Friday, September 30, 2011

Time to say sorry for all the broken hearts

Martin Laverty
September 28, 2011

. Turning back time ... the pain of past adoption practices still lingers. What can be done to mend hearts broken in the past?

Some women live with broken hearts, past practices having taken their babies from them for placement in adoption. Some of those children, now adults, live with broken hearts because they were taken from their mothers and placed in adopted families. Fathers, siblings and other family members have lived with broken hearts because of past adoption practices.

Some Catholic hospitals and health services played roles promoting and implementing the once widespread policy of placing the children of some unmarried young mothers in the care of adoptive parents. To those across Australia who carry broken hearts as a result, I say sorry.

The practice of placing these babies in adoption was the policy of governments over many decades. The practice was carried out in government hospitals, Catholic hospitals and in other formal and informal organisations.

I've had recent contact with many people who have had different experiences of adoption; three of which, while respecting the privacy of the individuals involved, shed light on the different challenges they've faced.

The first is a mother who delivered her two children in a Catholic hospital in the early 1970s, shortly after having stayed in a Catholic home for women to which she was taken by her parents. She describes her births as painful, she describes the removal of her children as heartbreaking, and she struggled in the years afterwards to access the medical and birth records needed to make contact with her two children. That contact is now made. They've done what they can to put their lives together, but the heartbreak remains obvious and there have been periods of darkness.

The second is that of a woman who is still searching for her brother, born in rural NSW in the 1920s. Her situation is one for which there simply may be no solution; she has no records and no system to enable a family reunion, which in all reality could simply be too late.

The third is a man in regional Queensland, seeking his birth records from the early 1960s. It appears his birth was in a public hospital in Sydney, and now approaching 50, this man is trying to put together the jigsaw puzzle of his birth. He does not know his mother, and in turn, his mother does not know him.

Each of these stories is deeply personal, as are the experiences of those touched by past adoption practices. For some, adoption has been positive. For others, tragically, not so.

What can be done to mend hearts broken in the past?

First, some still have difficulty accessing records, despite post-adoption services in all states and territories. The Community and Disability Services Ministers' Conference should establish a national strategy involving all governments and non-government agencies involved in adoption to facilitate access to medical and birth records.

Second, there exists a continuing need for post-adoption counselling, by counsellors with experience in post-adoption care. Again, the Community and Disability Services Ministers' Conference is best placed to develop a strategy to support access to counselling focused on the differing needs of mothers, fathers, adopted children, their siblings and, if needed, the parents who have cared for adopted children.

Third, some mothers continue to have grievances about their birth experience or the consent procedure that led to their child being adopted. Some of these grievances are unresolved. Adoption was and is a legal responsibility of states and territories, and the processes that exist to hear grievances about medical care and consent differ across states. They are complex and difficult to access.

Finally, there is a role for an apology from governments. We have issued our apology in recognition of the role of Catholic organisations. The government of Western Australia has done the same. Others should follow. We would be happy to work with governments in shaping such an apology.

These words here today will not satisfy everyone, as words cannot put broken families back together. These words have not emphasised that for some, adoption has worked well. I'm nonetheless pleased to have been able to make our formal apology to the Federal Parliament, and to now encourage federal parliamentarians to do what they can.

Martin Laverty is the chief executive of Catholic Health Australia. This is an edited version of his address today to the Senate inquiry in Canberra into past adoptions.
Sydney morning Herald.

Thank you Chris for forwardg this to ALAS.

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