News

Adjunct Professor Hon Nahum Mushin ‘s keynote address

Apr 2, 2018

https://lens.monash.edu/2018/03/21/1335656/forced-adoption-five-years-on-and-theres-still-so-much-work-to-be-done-to-right-the-wrongs

Adopt Change are stimulating an Inquiry into local Adoption once again

Mar 31, 2018

https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House/Social_Policy_and_Legal_Affairs/Localadoption

Commemorative message - National Apology for Forced Adoptions

Mar 27, 2018

Commemorative Message - National Apology for Forced Adoptions from Relationships Australia SA on Vimeo.  

Submission sent to the HRT and Surrogacy review in WA

Mar 24, 2018

ARMS (Vic) is a not for profit organisation which was formed in 1982 by a group of women who had lost their children to adoption and who realised they (and many other women) had all had similar experiences of being denied the right to mother the children to whom they had given birth. ARMS has supported mothers ever since, holding support group meetings each month in Melbourne for the past thirty-five years, and more recently in Victorian regional areas as well. We well know the experience of grief and trauma that follows the taking or ‘giving’ of a child, and as an organisation, are extremely concerned with the parallels between adoption and surrogacy. Both are made to appear “normal” and acceptable within a society where one part of the community covets that which another part of the community has, in this instance, a child. At the centre of every surrogacy is a relinquishment and as a society, through the adoption experience, we have close to 100 years’ knowledge and experience of the psychological and emotional damage of relinquishment and the secrecy that has been attendant upon it. Surrogacy will create the new generation of grieving women and generations of offspring who are disenfranchised from their origins. What is clear from adoptions and the subsequent donor conception experience is that it is not a woman’s role to produce a baby for someone else, just because they want one. Those who advocate for surrogacy fail to accept as relevant, the trauma of separation of mother and child. Society, through the apology for past wrongs by Australia’s Federal and State Governments, have acknowledged the damage of social policy that separates a mother and child to meet the desire for a child by a couple unable to produce their own. There is no excuse for us as a community, if we fail to learn from the past and repeat that damage because we refuse to accept the parallels. We wish to convey in the strongest possible terms our opposition to any form of commercial surrogacy and believe that ‘altruistic’ surrogacy is a dangerous notion that should not be supported by the State. Following is our submission to the West Australian Review of the Human Reproductive Technology Act 1991 and the Surrogacy Act 2008. Marie Meggitt on behalf of ARMS(Vic)   PREAMBLE It has been more than 25 years since ARMS first called the community to recognise that surrogacy would produce the new generation of grieving women. Since then we have seen an explosion of prospective commissioning couples desperate to secure a child, especially as the pool of babies available to be adopted has dramatically reduced. Surrogacy is even more attractive than adoption because it offers the possibility of either one or both of the commissioning couple to be genetically connected to the child. It also enables the commissioning couple to negate any meaningful role that the carrying mother plays by dismissing it as the incubation of “their” child. While traditional surrogacy is not a recent phenomenon, fertility clinic assisted surrogacy is, and this brings serious policy ramifications.   A Public Policy Framework Altruistic surrogacy has occurred in society for centuries without a public policy framework around it. The desire for such a framework flows from the ambition of commissioning couples, IVF clinics and surrogacy businesses. Clinics would like the opportunity to expand their client base, particularly into a population of fertile women, which would improve their statistical 'success' rate. Commissioning couples want to be sure that at the end of the pregnancy and having spent quite a lot of money, they will in fact be given the child they have bought. Now with the dramatic growth of surrogacy businesses in America and the push for an Australian market, there is almost unendurable pressure on governments to provide legislative security, and therefore opportunities for this business growth.   Early Experiences of Surrogacy ARMS women in the late 1980s had the privilege of meeting several of the first women to undertake to carry a child on behalf of a commissioning couple, without payment. Elizabeth Kane became the pin up woman of the pro-surrogacy movement for several years, until she started living the consequences of her act of altruism – deep depression, her previous children suffering profound emotional disturbances and her marriage on the brink of disintegration. Elizabeth, Mary-Beth Whitehead and Lori-Jean are women we met who told of their experiences of being a so-called 'surrogate'. In truth, they were mothers – but language is used to diminish status when society is doing something unconscionable. All three women spoke eloquently of the impact on their families of their decision to relinquish the child they carried to the commissioning couple. It had far reaching and ongoing negative consequences for their children and their marriages. Women who become birth mothers for a commissioning couple are in a nightmare predicament because of the contradictory views of society. Just as it has been for the mother who has relinquished in adoption, on one hand the woman is applauded for giving her child to a 'deserving' couple, who can provide a two parent environment for the child, but on the other she is treated with suspicion because she has 'given away' her child. This irony and nightmare for women is best exemplified by a court case in the late 1980s where a woman who was carrying a child in a surrogacy arrangement, lost custody of her previous three children in a divorce proceedings because the Judge deemed that she was an unfit mother because she was prepared to give away the unborn child. He was convinced by her husband that she was, as a consequence of the surrogacy, an unfit mother. IVF is now a preferred means for an infertile couple to attempt to procure a child as it is possible to create a child that is biologically related to both husband and wife. Alternatively, providing a donor egg creates a way in which the birth mother has her status reduced to that of incubator, as she has no genetic connection to the child she is carrying. However, as so many of the women who have walked this path have attested, the genetic connection is only one dimension of carrying a child. Science and women's experiences now tell us that the gestational period is of enormous significance to both the foetus and the mother, and this relationship needs to be acknowledged and valued. It is a fallacy to suggest that a woman is less connected to a child that is not her own progeny.   Altruism 'Altruistic surrogacy' provides just one further dimension of the exploitation of women. Women are socialised into caring and this sets them up for exploitation, especially where there is a power imbalance in the family. Lori Jean told of this strongly when she reflected that she had undertaken to carry a child for her sister because she thought and hoped that her sister would love her more. She gave birth to her sister's husband's child who was also her child and her family disowned her because she realised during the pregnancy that she felt deeply attached to the child. She did relinquish her child to her sister, and was immediately cut off by her sister, losing all of the relationships in her family of origin, and the one she was promised with her child. This is not an uncommon story and in many ways it makes sense. The woman who cannot carry a child is still infertile, even if she has been given a child. It could be an ongoing source of pain to engage with the woman who carried your husband's child, who could do what you could not, and whose existence served to reinforce your own sense of inadequacy. Some fertile women feel both sorry for an infertile sister and responsible for her situation. It can be very difficult to answer the question 'why won't you do this for me', especially when it can be reduced to feeling like one sister won't give the other something the fertile one has. The sorry truth of most families is that there are power relations that exist and that can and do leave women disadvantaged. These unequal relationships are evident in all families, but they take on a special character when a child is at stake. The divorce courts are an easy example of the extent to which the power dynamics in families can be vicious and deeply unequal. When a child is the prize, power and money are played hard and the woman who is in it because of her emotional commitment, isn't even on the same playing field. This has been the lived experience of the women we have met or had contact with through sister organisations.   Third World Concerns Compounding the commodification of babies via surrogacy is the use of girls and women in third world countries to provide these services: surely clear exploitation of the powerless by the powerful. If commercial surrogacy were to be legalised in Australia this exploitation would not be diminished. The amount of money paid to the birth mother would perhaps not be as life changing as it is to the birth mothers in poor third world countries, but it would still be money paid by someone who has more, to someone who needs more. Policy initiatives must ensure that girls and women in third world countries are not used in this way; that commercial surrogacy is prohibited and that any contract cannot be held valid where it demands the transfer of the child from the birth mother, should that be against her wishes. The lesson from adoption is that a woman cannot truly grasp the lived truth of relinquishing a child until she has given birth to that child and has had time to recover from the birthing process.   Counselling Counselling services in adoption were heavily skewed towards persuading the pregnant woman to give up her child, and promoting the interests of the prospective adoptive couple. When IVF began, again, counselling services were extremely poor, avoiding - as much as possible - addressing the implications of donated genetic material. We can’t assume that the services offered in the surrogacy context are any better, and what we know to this point is that ‘counselling’ is often provided by those who have a vested interest in the outcome. At minimum, any woman who enters a surrogacy arrangement must be provided with appropriate adequate, relevant counselling for both herself and her family. Legal representation should be provided to her prior to an agreement being entered into and throughout the process of the pregnancy. It should be paid to an independent body that oversees the expenditure, and contributed to by obliged contributions from both commissioning couples and the medical clinics who provide services to them to ensure the independence of the counselling.   Marginalising the Birth Mother The focus in surrogacy always appears to be on the commissioning parents - how much they want a family; how they can achieve their wish; how much it costs them financially and emotionally. Surrogacy intentionally violates the gestational link between the child and the birth mother. And what of the children who do not come up to the expectations of the commissioning parents? We have seen what happens when a baby is born with a disability, or there are more babies than the commissioning parents expected. Who can say that just because these babies are born in Australia of Australian surrogates that this will not happen? It has been in the nature of adoption, and continues to be the case with surrogacy, that the power and influence has resided with the adopters or commissioning parents and the institutions that have facilitated this process. By their nature they have money, influence, and status, control of the delivery of messages through media - and these days the addition of celebrity status in a society that celebrates fame and rewards it in many ways. Allowing altruistic surrogacy throughout Australia is the thin edge of the wedge. Those in Australia who currently gain financially from international commercial surrogacy are waiting in the wings to take it a step further: legal commercial surrogacy in all States and Territories of Australia. They are running a business and want to ignore the complexities of this social policy.   