National Forced Adoptions Apology

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National Forced Adoptions Apology

Posted 15/03/2013 by Janet Phillips

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In June 2012 the Attorney-General announced that the Government would offer a national apology to those affected by forced adoption practices in Australia. A Forced Adoption Apology Reference Group was subsequently established in August 2012 to provide advice on the wording and timing of the apology and on 19 December 2012 the Australian Government announced that the formal apology would be conducted on Thursday 21 March 2013 at Parliament House in Canberra.

All of the states have already offered apologies to women and their families affected by past adoption practices. In October 2010, Western Australia was the first state to offer an apology to mothers whose children had been removed and given up for adoption from the 1940s through to the 1980s. The other states, together with the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), followed suit and apologised in 2012. A Northern Territory (NT) Government apology is also planned, with the Minister for Children and Families stating recently that the NT Government will apologise for forced adoptions that occurred before self-government sometime this year.

For several years the Australian Government has been considering what appropriate action should be taken to acknowledge Australia’s forced adoption legacy and whether a national framework should be established to assist states and territories to address the consequences for the mothers, their families and the children involved.

In the lead up to the formal apology to ‘Forgotten Australians’ and former child migrants in 2009, the Australian Government stated that it also recognised the pain and suffering endured by women and children affected by past adoption practices and had ‘begun a dialogue’ with those separated by practices in the past which were ‘inappropriate or unethical’.

In 2010, the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) was commissioned by the Government to review the existing research on past adoption practices in Australia. The resulting report, Impact of past adoption practices: summary of key issues from Australian research (April 2010), documented the devastating effects the practice of forced adoption had on those involved and noted the need for further research on this issue:
This review has shown that the experience of past adoption practices has the potential for lifelong consequences for the lives of both the woman and child, as well as others, such as the mother’s family, the father, and the adoptive parents and their families. Although there is a wealth of primary material, there is little systematic research on the experience of past adoption practices in Australia… Taking the time to understand the full extent of the impact of past practices is needed in order to be able to tailor appropriate service responses to meet the needs of those affected.
 At a Community and Disability Services Ministers’ Conference (CDSMC) meeting in June 2010, it was agreed that the AIFS would conduct a national research study into past adoption practices to ‘strengthen the evidence base available to governments when developing policies and programs that support the current needs of individuals affected by past adoption practices and aid in the healing process’. The resulting report, Past adoption experiences: national research study on the service response to past adoption practices, was published in in August 2012. It emphasised the need to ensure ‘that lessons from past adoption practices are learned from and translated where appropriate into current child welfare policies and that adoption-specific services are created or enhanced to respond to the consequences of past practices’.

In November 2010, an inquiry into former forced adoption policies and practices was referred by the Parliament of Australia to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs. It was the intention of the Committee that it would report on its findings by 30 June 2011, but due to the large number of submissions and the complexity of the issues, the final report, Commonwealth contribution to former forced adoption policies and practices, was not tabled in Parliament until 29 February 2012.

The report outlined the devastating effects of forced adoption practices and made 20 recommendations, including that a national framework to address the consequences of former forced adoption be developed; and that ‘the Commonwealth Government issue a formal statement of apology that identifies the actions and policies that resulted in forced adoption and acknowledges, on behalf of the nation, the harm suffered by many parents whose children were forcibly removed and by the children who were separated from their parents’.

In her June 2012 apology announcement, the Attorney-General acknowledged that ‘the Senate inquiry and report confirmed the need for the Australian Government to acknowledge the suffering of parents and children involved’ and that the time had come to issue a formal apology.

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