the situation we had, and are able to begin forgiving ourselves for not knowing how to fight the system that separated us from our children.

If you find it just too difficult putting pen to paper, but you are now able to speak of your experience, you might find it easier to ask a close friend, daughter, relative or someone you trust within your support group to help you put it in writing. Then all you have to do is sign it once you have checked that it is correct.

Please don't listen to that voice which is telling you that "I can't do this" or "someone else will do it better" or "I don't know how to make a submission" or "my submission won't make any difference" - it will. Your submission is as important as every other submission sent in. If one mother tells of her experience and it is similar to your own, your experience will also corroborate hers etc. It will be our opportunity of saying "How dare you have expected this of me!"

QUESTIONS ". . But I signed a consent!!"

Yes I did too, and because no alternative option was being offered and we weren't usually allowed to leave the hospital unless we signed, so did the vast majority of us. But many it turns out didn't sign, and yet unless they had parental support they didn't get to keep their babies either.

Their signatures were either forged, were hounded day and night for their signature for years after leaving the hospital, or their babies were hidden at places like Scarba House until the mother could be charged with abandonment and her signature dispensed with any way.

Although we respect the decision of those who chose to surrender their babies, it is clear by all evidence that taking our signatures without proper counselling was simply a formality to make the transaction look legal, but it did not necessarily mean we agreed to the adoption. Because we were unmarried and unsupported our babies were considered to be at risk, our fate it seems was sealed.

Blaming yourself for having given your baby up and/or surrendered because you were led to believe adoption was in your childs best interest would be like blaming the Jews for not putting up a fight as they walked straight into the gas chambers - conned into thinking they were being de-loused - they too accepted their fate without a struggle.

..But I'm afraid of upsetting people"

There are mothers who feel concern about upsetting their childs adoptive parents and think if they make waves it will upset the apple cart and they will risk losing their child for the second time.

But please be assured that the inquiry has nothing to do with adoptive parents. We are not accusing them of taking our children. We are blaming the system for breaking the law. It is an issue solely between the mothers and the state. It is about the way in which the system railroaded unsuspecting young mothers into signing consents which then enabled the system to make our children available for adoption.

Those adoptive parents who knew nothing of the ways in which the babies they raised had been acquired until now, will probably be sufficiently horrified.

Who can submit to the inquiry?

The inquiry is for anyone who has been separated by adoption in NSW, and has been affected by that separation, also professionals who are aware of the effects of adoption.


This page is now history as the enquiry is over, but it has been left here for general interest as it gives an indication of the flavour of events at the time. It was an epic event. It was big, it was long and a lot of people contributed to it with some fair measure of success, but the fight goes on. (Ed)

Copyright Dian Wellfare, Origins Inc, 1995

Supporting People Separated by Adoption