Pregnancy and Relinquishment The focus needs to be switched to (1) the birth mother and her needs. She is the one carrying the baby for nine months; the one taking the risks by being plied with drugs and hormones; the one bonding with the baby for the nine months that it lives inside her womb; the one going through childbirth and taking all the attendant risks; and (2) the child who is to be born of surrogacy. The experience of women who have lost children to adoption has been that our feelings in relation to the child we carried were not as important as those of the couple who were to become the adoptive parents. Surrogacy is designed to meet the needs of the commissioning couple. The birth mother’s emotional landscape will always take second place, if only because of the imbalance of power. In a surrogacy arrangement it is expected that there will be no emotional attachment, but the foetus that is growing is ultimately and irrevocably linked with her body. The birth mother will bond with the child in utero, regardless of whether or not she has contributed genetic material. In any pregnancy there is cell transfer. This cell memory remains for the mother and child over their lifetime. The relinquishing mother will grieve for the child. This reaction is normal and if separated permanently from the child, is likely to be lifelong, as we learned in adoption. No-one knows how they will cope with a situation until they’ve lived it. Early evidence shows that after the first warm glow of altruism wears off, women are missing their babies and do grieve. In surrogacy it is a hidden and socially unacceptable grief, because the birth mother ‘chose’ it.   The Interests of the Child Surrogacy ignores the welfare of the child because it treats the child as a commodity to be ordered and exchanged as an article of transfer. The effects of surrogacy for the child are likely to be even more damaging than in adoption because of the planned nature of the decision to deliberately create a child to be relinquished. Children born of surrogacy in the US in the ‘80s are beginning to speak out. “When the only reason you’re in the world is because of a big fat pay cheque, it’s degrading.” “How would you feel about being born specifically to be given away?” We also know from surrogacy arrangements that have occurred to date that they can have a serious and deleterious impact on the existing and subsequent children of the birth mother who will need to help them understand why she would give away what they see as one of their siblings; and contend with a child’s fear that they too may be given away. What are we as a society saying to the other offspring the birth mother has about the concept of motherhood? What does the mother’s action say of the bonds of motherhood on which her other children depend?   Public Policy The creation of a child with the intention of forming another family has been a highly contested space for over 50 years. The Australian experience is particularly important because we have led the world in an advancement of understanding the impact of adoption and by creating legislation around inter-country adoption and surrogacy that in particular protects the interests of the child. That notion also – the best interests of the child – is itself a contested idea. The United Nations makes it very clear what serves the best interests of the child: The child shall have the right from birth to know and be cared for by his or her parents Parties undertake to respect the right of the child and to preserve his or her identity including family relations as recognised by law without unlawful interference. The child is voiceless, powerless and in need of protection. Therefore it is imperative that we as adults ensure that any legislation we enact must protect and secure the needs of the child. Australia is highly regarded, and rightly so, in its policy development and legislative application because it has found ways to reflect the UN conventions as well as meeting the interests and needs of infertile couples without contravening those important first principles. Some examples of this are: providing access to identifying information to adoptees and their natural parents; protecting the interests of children from third world countries by ensuring that adoptions are only organised on a government to government basis; recognising that traditional adoption is not in the interests of either the child or the original family by providing guardianship and custody as an alternative mechanism for the secure placement of a child in need of a family; by legislating for an open adoption model; by prohibiting commercial surrogacy; and by ensuring that any contract entered into would not be supported by courts in Australia, where it was believed pressure had been brought to bear on the carrying mother. To leave the birth mother unprotected in surrogacy legislation is yet another example of an unwillingness to take the lessons of past policy and apply them rigorously to new technological practices. Clearly, some in the medical / legal profession recognise that doing so is not in the economic interest of their business model, as it is predicated on ensuring the interests of the commissioning couple even if at the expense of the birth mother and the child.   In conclusion The fact that we as a country are discussing this a mere three years after our Prime Minister apologised and promised “to make sure these practices are never repeated. In facing future challenges, we will remember the lessons of family separation. Our focus will be on protecting the fundamental rights of children and on the importance of the child’s rights to know and be cared for by his or her parents” is extremely concerning and indicates that we have not learned from past mistakes. In the creation of public policy it is imperative to illuminate the value judgements, political pressures and social consequences that are involved in any movement towards legislation. It cannot be assumed that science and the creation of families are value free processes. It is therefore essential that the values that underpin whatever progress we make in relation to these matters, properly reflect the values of an informed community and not those of a self-invested medical fraternity and an elite of white, middle class, well-off couples in search of the status of family.   SUBMISSION COMMENTS ON THE SURROGACY ACT As an overall comment about the Surrogacy Act 2008 we believe that the Act does not acknowledge the central role of the birth mother by providing protections for her and her current children and nor does it identify the best interests of the child to be born. These are critical deficits in the present Act and by inference suggest that the interests of the commissioning couple are paramount. The Act reads as a protection device for commissioning couples and the clinics and agencies that support them. It needs to be held as the clear framework for these arrangements, that this is a contract entered into freely, knowingly, and with proper and secure supports in place for the contract to be met. If those safeguards fail, it is not the role of the Court to secure a child for a commissioning couple. It is the role of the Court to ensure the best interests of a child, which is outlined by the Hague Convention and starts with protecting the mother and child, regardless of the genetic contributions of donors. This should be the case if, as a society, we still uphold the view that children are not commodities and women are not, at their essence, incubators. Further, the current Act is silent on the issue of international surrogacy arrangements. To avoid exploitation of women in other countries, and to ensure that commissioning couples do not act outside the law, all the rights and safeguards that apply in Australia should be applied to international surrogacy arrangements. Where these are avoided, or cannot be applied in another country, a child from a mother in another country should not be given a passport to enter Australia. Finally, there is a significant oversight in the Act in that it does not make any requirement for establishing whether a commissioning couple is suitable to become parents. As the State has involved itself in providing a social policy framework for altruistic surrogacy, it has a responsibility to both the prospective child and the birth family to ensure that the commissioning couple is of sufficient capacity and appropriate intention to be approved to exercise the opportunity provided by the Act. This has been the case in Adoption legislation for the best part of 100 years and there seems even more reason to continue this expectation in this Act, given that we now have cases where couples solicit children for sale, sexual services and exploitation. The following are comments and recommendations on the particularities of the current Surrogacy Act.   Division 1, Part 6 - Reasonable Consideration If the intention of the Act is to ensure that commercial surrogacy is prohibited, then this section needs to be reconsidered. There is no mechanism in the Act for establishing the dollar figure of what is paid by the commissioning couple. There should be an oversight of these payments through an organisation that monitors the flow of money in every instance of these arrangements. To achieve this there needs to be powers of investigation, power to obtain information and strong penalties available to the oversighting organisation. All expenses agreed to in the Contract and paid for by the commissioning couple should be paid to a third party, such as the Council, to ensure there are fewer opportunities to make illegal payments and to enable less opportunity for obligation to be created between the birth mother and the commissioning couple. Psychological counselling, paid for by the commissioning couple, compromises the birth mother and her family. For example, the commissioning couple can decide who provides the service, allowing that their choice would be a counsellor who supports their perspective, thus not having true independence. Where payments are able to be made directly to the birth mother, it provides an opportunity for the commissioning couple to use it as a device to inflate the expense to make a back-door payment. Life, disability and health insurance is another issue of concern. The health risks associated with both the pregnancy and the potential effects of the process of super-ovulation where these are used, may last well beyond the confinement. What safeguards exist for the birth mother to continue to have this insurance protection? Further, if ongoing payment of premiums is agreed to, what monitoring is done, and by whom? If any protections agreed to through a contract require the birth family to take court action to have them upheld, then it is unlikely to be a deterrent to the commissioning couple to break the agreement, given that such action would be prohibitively expensive, especially for a family that is also needing to manage a sick mother and the attendant medical costs. A fund should be established by the Council, contributed to by all commissioning couples and the Government, that provides financial resources to the birth family to take court action, where their rights have been contravened.   Division 2 - Offences It is very clear that there is enormous money being poured into the area of surrogacy and HRT. The American market is expanding constantly because commercial surrogacy is allowed. There are significant and close connections between Australian HRT services and the American counterparts and the pro-surrogacy movement enjoys strong donor support. It is a multi-million dollar industry, both here and elsewhere. In light of that, the level of penalty for all of the offences nominated in the current Act is seriously inadequate. Further, there is no mechanism established, nor responsibility given to an organisation, to monitor any breaches, or to facilitate the bringing of charges.   Currently it is the case that the medical, legal and surrogacy businesses providing HRT services are lobbying strongly to use their facilities to enable surrogacies. We know that couples have travelled overseas and procured the services of poor women in third world countries. Given that there are laws prohibiting this, it is again a question as to why no one has faced the Courts.   Part 3 Division 1, 13 - Child’s Best Interests Paramount It is of great concern that this section does not outline precisely what constitutes the best interests of a child in this circumstance. There is no shortage of clarity about this, in particular, the Hague Convention on the Rights of the Child, and closer to home the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s Report into the Review of Adoption Act 2017. In 13.2 the Act nominates an extremely narrow definition that is unsatisfactory in that it does not take into account the complex family relationship that has been created.   