On the 10th Anniversary of the Apology for Forced Adoptions in Australia, the announcement made on the 21st March 2023 by the Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth MP is devastatingly inadequate.
- Most of the Recommendations agreed to 10 years ago were never implemented. Concrete undertakings to make good on those broken promises are needed.
- The Forced Adoptions Support Services (FASS) needs urgent review.
- Lived experience representative advocacy organisations still have no voice.
10 YEARS ON
- Part 1. Government undertakings made, and what should have happened after the Apology 10 years ago.
- Part 2. What Adoptee Rights Australia calls for, 10 years on.
Part 1. What should have been put in place after 21st March 2013:
Adoptee Rights Australia has reviewed relevant outcomes of the Senate Inquiry into the Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption policies and practices.
The majority of the undertakings made in the Commonwealth Government Response have not been implemented. Some that have been implemented are partial, and often quite different to the intention of the agreed upon recommendations.
We call upon the current Government:
- to reinstate any work that was discontinued when the Standing Council on Community and Disability Services was disbanded
- to review the efficacy and uptake of Forced Adoption Support Services (FASS)
- to identify which Recommendations involving records tracing and information FASS covers, and implement those which are not covered by FASS.
- to provide consultation, transparency and accountability to lived experience stakeholders
The inquiry had two terms of reference:
- the role of the Commonwealth Government, if any, in contributing to forced adoptions, and
- “the potential role of the Commonwealth in developing a national framework to assist states and territories to address the consequences for the mothers, their families and children (sic) who were subject to forced adoption policies.”
The National Framework and oversight of state and territory governments crucial to many undertakings in the Commonwealth Government Response was summarily disbanded by the Liberal Coalition government before it could get beyond developing its Terms of Reference.
- 21st March 2013 – The Apology was made. The government response stated “The national framework will be progressed through the Standing Council on Community and Disability Services…”
- April 2013 – Attorneys General at the meeting of the Standing Council on Law and Justice agreed they would only consider non-legislated changes that could provide greater harmonisation for access to birth information. (In December 2014, in the Final report of the Forced Adoptions Implementation Working Group, under ‘Harmonisation of Records’ it was stated: “Ruling out legislative amendment is contrary to the needs and interests of people affected by forced adoption. If those needs and interests require legislative amendment, that is what should occur” (p.13-14).
- 7th September 2013 – change of government.
- 25th September 2013 – The Forced Adoptions Issues and Directions Working Group was set up and developed Terms of Reference to guide the work. A ‘key element’ of the national framework was to be the harmonisation of birth records and re-connection services between states and territories.
- 13th December 2013 – The decision was made by what was then known as COAG (the Prime Minister, State and Territory Premiers and Chief Ministers) that the Standing Council on Community and Disability Services would be “discontinued”.
- 27th June 2014 the Standing Council on Community and Disability Services agreed on a new governance structure. This structure did not include the Forced Adoptions Issues and Directions Working Group and its activities. “Ad hoc work can still be progressed with states and territories at officer level, depending on the issue.”
10 years on:
- No national framework has been developed
- No harmonisation of births, deaths and marriages registers has been implemented, and there has been no facilitation of a single national access point to those registers
- Fathers’ names cannot be put on birth certificates in accordance with what was intended
- No principles to govern post-adoption information have been agreed on or implemented by the states and territories
- Adopted people in NSW are waiting two and a half years for their information
- Variations between jurisdictions lead to devastating and inconsistent outcomes, depending on where the adoption occurred
- The only public review of FASS (the Forced Adoption Support Services Post Implementation Review, 2018) shows there was very limited uptake and there has been no public review since. There is no accountability or transparency about the services or outcomes
- Minimal data collection has been done on our population by the contracted service providers
- There appears to have been very limited uptake and awareness of the Australian Psychological Society (APS) Forced adoption training for professionals
- The APS has recently received a further grant to upgrade the Forced adoption training, but will not provide any information on who was consulted for this upgrade
- Find & Connect hasn’t been extended, and no alternative has been implemented
- No new national services have been created, including a search and contact database, as discussed in the 2014 Scoping Study
- A statement of principles for access to personal information from non-government organisations, with a Past Adoption Practices Consultative forum supported by a national consultation group including people with lived experience did not proceed
- The National Archives of Australia Project website is now archived on Trove & practically inaccessible. No alternative history of adoption site has been set up
- The public – and many with lived experience – are generally not aware of the Apology or any services available
Part 2. 2023 – What is needed now:
Adoptee Rights Australia is not only asking the Commonwealth Government to follow through on promises made in the past. Adults who were adopted as infants and children must be listened to and recognised as a separate and vulnerable population. Knowing our mothers were forced is just one facet of the separation and ongoing adoption experience.
Adoptee Rights Australia is calling for action on urgent issues that were not addressed 10 years ago, including:
- The need for an approach that is governed by the principles of Accountability, Transparency, Consultation and Inclusion.
- Inclusion of Australian Intercountry adoptees. Adoptee Rights Australia has always included Australian Intercountry adoptees, who are subject to the same inconsistent and draconian Australian Adoption Acts as domestic adoptees. We consider that issues of consent, coercion, mistreatment, and stigma surrounding single motherhood are also embedded in intercountry adoption practices. We urge the Commonwealth Government to recognise that Intercountry adoptees face, along with their domestically adopted peers, struggles with identity, belonging, uncertainty, and loss, which can be painful and lifelong.
