Stolen at Birth: The Painful Legacy of Australia’s Forced Adoption Policy

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This blog has copious amounts of research, articles, book excerpts and access to Dr. Christine Cole's government submissions, PhD and Honours theses. Many years have gone into the research gathered and articles and book excerpts and theses written. Any donation, however small, is greatly appreciated.



The institutionalized theft of babies from unwed mothers-to-be began in the aftermath of WWII, when it was considered the ideal solution to two pressing social issues: married couples unable to conceive, and the unpalatable number of single women giving birth to “illegitimate” babies.

Within minutes of giving birth in 1969 at the Crown Street Women’s Hospital in Sydney, Christine Cole’s newborn daughter was taken away from her by staff.

“I was pushed back onto the bed by three nurses. The pillow was placed back on my chest and the midwife at the end of the bed said, ‘This has got nothing to do with you,'” recalls Cole, now a prominent human-rights activist and scholar.

In the days leading up to the birth, Cole—then aged 16—had been dosed with barbiturate drugs and other sedatives and then induced into labor. Afterwards, she was given milk-drying hormones and carted off to a facility miles from the hospital to prevent any contact with her newborn.

“I had not signed any adoption consent,” she says, “this was presuming that my baby was going to be taken for adoption, irrespective of what I wanted.”

The removal of Cole’s daughter was part of a record boom in the adoption industry in Australia at the time, which saw an up to an estimated 150,000 babies adopted between 1950 and 1985.

My baby was going to be taken for adoption, irrespective of what I wanted.

Tens of thousands of these adoptions are now believed to have been non-consensual, processed under a government policy of what has come to be known as “forced adoption”—one that victims and campaigners say was a human rights abuse.

Government inquiries and independent research by scholars like Cole have recently brought to light the experiences of hundreds of single or unwed mothers-to-be during this period, who recount being routinely drugged, lied to, emotionally and physically assaulted, and coerced by authorities.

Their stories paint a dystopian picture of ongoing violations administered by government agencies and the medical establishment in line with bigoted social attitudes of the time. Like the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who over decades had their children removed by government agencies and church missions, many of these mothers consider their babies to be another “stolen generation.”

“To call it ‘forced adoption’ is really mislabeling what happened—this was an assimilation policy by the government that happened right across Australia,” says Cole, who has since completed a PhD on the subject.

“In our case we were considered inferior, second class, unfit to rear our own children because we were unmarried…. Being a single mother was purposefully pathologized.

“We were considered to have gotten pregnant because we were morally and mentally inferior—therefore, not mentally stable to bring up a child. This was full of hypocrisy because we were often farmed out [after the birth] to work as slave labour for married couples, where we were expected to clean their house and mind their children up to 80 hours a week.”

Australia’s institutionalized theft of babies began in the aftermath of the Second World War, when it was considered the ideal solution to two pressing social issues: married couples unable to conceive children of their own, and the unpalatable number of young, single women giving birth to so-called illegitimate children.

As is documented in court judgements and other official documents from the time, women such as these were considered “sexual deviants” who were “unpopular with the neighbours” and deemed “unfit” to parent. So they were denied any choice in the matter. Instead, the adoption of their babies became protocol within hospitals.

Accordingly, the child’s original birth certificate would be sealed immediately after birth and an amended one issued, establishing the child’s new identity.

These practices were also justified by social services through reference to popular psychology at the time—namely, “attachment theory” which held that a so-called clean break was best practice, with infants immediately removed from their mothers at birth. This would supposedly promote a favourable relationship between the baby and adoptive parents, while allowing single mothers to “get on with their lives.”

(In reality, however, new infants often languished in institutions for weeks or months—one Melbourne woman recounted being contacted more than two months after birth to request funding for the upkeep of her son, who had not been adopted due to disability.)

“The dehumanization of single mothers as a group allowed those working in the maternity wards to remove our baby at the birth without any empathy,” says Cole, noting that such brutal practices persisted for decades.