Division 2, Section 16 (1) – Parentage Order The Act appears to be silent on the matter of children born of a birth mother in another country. This section should be written to include protections for any proposed other country surrogacy arrangement. Any protections offered to birth mothers in Australia should also be extended to women in other countries who are providing this service.   Section 17 – Requirements for Surrogacy Arrangements To Be Approved The rules outlined under this section should equally apply to any overseas surrogacy arrangement.   Section 17 (a) (i) and (ii) It appears that this is one of the few sections that offer protections to a prospective birth mother – that she be at least 25 years of age and that she has had the experience of giving birth to a child, with an implied presumption that she is also rearing that child. This section is very poorly worded and does not clearly indicate that the intention is that the woman has (a) gained some maturity, and that (b) she can know something of the implications of giving a child she has nurtured through a pregnancy to others, forever, and potentially without any further contact. It is of grave concern that the Act provides that there can be exceptions to this very narrow protection; and that these ‘exceptional circumstances’ are not defined in any way. We believe that there should be no exceptions to this base line; that if this is to proceed, then exceptional circumstances should be defined clearly; and that this purpose (protection) should be clear. There is no place in the Act where a woman with any kind of mental health issue or intellectual impairment is protected from offering to take this role, except that there is a presumption made by virtue of (c) (ii) that a psychologist would deem such a woman as unsuitable. However, that ought not be assumed. Clarifying the purpose as outlined above in (a) and (b) is essential and this means specifically noting that this includes the woman: being at least 25 years of age having had the experience of giving birth to a child is rearing that child has gained some maturity can know something of the implications of giving a child she has nurtured through a pregnancy to others recognizes that this is a lifetime commitment may have no further contact with the child.   Section 17 (c) is of concern in that it is critically important to specify that this counselling should not be provided by the surrogacy agency, that the parties should not attend the same counsellor or psychologist; that the counselling should not be paid for by the commissioning couple; and that any prospective birth grandparents of a genetically related child be protected under this part of the Act.   Section 18 - Application of Human Reproductive Technology Act 1991 The Council’s capacity to delegate its responsibilities to committees raises a number of concerns. What might be the makeup of the ‘Committee’? Will its membership have a vested interest in a particular outcome? How does the Council ensure that both the spirit and the letter of the Act is reflected in any decisions made by the Committee. It is critically important that the makeup of the committee reflects a true balance of the competing interests in this Act and is not dominated by the medical, legal and the surrogacy industries.   Division 3, 19 (2) – Eligible Couple We assume that this part of the Act will change to fall into line with the recent federal marriage equality legislation. While this is a legal necessity, there need to be protections in place that ensure the safety of a child born under this Act. There is considerable opportunity for the exploitation of children and stringent safeguards should be enacted to ensure that this Act does not provide a source of children for paedophiles. At minimum, single men should not have access to surrogacy arrangements.   Section 19 (2) ‘eligible person means a woman who’ (b) There are now many genetic abnormalities or diseases that are managed by medical interventions at the embryonic stage. We believe that this sub-section should be clearer in identifying that it applies to only those women for whom there is not a medical resolution to their condition at the time of their application.   19 2 (c) It should be made clear that this should exclude women who could deliver a child through caesarean section.   Part 3 Division 3 Section 20 (2) – Applying For A Parentage Order There are rights that a birth mother has that are inalienable. It is very concerning that there is no place in the Act where these rights are specified in a clear and unchallengeable way. The birth mother has the right to be provided with a situation where she gives consent without duress. This is particularly fraught in the situation of a surrogacy arrangement, because it is predicated on the understanding that the purpose of the pregnancy is to give the child to the commissioning couple. Where the birth mother finds that she no longer is certain that she can do that, or that she even wants to hand the child over, she is deeply enmeshed with the commissioning couple. She is likely to be receiving financial compensation, even if only to the extent of the health care she is receiving. It is possible, under this current Act that any counselling she is having is also being paid for by the commissioning couple. (This demonstrates the importance of the counselling not being paid for by the commissioning couple.) If the child is the biological child of the commissioning husband, there are significant issues to be considered for her in relation to her existing family and any ongoing contact that would be important for the child, with its natural father. Further, she will be working through the enormous burden of disappointing the commissioning couple, reneging on ‘the deal’ and needing to take into consideration her current husband’s views and the needs of her existing family. This would be a very traumatic time for her. In the current Act, it is not clear that she has the right to have her consent given without duress. At minimum this means that her consent should not be required until at least six weeks after the birth of the child. She should not be in hospital when the consent is provided. It should be clear in the Act that she can take the child home in the six week period. It needs to be stipulated that a revocation period is provided. Given the complexity of the matters to be considered, it is reasonable that this period would be of at least 30 days duration. Obviously it is in addition to the period provided before a consent is taken. Being clear that there is an option to leave hospital with the child is critical in terms of how the Court assesses the ‘best interests’ question. Taking a child who has resided with the commissioning couple and returning it to the birth parent is considered traumatic. It would be less of an issue if the child had not left the mother in the first place.   Section 21- Court May Make Parenting Order This Section demonstrates most clearly our above mentioned concern that this Act does not treat the parties with equal concern and consideration and is heavily weighted towards protection of the commissioning couple and the capacity of surrogacy agencies to protect their economic interests by ensuring the child will be handed over to the commissioning couple. This section does not reflect that the contract is meant to have been entered into willingly and openly, with proper safeguards in place for all parties. It is relevant to start with first principles which are identified in subsections 3 and 4. Sub-section 21 (3) suggests that the birth mother might be incapacitated or that the commissioning couple may be unable to contact the birth parent. Being unable to contact seems highly implausible, given that the Act assumes that she will hand over the child, but is also uncontactable. In what circumstance would she have handed over the child, but have not signed consent? If this is the case, is it not an obligation of the Court to ensure that there has not been duress, rather than to move to dispense with her consent? If she is uncontactable, what exactly does that mean, and what efforts have been made and by whom, to contact her? Is it possible that she, her other children, her husband or de facto, her parents, the neighbours, all don’t know where she is, have left their house, the state, and none can be contacted? This all seems so very unlikely. The Act needs to specify what efforts are to be made to contact the birth mother and her family, and by whom this should be done, in what ways and over what time frame. There is precedent for this in the Victorian Adoption Act 1984. Given the potentially broad application of the notion of incapacity, it is very important that the Act clarify what that might constitute, specifying particular instances that the Act is intended to cover. Much of this section seems to be influenced by the issue of whether the child is the biological child of the birth mother. This allows the Court, and in consequence surrogacy agencies, to take a very narrow view of surrogacy as a social policy instrument. There is a mountain of scientific evidence, academic research and personal experience that indicates that surrogacy is a highly complex and fraught emotional, psychological and social landscape which does not rest exclusively on whether the birth parent is also the genetic donor. She may be carrying a child from an egg donation that is not from the commissioning woman. In that instance, both women have equal standing at law in relation to any additional claim to the child. Saying that is only to demonstrate that this is not a useful yardstick by which to measure where a contested child’s future should lie. A birth mother does more than just give birth and the legislation needs to reflect that complexity. Where it doesn’t it feeds directly into treating the child as the object of a contract, a consumable whose ownership is governed by the one dimension of genetic material. This is entirely reductionist and does not bring a 21st century understanding to the issues being legislated. In summary, given that there is a clear understanding of the complexity of surrogacy: There should be NO circumstance where the Court would dispense with the requirement to undertake counselling by any party to the surrogacy. There should be NO circumstance where a party is not required to take independent legal advice. There should be NO circumstance in which the Court dispenses with the consent of the birth mother, unless she died in the delivery of the child, or through an accident, or is in a coma that she is not likely to emerge from in the foreseeable future. There should be NO circumstance in which the birth mother’s agreement to the Plan should be dispensed with. It needs to be held as the clear framework for these arrangements, that this is a contract entered into freely, knowingly, and with proper and secure supports in place for the contract to be met. If those safeguards fail, it is not the role of the Court to secure a child for a commissioning couple. It is the role of the Court to ensure the best interests of a child, which is outlined by the Hague Convention and starts with protecting the mother and child, regardless of the genetic contributions of donors. This should be the case if, as a society, we still uphold the view that children are not commodities and women are not, at their essence, incubators.   Section 22 (1) (a) – Contents of Approved Plan The responsibility of the Court is to ensure that there is an ‘adequate balance to the rights and responsibilities of the parties to the plan’. To be able to do this, the Act needs to clarify that the intention is to protect all the parties’ rights. At the moment there is an emphasis on the rights of the commissioning couple, and it appears that the intention of the Act is to ensure that any child that is commissioned in this way will in fact be given to the couple.   22 (2) A significant consideration in the current Act is the provision for agreements around ongoing contact between the birth mother, her existing family and the child and its family. This is a key consideration in allowing relationships to develop, honesty and transparency being built as a corner stone of the legislation, and a way of ensuring that this legislation does not repeat the errors of the past that we have witnessed in both adoption and IVF and the donor conceived children of that system. The best forum for this is the Family Court. The Act would be better if it gave leadership to the parties by both setting out a values statement that recognized the importance of these extended relationships, and where access agreements are made, enshrining the right in the legislation and providing redress where there is conflict. Our experience has been that couples agree to access arrangements to procure the child and then take actions such as moving interstate, to the country, or making the access so difficult and fraught that it becomes traumatic for the birth family to exercise their rights. Further, the costs of going back to court become prohibitive, and are borne by the birth family.   