- Fathers’ names on birth certificates are not the only issue. Correction of mothers’ names, names on death certificates, the addition of siblings’ names are needed.
- The need for research: There has been minimal research in Australia on outcomes for adoptees over their lifetime, yet overseas studies suggest that people who are adopted are over-represented in suicide, suicide attempts, alcoholism, substance abuse, homelessness and incarceration. In one of the few Australian studies, the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) found that adopted people are more likely to experience “mental health disorders, poorer wellbeing, higher psychological distress”; that they encountered “problems with attachment, identity, abandonment and parenting their own children”; and, “almost 70 percent” of the adopted individuals who participated in the study agreed that, “being adopted… had a negative effect on their health, behaviours and/or wellbeing while growing up”, regardless of whether the experience with their adoptive families “was positive or negative”. This study shows there is a great need for further research on this vulnerable Australian population. No further research was done, and this study has been archived.
- Notification of adoptive status. An unknown number of Australians don’t know they are adopted and there is a duty of care to notify them of their adoptive status, to take responsibility for implementing comprehensive support, and to ensure they have a right to reunion, not graves. Adopted people (and subsequent generations) have limited access to knowledge of family health issues at best. Those who don’t know they are adopted have the added risk of believing that their family medical history is that of genetic strangers. Australia has ratified the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child and therefore has an obligation under Article 8, (2) “Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to re-establishing speedily his or her identity.”
- Discharges of adoption should be straightforward for the adopted person, with consistency in all jurisdictions.
- Investigation of human and civil rights breaches in the existence of vetoes, gag laws on the identification of parties to adoption, and other discriminatory aspects of adoption legislation.
- The recognition in policy and legislation that the DNA landscape has changed completely since 2013.
- The Commonwealth Government should lead the implementation of redress and restorative measures for all those affected, with recognition of the harms of adoption itself to adopted people.
- Removal of the Statute of Limitations as a defence in adoption claims.
- Access to records. The need for a statement of Access Principles for Records Holders & Best Practice Guidelines in providing access to records co-designed by lived experience stakeholders (like the 2015 Forgotten Australians and Child Migrants document produced with DSS). This should be done with Commonwealth support for state and territory legislative change, if necessary, to enable consistent application of the principles.
- Adoption awareness training. Co-design of training in adoption issues for crisis services like Beyond Blue, Lifeline and Mensline, etc. Adoption and adoption trauma informed competence training for government employees, e.g.: employees of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and employees of non-government services.
- Funding for access to services used by those who do not use FASS.
- Funding for and inclusion of Adoption Lived Experience Representative Organisations to ensure our voices are heard.
Adoptee Rights Australia calls for an Inquiry into adoption itself – past and present. An Inquiry should include terms of reference that are co-designed with lived experience stakeholders, and investigate the long-term outcomes of adoption for adopted people, including the above points, the effects of identity change, genealogical bewilderment, restriction on access to information (past and current), cumulative trauma, duty of care in historical and current post adoption services, reunion, jurisdictional inconsistencies and their effects, etc.
(1). March 2013 – Federal Apology by Labor – & the Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices including Govt response was tabled 21 March 2013: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completed_inquiries/2010-13/commcontribformerforcedadoption/index
(2). 7th Sept 2013 – Federal election, Liberals in power. Within 3 months they had discontinued the Standing Council on Community and Disability Services, so the Working Group established to progress the Senate Inquiry recommendations was dissolved.
(3) 25th September 2013 – The Forced Adoptions Issues and Directions Working Group was set up and developed Terms of Reference to guide the work. A ‘key element’ of the national framework was to be the harmonisation of birth records and re-connection services between states and territories.
(4). 13th December 2013 COAG decision to discontinue the Standing Council on Community and Disability Services (see #7 below)
(5). Feb 2014 – 2013-14 Estimates – Additional Estimates Hearings
(6). Feb – 2014 – Forced Adoption Support Services Scoping Study
(7). June 2014
“Following a COAG decision on 13 December 2013 to discontinue the Standing Council on Community and Disability Services, on 27 June 2014 the Standing Council on Community and Disability Services Advisory Council (SCCSDAC) agreed on a new governance structure which did not include the Forced Adoptions Issues and Directions Working Group and its activities.
The implication of this decision has been that the Adoptions Issues and Directions Working Group, established to progress the Senate Inquiry recommendations relating to the states and territories, has been dissolved.
Ad hoc work can still be progressed with states and territories at officer level, depending on the issue.” This was advised at the Additional Estimates Hearings February 2015
(8). Dec 2014 – Forced Adoptions Implementation Working Group (chaired – Hon Nahum Mushin) – Final Report to the Honourable Scott Morrison MP, Minister for Social Services – [some of the recommendations were very helpful, but it ignored a lot of issues, went off topic & out of scope – focus should have been on supporting the useful Recommendations, instead the working group came up with new ones. Part of it strongly requested it should be tabled, but it was never tabled. Anything useful appears to have been ignored].
(9). Feb 2015 – 2014-15 Estimates – Additional Estimates Hearings (p14)
(10). March 2018 – Forced Adoption Support Services Post Implementation Review
 Petersen et al., Excess Mortality Rate During Adulthood Among Danish Adoptees, (2010); Keyes et al., Risk of Suicide Attempt in Adopted and Non-Adopted Offspring, (2013)
 Kenny, Higgins, Soloff and Sweid, Past Adoption Experiences: National Research Study on the Service Response to Past Adoption Practices: Final Report, (2012)