“In fact, some of [the maternity staff] would state that we did not attach to our babies like “normal” married mothers and therefore we were more like animals, without real feelings for our newborn.”

Read entire article:

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Releasing the Past: Mothers’ Stories  of their Stolen Babies

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Australian Psychological Ass: Forced Adoption


By Marguerite Hone, Project Officer, and Dr Lyn O’Grady MAPS, National Project Manager, Strategic Development and Public Interest, APS National Office

Historical context

“I will never fully heal from the grief and trauma of losing my baby the way I did…” (Mother, Kenny et al., 2012, p. 62).

During the 1940s to 1980s adoptions in Australia were at an all-time high. An estimated 9,798 adoptions took place in 1971-72 alone, standing in stark contrast to the number of current-day adoptions, totalling less than 500 per year (Quartely, Swain & Cuthbert, 2013). Adoption during this post-war era in Australia was considered the ideal solution to two prominent social issues: married couples who were unable to conceive their own children, and society’s hostile view of young single women giving birth to illegitimate children. These women were deemed by society as ‘unfit’ to parent their children (Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee (SCARC), 2012, p. 23) and were not provided with any form of alternative option. This was not an informed choice made willingly by the mothers and fathers of these newborn babies as it is today, but a practice that occurred so frequently it became protocol within hospitals and maternity homes across Australia.

Popular during this time was the pioneering work of John Bowlby on attachment theory, whose research was used to formulate key adoption and mental health policies at the time (SCARC, 2012). The ‘clean break’ theory was born and adopted nationwide as ‘best-practice’ in which infants were removed immediately from their mothers at birth, based on the premise that “favourable relationships” between adoptive parents and their new baby would have the best chances of being formed “the nearer to birth that they have him” (Bowlby, 1952, p. 53), while simultaneously granting single mothers the freedom to ‘get on with their lives’ (SCARC, 2012, p. 53). The adopted child’s original birth certificate was sealed and an amended birth certificate issued, establishing the child’s new identity.

Commonly reported experiences and their impacts

“Given away at birth, I was stripped of my innate identity, my intrinsic heritage and formally given a new name and family. I grew up with a profound sense of duality – of being part of a family and yet very much separate from them” (Adopted person, SCARC, p. 78).

The experiences of those affected are many and varied, and the ensuing impacts lifelong and often intergenerational. Mothers were ostracised from society and coerced into believing adoption was in the best interests of the child. They were bullied, lied to, and often psychologically and physically abused within hospitals and maternity homes by medical staff. Mothers have described traumatic labour experiences of being tied down to beds with sheets raised above their faces to shield their view of their baby, being drugged and having their breasts painfully bound to prevent lactation, and often never seeing their newborn or knowing anything about them (e.g., gender, health). Methods to gain consent to adoption were illegally and unethically obtained, laws were unregulated, and mothers were ill-informed about their rights and options.

Fathers were mostly viewed as ‘peripheral figures’ and excluded from all pregnancy and birth-related matters, regardless of whether or not they were in a stable and committed relationship. Under the circumstances of the time many mothers chose not to reveal the father’s paternity to authorities or the fathers themselves, with many only discovering they had a child lost to forced adoption many years later when the adopted person embarked on a search. Many who were aware of their paternity report being barred from hospitals and maternity homes, threatened, and prevented from seeing or speaking to the mother. They were rarely included on their child’s birth certificate and their desires for a family and to be involved in decisions made about their child were disregarded.

Babies were mostly adopted within six weeks of birth; however some remained in hospital nurseries for months prior to an adoption (Kenny et al., 2012). Others were placed in care at the age of four or older, or were institutionalised and deemed a ward of the State for many years before being placed with an adoptive family (SCARC, 2012). There are varied reported experiences of adopted people from being abused within institutions or within their adoptive families, to having a very loving and positive upbringing (Kenny, Higgins, Soloff & Sweid, 2012). However, many adopted people believe that being separated from their mothers at birth caused a ‘primal wound’ or trauma from which many of their current day psychological difficulties have stemmed.