Section 23 It is unclear what might constitute ‘the interests of justice’ and it would be helpful if the legislation gave some guidance on this. Our introductory comments indicate our views on this matter. Justice can conflict with the best interests of the child, especially if the principle client is viewed as being the commissioning couple.   Section 24 – Multiple Births: There are many decisions that are made in relation to multiple births that shock the community. Baby Gammy is a case in point. As an in principle position, it is our view the legislation should allow that the birth mother has the prevailing rights to make decisions about both the carrying and the keeping of any child beyond the one that was the subject of the original contract. Further, should the commissioning couple not want to take any siblings that occur as a result of a pregnancy, then the birth mother should be entitled to keep all the children of that pregnancy should she so wish, so that those siblings are not separated.   Section 25 – Name of Child This is a very strange inclusion. Sub-sections 1 and 2 a) and b) suggest that the birth family can name the child; the Court must consider the principle that that name should not be changed. But then sub-section 3 says that the commissioning family can then use the opportunities under State or Commonwealth legislation to change the name. Surely this is duplicitous? It suggests that the State does not believe that surrogacy arrangements are truly entered into freely, honestly and respectfully. In fact it specifically enables dishonesty, promoting the interests of the commissioning couple above even the interests of the child as recognized in Section 25 (2) (a). If this is the case, why does the State legislate for surrogacy? By doing so, it is facilitating the interests of surrogacy agencies and the HRT medical profession and commissioning couples whose actions are creating a market for the commodity this child becomes. At minimum, 25 (3) should be reversed. It is dishonourable, dishonest, denies the paramount interest of the child, and allows the negotiations entered into by the parties to be undermined.   Section 26 – Effect of Parentage Order It is alarming that in this most modern of times, the law is still willing to be an ass. In the Adoption legislation, it is said that the child becomes the child of the adoptive parents, as if born to them. Clearly, a lie. In this Act in Section 26 (1) (b) it says that the birth parents are to be treated as not being parents of the child. Whilst we understand the intention is to give legal standing to the commissioning couple, it is not in society’s interests to do that by creating a lie. This is also problematic when it comes to allowing the parties to agree to contact after the birth of the child. What standing will the birth parents have in court, if by law they are treated as not being parents?   Section 27 – Discharge of Parentage Order This section is deeply disturbing in that it appears not to allow for the birth family to make an application to discharge the parentage order. We suggest that it should do so, and that financial support should be available to the birth family to pursue the application. 27 (5) (b) In this instance, it is important for the legislation to outline either here or in regulation what constitutes ‘reasonable efforts’. Further, it is in the interests of the child that, where necessary, financial assistance is made available to the birth family so that they can adequately engage as a party to any application.   Section 30 – Varying Approved Plan Where a party to the Approved Plan wishes to vary it, financial consideration needs to be made to ensure that legal representation is possible for the birth mother.   Section 32 (2) – Court to Notify Certain Officers We believe that it is important to also provide to Births Deaths and Marriages, the names, ages and gender of all the existing children of the birth mother who were alive at the time of the surrogacy arrangement, as these children are likely to be impacted by the arrangement, and are siblings of the child who is transferred by the Act.   32 (3) It is concerning that there might not be an original birth certificate available from Births Deaths and Marriages in a State other than Western Australia, on being applied for. Where this is the case, it should be an obligation on BDM Western Australia to initiate one.   Section 36 (2) We would like to see the legislation give more direction to the Court in relation to what might be considered ‘serious risk’. To date, adoptive parents have argued that knowing the whereabouts of their child constitutes such a risk. There needs to be some kind of review process, the involvement of a court psychologist for example to ensure that ‘risk’ is not about attitude or anxiety on the part of the parents.   Section 44 Counselling is a tricky area to be regulating or legislate for, at least because the party needs to be a willing participant for it to be useful or successful. That said, it is important to consider in such a setting: Parenting a non-biological child The value of honesty in the creation of the family The need to provide the child with an opportunity for a relationship with the birth family For the birth mother and her family The potential impact on her existing children The possibility that she may change her mind The importance of understanding her rights The role of contact in the lives of both the child of the arrangement and her existing children The long term impact of relinquishment The experience of other surrogate arrangements Preparation for the birth and how to manage the commissioning parents This is not an exhaustive list, but does outline the breadth of matters that need discussion. Perhaps the last word should be given to Judge Stephen Ernest Thackray 2014 This case “should also draw attention to the fact that surrogate mothers are not baby-growing machines, or ‘gestational carriers’. They are flesh and blood women who can develop bonds with their unborn children. The appalling outcome of Gammy and Pipah being separated has brought commercial surrogacy into the spotlight. Quite apart from the separation of the twins, this case serves to highlight the dilemmas that arise when the reproductive capacities of women are turned into saleable commodities, with all the usual fallout when contracts go wrong.” From our position of strong opposition to commercial surrogacy we recommend the following.   RECOMMENDATIONS A preamble stating the framework and value base for the Act should be created. A complete prohibition on commercial surrogacy should be stated. No payments should be made directly by the commissioning couple to the birth mother. A fund should be set up, managed by the Council or some other independent body and all payments that are made to meet the ‘reasonable expenses’ should be paid into it and disbursed by the fund to the birth family. Any penalties that are paid by Court Order from a contravention of the Act should be paid into a fund - managed by the Council - that provides financial support to birth families where they need to take legal action or get legal advice to protect their rights under the Act. The dollar value of the penalties outlined in the Act should be increased to a minimum of $100,000 International commercial surrogacy arrangements should not be recognized by Australia and the child should not be provided with a visa or passport. The penalties for going overseas to procure a child through surrogacy should be applied rigorously. The best interests of the child should be defined and that definition should take into account all parties to the conception and birth. Protections for the birth mother and her family should be specified and include the mother: being at least 25 years of age having had the experience of giving birth to a child is rearing, or has reared her own child has gained some maturity can know something of the implications of giving a child she has nurtured through a pregnancy to others recognizes that this is a lifetime commitment understands she may have no further contact with the child.   The makeup of any ‘committee’ appointed by the Council should reflect a true balance of the competing interests in this Act and is not dominated by the medical, legal and surrogacy industries. It should not have any members of any organisation that is likely to benefit financially, either directly or indirectly from any decision that is made by the committee. Single men should not have access to engaging in surrogacy arrangements. For a woman to be eligible for a surrogacy service, there must be no medical resolution to the condition that justifies the use of the service. Counselling should not be provided by the surrogacy agency, the parties should not attend the same counsellor or psychologist; the counselling should not be paid for by the commissioning couple any prospective birth grandparents of a genetically related child are to be protected under this part of the Act. The circumstances of the pregnancy and birth must be arranged such that the birth mother is not under duress to consent to providing the child to the commissioning couple. To this end, her consent should not be taken before 6 weeks has elapsed a revocation period in addition to that should be provided of 4 weeks it should be made clear that she can take the baby home with her during that period There should be NO circumstance where the Court would dispense with the requirement to undertake counselling by any party to the surrogacy. There should be NO circumstance where a party is not required to take independent legal advice. There should be NO circumstance in which the Court dispenses with the consent of the birth mother, unless she died in the delivery of the child, or through an accident, or is in a coma that she is not likely to emerge from in the foreseeable future. There should be NO circumstance in which the birth mother’s agreement to the Plan should be dispensed with. The Act must specify what actions are to be taken, by whom, in what ways, and in what timeframe, to contact the birth mother or her family in the (highly unlikely) circumstance that she is ‘uncontactable’. The Act should identify that it is in the best interests of the child that contact is maintained with the birth family, especially where there are half or full siblings, and that openness and honesty about the conception and birth of the child are paramount. The legislation should give guidance to what constitutes ‘the interests of justice’. Where multiple embryos are being carried, it is the birth mother who is entitled to choose whether to carry those foetuses to term. It should also be her decision, if the commissioning parents don’t want the siblings, to decide whether she would like to raise the child or children. The legislation should not allow the child’s name to be changed subsequent to the making of the ‘Plan’. It should be through the negotiations of the plan that the child’s name is determined, taking into account the wishes of both parties. The birth parents should continue to be treated as parents under the Act, once a parenting arrangement is created. Birth parents should be entitled to make an application to discharge a parentage order, with financial support to do so, where needed. What constitutes ‘Reasonable efforts’ to contact the birth family must be specified where a discharge of the parentage order is being considered. The names, ages and gender of all the existing children of the birth mother should be registered with Births, Deaths and Marriages and be available to the child who is the subject of the surrogacy arrangement. The legislation should give some guidance to what it considers constitutes ‘serious risk’ when considering an application to prevent a person from having access to information. The Court should provide guidance as to the breadth of issues it expects should be covered in any counselling that is provided to any party to the arrangement. The Act is silent on the matter of the birth mother or family providing in her Will, for the child of the arrangement. A birth mother or family should be entitled to bequeath to any child she has given birth to, regardless of whether the child is her genetic offspring.

