Herald Sun article regarding the Victorian Inquiry

Aug 11, 2021 - 8:32am
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This is an online article in the Herald Sun about the Victorian Inquiry.

Mothers and children separated through decades of horrific forced adoption practices could soon be offered compensation as the state weigh up an Australian-first redress scheme

A parliamentary inquiry has spent 18 months hearing stories of mothers who were separated from their babies, often minutes after giving birth, and were never to see them again.

In some cases, people were unable to track down their parents or children because records are incomplete or have been destroyed, while many say they are still grappling with the trauma of the experience.

The Saturday Herald Sun can reveal a redress scheme to compensate those affected by the practice is among the key solutions being floated ahead of the highly-anticipated final report August 17.

It could involve millions of dollars in charges to institutions historically linked to the practice, with expectations the committee will seek to replicate the impact of response to institutional child sex abuse and hold organisations to account.

Victims and lawyers also want the government to remove the statute of limitations on the issue so that they can seek justice over forced adoptions from decades ago.

A new centralised or improved source of birth records, to help people looking to find each other after decades of separation, has also been proposed.

A redress scheme is being considered.
Legal and Social Issues Committee chair Natalie Suleyman said she could not reveal what was in the report but said it would have strong recommendations.

Charlotte Smith, manager of a not for profit service for people affected by adoption known as VANISH, said the inquiry’s results were monumental for those affected.
The practice of forced adoption was shockingly common, particularly for unwed women, throughout the 1950s to the 1970s.
It is estimated up to 250,000 children may have been taken from young and single mothers.

“The period between the 1950s and 70s is often referred to as the baby scoop era which gives an indication of what was occurring,” Ms Smith said.

“Over and over we hear people expressing their shock and saying they had no idea that these things happened.”

She said VANISH had recommended a sensitive redress scheme that also removed the statute of limitations.

“This is important because many of the institutions responsible committed illegal acts that had and still have devastating consequences,” Ms Smith said.

This included removing the “significant injury” test which was difficult to prove for a traumatic event that happened a long time ago.

Cameron Tout, of Shine Lawyers, said the firm was representing at least 15 people affected by forced adoption and had recommended law changes that would allow them to seek justice.

“At the time that they were harmed they were effectively powerless,” he said.

Association Representing Mothers Separated (ARMS) by adoption Victoria secretary, Jo Fraser, said the group had also called for free counselling to those affected.

“That’s never been offered before,” she said.

“We also need a large education or awareness campaign, including for psychologists and those who do the counselling.

“If you don’t know anything about adoption you’re as good as useless.

“But also because there needs to be awareness in the public. Every time this issue is in the media we are contacted by people who had no idea it was an issue or that there was even an apology.”

In 2012, then Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu apologies on behalf of the government to those affected by forced adoption across the state.
He described the practice as a “moral arrogance” and 1000 children’s shoes were laid out on the steps of parliament as a symbol for those who had been forcibly separated.

This was followed by a national apology from then Prime Minister Julia Gillard in 2013.

Advocates are wary of the upcoming parliamentary report, pointing to previous inquiries that have made recommendations and were never acted upon.

Ms Fraser said ARMS Victoria had also urged that any mother whose child was adopted out be notified if they died.
In the past, people have sought to reach out to their children only to learn that they had passed away.

– Isabell Collins, who spent the first six months of her life in an orphanage before being adopted out, said not all children were sent to loving families and lived with trauma their whole lives.

“For many years governments espoused, or legislators espoused, that children must come first. In my view they come last,” she said.

“A child being born is the most traumatic experience for the child … The only thing they know is their mother, the smell of her and her voice — and we take it away.

“The research says that is an extremely traumatic thing for the child that they carry through for the rest of their lives.”

– Elizabeth Edwards was engaged to be married at 18 and worked on a full wage right up until the day she had her first baby.

While giving birth, she said the staff at her hospital had increased the amount of nitrous oxide she was receiving until she became unconscious.

“When I awoke, I had delivered our baby. However, she had been removed from the labour ward,” she said.

“I requested her, but the doctor replied that society would forgive one mistake. He then turned on his heel and left the room.”

Ms Edwards said she had given consent to adopt under duress, while her fiance did not give consent at all.

I’d resolved to get the baby back. I telephoned the matron but she told me it was too late,” she said.

“We were both forever negatively impacted by the loss of our first child to people who were creating their own reality.”

Advocates have spent decades urging governments to act to support those affected by forced adoptions.

– As an 18-year-old, Hannah Spanswick was unexpectedly pregnant in 1964 and told by a social worker that if she loved her baby she would give it up for adoption.

“The adoption papers were presented to me within three days of my child’s birth, instead of the legislative requirement of five days, and within 45 minutes of receiving a narcotic injection, which makes a complete mockery of any notion of informed consent.

“ With tens of thousands of closed adoptions having occurred in Victoria, there are many mothers and their adult children who still experience the effects of this primal wound

“The need for specialised counselling has never been greater.”

State Politics Reporter
Herald Sun

Aug 12, 2021 - 6:26pm

Hannah Spanswick: A well written article Kieran. Thank you for bringing the issue to the public's attention.

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