The only large-scale national research study on the experiences, impacts and service needs of people affected by past forced adoption policies and practices was undertaken by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) and published in 2012 (Kenny et al., 2012). The study highlighted a number of universally reported mental health impacts to all groups affected, including:

  • Trauma-related symptoms
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation and behaviour
  • Anxiety
  • Grief and loss
  • Disenfranchised grief
  • Identity issues and impacts on self-worth
  • Relationship and parenting issues
  • Substance use
  • Physical or medical illnesses

Inquiries and the Government’s response

In response to rigorous lobbying and advocacy by people affected by forced adoption, several inquiries into adoption policies and practices in Australia have been conducted since the late 1980s. Significant legislative reviews and formal parliamentary inquiries have been undertaken, leading to the most recent inquiry by the SCARC into past forced adoption policies and practices released on 29 February 2012.

Twenty recommendations were made in the Senate Inquiry report (SCARC, 2012), seven of which related to issuing statements of apology at the national and State level, as well as by non-government institutions that were involved in adoptions at the time. A National Apology was made by the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard on 21 March 2013 in the Great Hall of Parliament House, Canberra, to more than 800 people. Motions of apology were subsequently moved in both houses of Parliament and carried by Members and Senators rising in their places.

Training needs for health professionals

In 2013, the AIFS was commissioned by the then Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) to undertake a second study on the support service needs of those affected by forced adoption (Higgins, Kenny, Sweid & Ockenden, 2014). Service providers emphasised a general lack of awareness by health professionals of the history of forced adoption, and a lack of sensitivity to the issues being raised, resulting in the potential for harmful and re-traumatising experiences for those seeking help.

While there is no single recognised approach, researchers and practitioners have proposed the use of a ‘trauma-informed approach’ as a key overarching framework to guide and inform assessment and treatment (Higgins et al., 2014). While not requiring the disclosure of trauma, trauma-informed services are “informed about, and sensitive to, trauma-related issues” (Jennings, 2008, p. 10) and are designed to promote people’s capacity to engage and participate in treatment.

The ‘Guidance and Training on Forced Adoptions for Health Professionals’ project

In January 2015, the APS was contracted by the Australian Government Department of Health to develop a suite of professional resources and tools including national online training, a practice Guidance document, web-based resources and webinars, to better support health professionals delivering services to people affected by forced adoption. The project forms part of the government’s response to the Senate Inquiry’s key recommendations.

The national online training program entitled “Understanding and supporting people affected by forced adoption: Training for health professionals” has been developed to meet the needs of a range of allied health professionals and comprises three courses, two of which are relevant for psychologists:

  1. A brief introduction to understanding past forced adoption policies and practices (1 hr)
    Suitable for all health professionals who wish to gain general knowledge, but who aren’t currently working or planning to work with people affected by forced adoption.
  2. Working with people affected by forced adoption: Training for mental health professionals (9hrs)
    Suitable for mental health professionals who are currently working or planning to work with people affected by forced adoption.

The first author can be contacted at


  • Bowlby, J. (1952). Maternal care and mental health: A report prepared on behalf of the World Health Organization as a contribution to the United Nations programme for the welfare of homeless children. Geneva: World Health Organization.
  • Higgins, D., Kenny, P., Sweid, R., & Ockenden, L. (2014). Forced adoption support services scoping study. Retrieved from
  • Jennings, A. (2008). Models for developing trauma-informed behavioral health systems and trauma-specific services: 2008 update. Alexandria, VA: Center for Mental Health Services, National Center for Trauma Informed Care.
  • Kenny, P., Higgins, D., Soloff, C., & Sweid, R. (2012). Past adoption experiences: National Research Study on the Service Response to Past Adoption Practices (Research Report No. 21). Melbourne, Australia.
  • Quartely, M., Swain, S., & Cuthbert, D. (2013). The market in babies: Stories of Australian adoption. Melbourne, Australia: Monash University Publishing.
  • Senate Community Affairs References Committee (SCARC). (2012). Commonwealth contribution to former forced adoption policies and practices. Canberra, Australia.