Arms Convenors Annual Report 2017

Dec 4, 2017

Hello everyone and welcome once again to our 2017 Annual General Meeting, and to those of you who have not been before welcome to your first ARMS AGM. Thank you all for making the effort to come along at this busy time of year. We hope that you find it worth your while. 2017 saw a new website for ARMS, with a new look. We try to keep some up to date news articles and video in the News section and also events and meeting times as a handy reference for members. We also hope that new people find our articles informative. Hopefully mothers who have had no contact with adoption support can find the website and find something to relate to. If you find an interesting and relevant news item or video please send it to me to make available onour website.  We now also have a Facebook page, so those who are on Facebook can find us and read some of the articles and are welcome to comment and share ideas. We may in the future develop this further into a group. We do realise that it is not always simple to find our Facebook Page and hope to gradually rectify this and make it easy to find via Mr Google. If you are not on Facebook but are interested in joining please see a committee member for assistance. The website update and the Facebook page were made possible through a small grant from RAV and FASS. Earlier in 2017 we saw the official unveiling of the lovely Monument, to mothers and our experience, at Victoria Park in Sale, Gippsland. The beautiful statue was organised by Independent Regional Mothers and some of our Committee and other ARMS members attended the unveiling along with adoptees, family members, members of the public, church ministers and representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services, VANISH, RAV, past and present Members of Parliament and the media. In her speech Brenda Coughlin from IRM described the statue “as a timely reminder of the injustices of the past and a reflection of what should have been.” The Without Consent Exhibition still does not have a schedule for its Victorian visit. One of our members even did some research to help them find a venue and passed on the information. We do not know why NAA are finding it so difficult to bring the Exhibition to Victoria. Many of us are waiting to see it. This project was one of the outcomes from the National Apology. When we do get some information about the Exhibition coming here we will most certainly let members know. It is four years since the National Apology for Forced Adoptions and it is important to keep it in the minds of those who lived it and the public in general. In May we held our annual Mothers’ Day meeting. It is important for us to acknowledge that we still have the physical and emotional attachments of a mother to the child or children we have lost to adoption. This is a safe place for us to explore those feelings. The Victorian Law Reform Commission began reviewing the Adoption Laws of 1984 earlier this year. ARMS had a meeting with the panel to discuss the aspects that we felt were the most relevant to mothers, as there was not time to discuss everything on the table. ARMS also made a written submission to the Commission, which can be read on our Website.The Commission compiled its report which can also be read online. You can find the link to it on our website. On the whole, the recommendations put forward by the Commission are very positive, and the committee was very pleased that they obviously  heard what we had to say about the negative effects of adoption and how we should go forward. Jo and Lily also had a meeting to discuss some of the Commission’s recommendations with Jenny Mikakos’ office. Last year I reported that we had two RAV grant applications pending at the time of the AGM. We were successful in both applications, for which we thank RAV. We have recently submitted an application doe a grant to extend  Ballarat and Traralgon regional support groups. The Arms 30th Anniversary Booklet was reprinted earlier this years and the ARMS Brochure update is almost completed. The committee has decided to hold anextraordinary committee meeting to complete the update so that we can get it printed and outinto the world as time runs out very quickly at our monthly committee meetings. We have asked RAV for an extension of the Grant timeframe. The twenty third of September was a day of Healing for ARMS members. We held a soothing andmollifying Event at the Treacey Centre in Parkville. There was a lot of very effective discussion ledby Liz and some wonderful Art therapy followed by amazing Tibetan singing bowls thanks toTabitha. The feedback from those who attended has been extremely positive. On October 28th we held a commemoration of the 5th Anniversary of the Victorian GovernmentApology for Forced Adoptions, in conjunction with VANISH. It was held in Parliament Reserve,next to Parliament House on a beautiful Melbourne Spring afternoon. The speeches by Tricia Lester, Penny Mackieson and Marie Meggitt were touching and poignant - Marie’s speech can be read on our website. The afternoon also included entertainment by The Thornberries, a three piece ukulele band, who sang some beautifully reflective songs to an entranced audience. Our Outreach continues into the rural sector. Mildura, Traralgon and Ballarat groups are still running, although at this stage numbers are small. We hope to increase them with advertising.The Geelong Group is going well with Thelma still at the helm. We are fortunate to have somemembers of ARMS from those groups present today. Now we will all be witness to another exciting development today: the discussion and vote on the renaming of ARMS. We will still be known as ARMS( Vic) but instead of it standing for the Association of Relinquishing Mothers ourname will become the Association Representing Mothers Separated by adoption. We have been unhappy with the word relinquishing for some time as it does not adequately explain our experience. We have discussed many substitutes as we wanted to retain our acronym but they seemed to not be quite right. So we are following West Australia and South Australia’s example in taking for our proposal. As you are aware language is extremely important in the adoption sphere. Later in the day we will be calling for nominations for the Committee of ARMS. We would like toencourage you to step forward if you have some interest and time to offer. Thank you for listening/reading. We all look forward to 2018 as we reach out to support all womenwho have lost a child or children to adoption. I know some of you have travelled far to attend today and we want you to know that we appreciate your effort. ARMS is by members for members; it is your group so please offer any contribution that you are able. We all offer eachother support and that is why I feel very privileged and grateful to be a member of ARMS. Faye Burnham

Fusion Live Documentary. The Dark Side of Adoption

Dec 3, 2017

This documentary looks at international adoption specifically from The Congo but it is probably similar in many countries https://fusion.net/video/366386/traffickers-international-adoption-episode/

State Apology 5th Anniversary 28th October 2017 - A Special Afternoon

Oct 20, 2017

Saturday 28th october ARMS along with VANISH commemorated the 5th Anniversary of the State Government apology for Forced Adoptions Afternoon tea was served and the weather was kind to us.  Some heartfelt speeches were made and the atmosphere was freindly and enjoyable despite the memories evoked by the day Please note: Forced includes COERCION, Coercion is defined as - force, compulsion, constraint, duress, oppression, enforcement, harassment, intimidation, threats, insistence, demand, arm twisting, pressure and influence 5th Anniversary of the Victorian Government Apology - 28th October 2017 You can read the following Speech made by Lilly Clifford (Maree Meggit) on the day. We deplore the shameful practices that denied you, the mothers, your fundamental rights and responsibilities to love and care for your children. You were not legally or socially acknowledged as their mothers. And you were yourselves deprived of care and support. To you, the mothers who were betrayed by a system that gave you no choice and subjected you to manipulation, mistreatment and malpractice, we apologise. We say sorry to you, the mothers who were denied knowledge of your rights, which meant you could not provide informed consent. That was Julia Gillard on 21 March 2013.  She was following in the footsteps of our own Ted Baillieu: We express our sincere sorrow and regret for the health and welfare policies that condoned the practice of forced separations. Ted Baillieu 25 October 2012 The important thing these two apologies had in common is that each government acknowledged that a system had been set up by society, to take our most precious creation – for most of us – our first born child. What is it about a system that makes is so persuasive? It is the combined might, authority, and absolute power that comes from the joining of the state, the church, the legal system, and through them, all those services that devolve from them – doctors, nurses, social workers, lawyers, judges, priests, teachers, schools, psychologists and ultimately our own families. When I was pregnant and in need of support to help me with beginning my family, I was up against the combined might of the State, as well as the emotional weight of the judgment and expectations of my parents. So when Julia Gillard and Ted Baillieu, on behalf of all those institutions, acknowledged that governments, society, had conspired and colluded to take my child, ensuring I had no chance of raising my babe, I can truly give meaning to the fact that the personal is political. The terrible truth is that my experience was replicated thousands of times in many many women's lives and so, while I spoke just then in the first person, I know that sadly, I am not alone. But that is the impact of a systems approach. Girls and women, WE were systematically stripped of our right and opportunity to raise our own child. We were not given the dignity of being acknowledged as mother and we were cajoled and manipulated by weasel words like 'if you really loved your child you would give him away'. It is nearly 40 years ago that I first took my very personal experience and converted it into political action. I spoke publicly about the loss, the grief, the betrayal that inserted itself into every part of my being when my child was taken, and over the years, thousands of women have joined me to declare the truth of their motherhood and the terrible cost of the loss of the opportunity to raise their child. Doing that provided a different knowledge to our society – and it was knowledge that challenged the status quo. It encouraged and allowed people to wake up to the realities of our experiences and to recognise that what had occurred in the name of society, was a travesty. Today we have gathered here to remember that moment when the system acknowledged that it was wrong, and what had been done to us and our children was a great evil. Governments around Australia said they had subjected us to manipulation, mistreatment, malpractice, coercion and brutality of practices that were unethical, dishonest and in many cases illegal. They acknowledged the loss, the grief, the disempowerment, the stigmatisation and the guilt, and said that they were sorry. That was a profound and deeply moving experience and one that I will never forget. But there is something else that we aught remember today as well. That it was because of our work, because of all the mothers who raised their voices and refused to remained shamed and silenced, all those voices who spoke of the impact of adoption practices on their lives, that we have this stunning apology, this incontrovertible evidence that we did not abandon our children and that the system betrayed us and them. Our personal experiences, made public, created the political impetus for a monumental social change. That is the difference individuals can make, and I am really proud to be standing here amongst my friends and colleagues, in recognition of what, together, we have achieved. In truth, the personal is political, and I thank the government of Victoria for its acknowledgment of their role in our pain and loss. Lilly Clifford(Marie Meggit)

Self Healing Event 23 rd September a great success

Sep 14, 2017

Our healing day was a  very successful and enjoyable day. The venue was lovely, the food a bit too delicous, and the weather was kind to us. We had very in depth and involved guided discussion in the morning followed by wonderful therapies in the afternoon.  It was a very satisfying day.   We hope to make this an annual event if funding allows, if you were unable to make it this time keep your eye out for next year 2018.  arms@armarmsvic.org.au.  

Why Wont My Mother Meet Me?

Jul 31, 2017

This is an article for adoptees but it may also be an interesting and insightful read for Mothers as well. Have you ever wondered why you have negative feelings around meeting or planning to visit your lost child? Are you perplexed as to why the joy of at last seeing your child is clouded with anxiety and frustration.       click the link below to read this article. http://www.exiledmothers.com/adoption_facts/why_wont_my_mother.html

This is a new article

Jul 6, 2017

Hi to all. this is a new article.Formatting. Link

National Apology - 21st March 2013

May 15, 2017

Many of our members attended the Apology in Canberra, the Melbourne screening and others watched it at home….see below for personal accounts. Commemorative MaterialsVideo footage of the day will be used to create a commemorative DVD. If you would like to be sent a copy of the DVD, an apology parchment, a commemorative lapel pin or an mp3 version of Mia Dyson’s song Jesse, please email your name and postal address to forcedadoptionsapology@ag.gov.au or call (02) 6141 3030. http://www.ag.gov.au/About/ForcedAdoptionsApology/Pages/default.aspx The Australian Governments Response to the Community Affairs Reference Committee Report:http://www.ag.gov.au/About/ForcedAdoptionsApology/Documents/Australian%20Government%20response%20to%20the%20%20Senate%20Community%20Affairs%20References%20Committee%20Report.pdf For Official Photos:http://www.flickr.com/photos/attorneygenerals/ Forced Adoptions Apology Team | Access to Justice DivisionAustralian Government Attorney-General’s DepartmentRobert Garran Offices | National Circuit | Barton ACT 2600Tel +61 2 6141 3030 | Fax +61 2 6141 3248 We are wanting to make flags (yes more) to donate to Canberra as part of our commemorative memorial for the apology. Please come along to our flag making sessions before each support group meeting to help out. We want to make a valid presentation of new flags. These will also be seen in the future by those who do not understand our present. FEDERAL APOLOGY - 21 March 2013I was there – a simple statement but it was a profoundly moving occasion. Over 1000 people packed the Great Hall in Canberra. We received Julia Gillard’s comprehensive, perfectly crafted and compassionately delivered Apology and responded with a standing ovation. Just before the Apology, a member of ARMS, who had attended alone, was tapped on the shoulder by her estranged daughter. They clung together with smiles and tears right throughout the day. Below is Joy’s speech for the Melbourne veiwing…… We applaud the Federal Government for their National apology today. It has been a long time coming and unfortunately, for many, it has come too late. For the rest of us – nothing can give us back the lives we could have lived – nothing can change the past – so now is the time to focus on the future A National Apology will finally acknowledge the truth of the cruel, often illegal past adoption practices that forcibly removed children from their mothers. It will also acknowledge that these mothers were denied their rights and in many cases, given no option but to sign adoption papers. These mothers always loved and wanted their children. We hope that this Apology will educate and bring understanding and change to the community and particularly all those touched by adoption. Nothing can change the past, but our loss and grief does change when acknowledged. We are hopeful that this Apology will bring healing, reunion and peace to the hearts and minds of all those separated by past adoption practices. To all those who have worked so hard for the last 30 years to bring about this apology I offer my heartfelt thanks for your strength, courage and determination to expose the truth.Thank YouJoy O’Connor

Arms Submission To The Victorian Law Reform Commission

May 11, 2017

Submission to Victorian Law Reform Commission – review of adoption laws from ARMS(Vic)ARMS(Vic)’s position is that adoption should no longer exist: there is no need for it under any circumstances.The rights of the child as outlined under the UN Convention are paramount and are not served by the continuation of adoption. Adoption serves adopters, not adoptees, by giving them legal ‘ownership’ of children. No-one has the ‘right’ to another person’s child. The notion of entitlement to a baby has to stop. Even if protection of a child is paramount and that child needs an alternative family, guardianship or stewardship are preferable to adoption. Adoption has always been seen as a “prize” by those who are unable to give birth to their own children. Custody orders and guardianship orders should be seen like adoption – these orders should also be seen as the ‘prize’. People think of permanent care or foster care as second best or not secure enough, but an adoption order should never be preferred over a permanent care order.If we reframed permanency, the people wishing to provide this kind of care would see it in a different frame. We would look for people who can commit emotionally to caring for a child for the rest of their life while accepting that the child still has another family.Adoption is not a static concept. It follows a child throughout their lifetime and this needs to be considered in any legislative reforms.There needs to be a presumption of ongoing engagement in a meaningful way to support the families involved in an adoption.In the past 20 years, adoption has been talked about in a completely different way, but the status of adoption lasts for a lifetime. We have to think about how we ameliorate that position. How can we talk about being raised by people other than your natural family in a way that will make people feel a sense of comfort?Adoption severs the child’s connection to its family of origin which has been shown to have disastrous consequences for adoptees, and certainly for the mothers. It legally removes the child’s right to its family, culture and heritage; creates a new (false) identity and birth certificate for the child; declares the lie that the adopters are the parents as if the child were born to them. It has been widely acknowledged that many adopted people feel a disconnect and identity confusion. Adoption is a status that affects an adoptee when they are a child and at all stages of their life. This status stays with them and makes them different. Cultural norms will make a set of assumptions about a person who has been adopted as a result of that status. In an article in The Age in 1993 Louise Bellamy reported that Brother Alex McDonald, a Jesuit who has worked with homeless young people in St Kilda for 10 years, says of the 147 suicides of young people caused by drugs and abuse in the area over the past decade, 142 came from adoption backgrounds. In 1998 an adoptive mother, whose adopted son had committed suicide, wrote to Woman’s Day asking to hear from parents who had lost an adopted child to suicide. She received 186 letters.When ARMS Vic first articulated the idea of open adoption in the 1980s, the proposal we put forward was that instead of adoption, people could be appointed as a guardian and have a custody order that lasted a lifetime, not just until a child turns 18. However this was opposed by adoptive parents.ARMS Vic went back to the drawing board, and our fall-back position was open adoption. It took a long time to get adoption agencies on board. The agencies were in a difficult spot – they’d lined up babies for infertile couples and their clients were not prepared for open adoption. The education program was re-designed, but the social workers and people in the department didn’t always accept it.When the first open adoptions went through the County Court, the judges narrowed contact opportunities for the natural parents to 4 visits a year. This was never intended in the Act but the 4 visits per year arose out of judicial decisions and was later included in the Regulations.Open adoption is not working. Children can be manipulated not to see their natural parents, adoptive families can move interstate or overseas. There is no legal power for natural parents to insist that contact continue.ARMS (Vic) would argue strongly that adoptive parents are not well-prepared for placement of a child into an open adoption and that the picture often given to them is that this can be minimised: it’s only 4 times a year and if the child’s sick they don’t need to visit. They hear this from other adoptive parents.Once a child gets to an age when they’re asking the hard questions (around 4-6 years old) then all of a sudden the excuses are made by adoptive parents to miss contact dates: the child is too sick to see the natural mother; the child becomes upset after the contact; something else comes up; it’s a constant pattern. The openness starts closing. If we prepared adoptive parents for contact it would be very different. If there were more contact there would be more familiarity and less fear and insecurity.Adoption legislation needs to be changed to enable adoptions to create a new legal relationship while retaining recognition of the relationship with the family of origin. This principle is applied in adoption in countries such as France, Ethiopia and Thailand and called ‘simple adoption’.Any placement has to protect the natural and adoptive families’ relationship which needs to be supported by professionals.Best interests principles in the ActARMS (Vic) believe there should be guidance in the Adoption Act and the best interests of a child should be paramount. These principles should apply to the adoptee for their whole life and not just for the period of time concerned with the adoption arrangement.The best interests of the child should be weighted according to the following order:Extended family: if extended family is available then the wishes of parents and whether any kinship care is available is first priorityAlternatives: look at the alternatives to adoptionSiblings: siblings should always remain together.There should be principles in the Act that acknowledge the value of adoption, that it means permanency ‘these are your parents for life’. Principles should also acknowledge the value of meaningful contact between a child and their natural parents. IdentityEven if adoption were to continue there is no reason to change a child’s name. This takes away a child’s identity. Adoptive parents can obviously call the child by another name if that’s what they want to do, but if a child’s name is not changed legally, the child will still hold a sense of their identity in a meaningful way. It’s about identity and connection. Changing an adopted child’s name harks back to the ‘clean slate’ and ‘clean break’ theories. These have both been shown to be erroneous. Even if an adoptive parent has always wanted to name their first child after their grandmother, this child they have brought into their family already has a name (ironically perhaps even due to the same reason) which is part of that child’s identity. We respect the right of others to parent a child but they have no right to change that child’s identity.Birth certificatesBirth certificates are legal, identifying documents and as such need to be truthful. Current birth certificates for adopted people are not. They state that the child’s name is something other than that given to them when they were born; it names the adoptive parents as if the child were born to them. There is some debate about what adoptees’ birth certificates should look like. While keeping in mind that adopted people have more right to speak about birth certificates, the bottom line is that they need to be truthful. This truth needs to be told while considering the feelings and sensitivities of those involved. ARMS(Vic) believes that the original birth certificate should be used as the formal identification for the child with full legal status and a parenting or adoption certificate used by the adopters, as is done with guardianship. The problem with integrated birth certificates is that they would look completely different from the usual birth certificates and could therefore invite unwanted comment and scrutiny. It contains the adoptee’s personal information that not everyone needs to know. The fact that a person is adopted would in most cases be irrelevant to the reason for the birth certificate needing to be shown. We need to be sensitive to their feelings.As if born toThere is no need to say “as if born to” in legislation as that is obviously part of their parental rights, duties, obligations and liabilities. Adding “as if born to” is superfluous and creates a false impression in the minds of the adoptive parents. This is a legal and actual lie. The law should not support this lie. How we describe adoption is important. The reality is that they are parenting another family’s child and the relationship will never be “as if born to”.JurisdictionAdoptions should be under the jurisdiction of the Family Court, not the County Court as is currently the case. Adoption is a family matter, whether it is a new baby being adopted or a child coming through the Child Protection system. All parties need to have independent legal representation. Considering the fact that a woman would have legal representation if she were buying a house, it is ludicrous that this does not happen when she is giving her baby up for adoption. Currently the adopters may have legal representation but there is no mention of the mother even being there at the time of finalising the adoption, let alone having legal representation. The mother should have legal representation before giving consent right through to the legalisation of the adoption and final consent should be made in front of a judge. Currently the adoptive parents go to court, but there is no mention of the mother, who is not a party in proceedings. This assumes that a child’s interests are not in some way served by their natural family. ConsentIt is very hard to find a reason why we would dispense with consent.P.29 3.62 ‘the County Court decides to dispense with the need for…consent’. This opens the door to a new wave of forced adoptions. Troubled families must resolve their problems within 12 months or their in care children will be placed for adoption. There are often insufficient services (rehab, housing, anger management, etc.) available within the short time frame mandated.The consent revocation period needs to be longer. Currently the revocation period is up to 6 weeks after the birth. This is too short, in particular given the mother’s position of emotional distress. The person giving consent must have received counselling from an approved counsellor as well as receive independent legal advice. The approved counsellor should not be from the adoption agency and the legal representative needs to be someone with specific training in adoption, not just any lawyer. We would advocate that for infant adoption the consent period should be extended to 6 months and the baby placed in pre-adoptive foster care or with potential adoptive parents for that time. Consent should be given from the mother and father where possible/appropriate. The consent should be able to be withdrawn any time during the 6 months.A natural parent must be a party to the adoption order. This should be articulated in legislation: although they’re giving consent they’re still a party and can enact their right to contact. It shouldn’t come as a shock to the adoptive parents or the agency when a natural mother realises she no longer wants to put her child with a family who are not allowing contact.There should be legal support at the consent period when the natural mother can tell contact arrangements will not work due to the attitude of the prospective adoptive parents.Agencies often do not tell the natural mother that her wishes need to go in the adoption order for them to have any legal weight, so natural mothers often don’t know they need to go to court and are not represented. Therefore adoptive parents are completely within their legal rights to deny contact, albeit it morally wrong. This shows the necessity for legal representation for the natural mother.Consent should be required from both the mother and father if appropriate and possible (unless there is for example violence, incest, rape). Unless there are serious reasons why it shouldn’t happen, the father and/or his extended family should have the opportunity to keep the child.If it’s an infant adoption, currently the principal officer has up to within 2 days of consent being given to write to the father if he’s known. That is far too late. If we’re realistic that child’s interests are being best served when raised with the natural family, why wait two days after the child is placed in non-biological placement? He should be contacted as early as possible in the process, with the above exceptions.We allocate a status to the mother which is clearly different from the status of the father. The father should be involved from the moment the mother decides she wants to give up her baby. We know there are plenty of fathers (in past adoptions) who would have had a different response or weren’t allowed to be involved.Wishes of extended family should also be taken into consideration particularly if they are in a position to care for the child or to have an ongoing relationship with the child. There would be many instances of extended family members who would be willing to provide kinship care, which is placed above adoption in the 2015 reforms to the Victorian Child Protection laws. Adoption not only severs any legal relationship between the child and his/her parents, but also siblings, grandparents and other extended family.If a severely disabled woman is about to give birth and it will be difficult for her to care for the baby then the legal guardian should be consulted. If you have a special needs parent the legal guardian is in loco parentis and their consent should be sought. Additionally they could be asked if they would be prepared to care for the baby themselves. This would facilitate the child having meaningful ongoing contact with their father and family. Under the Hague Convention the child has the right to be raised in their natural familyQuestion 9 asks: Are the grounds for dispensing with consent appropriate in contemporary Victoria?The question is really: if consent needs to be dispensed with, why adoption rather than any other care option?Concerning the issue of a court being able to put conditions on an adoption in a broader range of circumstances if it is the best interests of the child (Question 10), the conditions should be broader than those in the question in that there should be a presumption of contact between the two families. It is always desirable for the child to have contact with the family. Adopters should not be asked to agree that an adoption order be made subject to certain conditions – it should be the mother’s right to include conditions. The issue of consent having been given but the adoptive parents and the mother giving consent have not agreed about contact or exchanging information about the child illustrate the importance of the need for legal representation for the mother, thus minimising the possibility of this occurring. Adoption agenciesNon-government agencies are usually religion-based which does not provide a neutral starting point. Often judgments are informed by unconscious values. There are common assumptions that two parents are always better than one and heterosexual couples are better. If an agency is of the view that contraception should not be allowed, these views impose a way of engagement that doesn’t necessarily meet the interests of a woman, making counselling and support options within the agency redundant.We’re in a modern era and this means same-sex couples, children across a range of families and donor gametes. The concept of ‘family’ is changing and religion-based agencies need to take this on board. It can be difficult for them to change their long-held beliefs and views, which is why there should be a neutral body such as an ethics committee overseeing these processes and delivering this kind of service. This would enable a different picture in a permanency environment. Permanency is a different language and has a different cultural history and environment than adoption.Of great concern to ARMS is the advertising of children for adoption on Barnardos NSW’s website and FaceBook page. This is commodification of children, even if they do use models and not the actual children they wish to place in adoption.Victoria needs to be very wary of going down the path of the NSW adoption model where adoption is seen as a quick fix for infertile couples and a financial saving to the Government when a child is moved from foster care (which is paid) to adoption.On the other hand, Queensland is trialling a guardianship model where they ask couples not to adopt, called “Open Homes”.FundingA major problem of the current system is the funding cuts and under staffing of Government agencies such as FIND and BDM resulting in long waiting time for interviews, searches, etc, There is currently a 6 month waiting list at FIND even though recent legislation mandated that searches should be resolved within 8 weeks. There were 860 applications for searches through FIND in 2015/16 compared with 400 – 500 in previous years. Funding must be improved as a major priority.Post placement supportSupport can make a significant difference to a placement – currently adoptive families are given a baby and are expected to get on with it. There needs to be a lot of support around a family for a long period, including when the child becomes an adolescent and other points in their life and on-going on a needs basis. There needs to be proactive and ongoing engagement with families. The agency needs to see it as their role to stay involved with a family.There are some circumstances where a natural family is unable to manage a child and we should respond to this not with something that results in a long-term catastrophic outcome for the mother,(ie. adoption) but rather by doing something that will allow the mother to have knowledge and access.Support should be provided at all stages and should not just be reactive, but proactive. There needs to be an ongoing commitment so that agencies remain involved. An agency’s role should be involvement with the whole family. There needs to be a presumption of ongoing engagement in a meaningful way to support the families.Adoptive parents may be hesitant to ask for support because they will worry that the agencies will not think they are good enough.The natural mother, her family and the father all need ongoing support.Also there would be a number of prospective adoptive parents who wouldn’t have come to the terms with the grief of not having their own babies. This could be an ongoing grief which plays a part in their parenting and they need to be helped with it.Agencies also need to stay involved to ensure that contact orders are meaningful and adhered to.SiblingsEvery effort must be made to place siblings together, particularly if they are placed at the same time. If a family can’t take the brother or sister then that family shouldn’t be given either sibling.If, down the track, the natural parents have another baby and the adoptive family can’t take it then there needs to be contact. This is critically important and should be established from the very beginning.If it is impossible to place them together they must have contact with each other and with their original family.If a woman receives an adopted baby it should be at least 12 months before she receives another. However if the adopted child is older and his/her sibling becomes available for adoption then the priority is sibling unification. Access to informationChildren under 18 should be entitled to information about their natural families. If we have open adoptions then a child must know their natural family. A child has a right to identifying information about their natural family at all stages of their life and should definitely NOT have to ask the adoptive parents’ agreement.If the child is in an open adoption there should never have been any secrecy, as was the case during the forced adoption period. Adoptive parents have no right to withhold information about a child’s original family nor to keep information about the child from the natural parents, except in cases of safety as outlined in Consent. Natural parents should be notified if the adult child of an adopted person is seeking to receive identifying information about them and it needs to be monitored very carefully.In summary:While ARMS (Vic) is open to the possibility that there are benefits in placing a child outside of their natural family, the question becomes: ‘do you make that placement an adoption placement?’ If adoption includes ‘guardianship’ decisions we would make (about schooling, religion etc) and ‘custody’ decisions, then those are responsibilities that flow out of the legislative underpinning we need to provide to a couple to take care of a child.If we no longer have secrecy as the baseline of adoption and support contact with the original family, it is still better for mental health and identity (even in the worst case scenario) not to have adoption. Having a law that provides for openness and contact is not a sufficient reason for putting this child in another family and saying the law is as if that the child was born to them..  

Dear Adoption I Thought I Knew You

May 11, 2017

https://dearadoption.com/2016/11/03/dear-adoption-i-thought-i-knew-you Jessica Sun Lee grew up as the sole adoptee of a large white Ameerican family. This is her article.

Insight Show On Forgotten Fathers - SBS - June 2016

May 11, 2017

For those who missed the show here is a link: https://www.sbs.com.au/news/insight/tvepisode/forgotten-fathers

ISS Develop Hand Book To Assist Those Coping With Illegal Inter-Country Adoptions

May 11, 2017

This link is interesting reading :http://www.iss-ssi.org/index.php/en/news1/199-illegal-adoption-handbook

South Australian Government Announces Memorial For Forced Adoption

May 11, 2017

This press release announces the forced adoption memorial for South Australia http://www.premier.sa.gov.au/index.php/jay-weatherill-news-releases/861-state-government-unveils-memorial-to-past-forced-adoptions

A New Play - We Would Like To See It Showing

May 11, 2017

Stainless: A Cry from the Heart Multi award winning actor Maggie Millar is coming out of semi-retirement, where she has concentrated on her painting and occasional readings, to appear in a play specially written for her by her friend author Jane Hyde.The inspiration for the work comes from Millar’s own extraordinary life.The play entitled Stainless is a heart rending story of the ongoing repercussions of the premature and permanent separation of mother and child in the adoption process and the pitiless and cruel treatment of women who transgressed the strict sexual mores of what Hyde has called the age of shame. Hyde however is too good a writer to concentrate only on the tragic elements inherent in the story. In describing the first performance of the play she said “there was laughter among the tears, but overall the audience were deeply moved.”Millar will be known to theatre lovers for her appearances with the Melbourne Theatre Company, Malthouse and La Mama. She has also appeared in a number of Television Series including The Sullivans, Bellbird, All The Way, Prisoner and Neighbours.An award winning student and Honours Graduate of the prestigious royal Academy of Dramatic At in London, she has appeared with Vivien Leigh, Patrick Stewart, Meryl Streep, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jacki Weaver among many other well known performers.There will be a reading of Stainless on Sunday 23rd July at La Mama’s Courthouse Theatre in Carlton at 2pm. Theatre lovers, those affected by the adoption process, and those working as therapists among the adoption community should not miss this rare opportunity to see an award winning actor performing in a stunning and insightful piece of theatre

New Book To Be Written About Surrogacy Seeking Contributors

May 11, 2017

New Book on Surrogacy Seeking Contributors A New Book on Surrogacy by Melinda Tankard Reist and Jennifer LahlMelinda Tankard Reist and Jennifer Lahl are Seeking Contributors for A New Book on SurrogacyWe are seeking contributions for a new global collection of first-person accounts by women who were surrogate mothers. The book will be edited by Melinda Tankard Reist (Australia) and Jennifer Lahl (US), and will be published by Spinifex Press for release in late 2017. We would be grateful if you could share this invitation through your networks. Overview The issue of surrogacy has received heightened interest in the media globally, following a number of high profile cases including ‘Baby Gammy,’ the baby boy with Down syndrome abandoned by his Australian commissioning parents who left him behind in Thailand, returning home with his healthy twin sister. In the face of an expanding reproductive marketplace, facilitating and driving reproductive tourism around the world, debate has fueled over commercialization and regulation of the baby-making industry, with vested interests, primarily commissioning couples and fertility businesses, capturing and dominating the discourse. Surrogate mothers have been seen as providing a community service, delivering babies to desperate couples around the world. Reduced to ‘carriers,’ ‘ovens,’ and ‘suitcases,’ the surrogate mother has been treated as a means to an end. Surrogacy has even been promoted as a way for poor women to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. Time Magazine has labeled pregnancy as one of the ‘10 Best Chores to Outsource.’ Forbes Magazine said India’s baby factories were “a big win for everyone involved.” “You’d rent a nanny or a house painter. Why not rent a uterus?” The physical and emotional costs of surrogacy, the exploitation of underprivileged women, the coercion, the physical, psychological and emotional harms of the procedures to women, the devastating consequences of severing the well-established and unique bond between mother and child, and the bioengineering of children who will never know their biological origins have been played down or dismissed by the global surrogacy industry. Our new book seeks to change this narrative by bringing surrogate mothers’ stories out into the open, thus providing them with a platform to speak in their own voices. To be published by the award winning feminist publisher Spinifex Press, this collection will be co-edited by Australian feminist author, speaker, and activist Melinda Tankard Reist, and American founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, Jennifer Lahl, best known for her work and award winning documentary films to protect women and children wronged by the practices of third party reproduction. This collection of 20 first-person accounts aims to work with social justice movements in Australia, the US, UK, across the European continent, Asia, and Africa so that this expanding industry can be stopped, and women and children are no longer exploited for commercial or personal gain. Publication Details Publisher: Spinifex PressPublication Date: September 2017Editors: Melinda Tankard Reist and Jennifer LahlGuidelines for Submissions Length: 2,000-3,000 words. (Authors can use real names or use a pseudonym and change identifying details where necessary. If preferred, contributors can be interviewed or record their stories for transcription.)Submission Deadline: January 15, 2017Contact: Melinda Tankard Reist: melinda@tankardreist.com or Jennifer Lahl: jennifer.lahl@cbc-network.org  

Obituary for Anne Sullivan

May 11, 2017

http://www.smh.com.au/comment/obituaries/welfare-worker-and-adoption-campaigner-knew-the-importance-of-good-relationships-20160527-gp5vfi.html So sorry the links aren’t working. Please copy and paste into your web browser.

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