To sign up for the training or to find out more about the APS Forced Adoption Project.

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Chief Minister Adam Giles: should not be involved in advising Senator Brandeis of terms of reference for Royal Commission

Excerpt from Another Stolen Generation in the Making Part !


The Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry found that up to “197 babies were taken from their parent’s hours after birth in north Queensland hospitals between July 2009 and June 2012”.  At a recent conference The Secretariat of Aboriginal and Islander Child Care advocates reported  “a shocking rate of surveillance” and  from every State accounts of “armed police accompanying child protection workers to raid houses and rip children away”.  Aboriginal Legal Service workers say that child protection agencies often refuse to engage with families before babies are removed and favour non-Indigenous carers.  Chief Minister Giles (NT) who prefers to blame the victims rather than past government policies advocates for Forced Adoption claiming that the current situation is because people were scared to remove children in case they were accused of creating another stolen generation. Parts of the media are supporting Giles’ stance and are contriving to manipulate public sentiment to support expansion of the forced removal program.  For instance Paddy Gibson writes:

Rupert Murdoch praised Giles’ leadership and courage. The Daily Telegraph carried a double page spread and an editorial celebrating Giles’ who ‘Saved  Generation’. A.O. Neville, the Commissioner for Native Affairs during early years of the Stolen Generation, put it similarly in 1934: ‘They have to be protected against themselves whether they like it or not’. [47]

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Absolutely shocking. Inhumane, this is genocide. Slowly destroying an entire race of people. Australia has no right to accuse any other country of human rights violations. There are more children being taken from their families than at the height of the stolen generations – supposedly for their safety – what bs. You cannot tell me children are removed from their families for their safety or protection. The stolen generations suffered enormous physical emotional and sexual abuse after being removed “for their benefit” – well documented – now we can see on 4 corners how they are treated in 2016 when removed from their families. Child protection workers who break up families and those nazi guards depicted on 4 corners tonight should all be incarcerated.FB POSTS

Dr. Christine A. Cole

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PM Malcolm Turnbull’s push for adoption: Adoption Awareness Week

PRIME Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called for adoption reform to tackle the plight of 50,000 vulnerable Australian children living in foster families who face the prospect of never growing up in a permanent home.

Financially incentivising the care industry has made it very profitable to keep children in care and to fast track them into adoption.

However with very little incentive to reunify children with their families and a great demand for toddlers and babies we have a recipe for disaster.  The government has set up a situation where there are too many children in the out of home care industry and then complains about it so as to get societal support for fast tracking children from the care industry into adoption.

However there are many unintended consequences.  Adopters want cute cuddly babies, not older children with obvious  problems.  So if we follow the UK and the US’s lead the outcome in those countries was that people lined up to take babies and toddlers, but children older than 3 were left languishing in the foster care system for years.  Only to age out and find themselves homeless.  With the introduction of quotas and extra money for moving children from care into adoptive homes  social workers became creative. They started advertising children at “adoption markets” and on the internet .  Then a number of adopters found they did not have the skills needed to parent the children they had gotten from the foster care system so they  began to “rehome” them.  In other words advertise them online and pass them on to people never screened to care for children at all.

It is a shocking state of affairs and this is what our government wants to create here –  a market in babies under the guise of providing children with safe, permanent homes.  The onus should be on supporting vulnerable families stay together – if one reads the research I gathered for my article: The Making of Another Stolen Generation – all the evidence is there.  Do not be fooled by this smoke and mirror attempt by the government to reintroduce forced adoption under another phoney catchphrase: Saving unwanted babies; Saving orphans and now providing permanent stable homes for all the children it has forcibly taken so the out of home care industry is buckling under its own weight.


Please read

The figures for the numbers of children in foster care are inflated as over the years the same amount of children are entering care but very few are leaving – please read Tilbury’s research on this phenomenon

Excerpt from Part 4: The Making of a New Stolen Generation

Claire Tilbury conducted research that identified the reasons for the increased number of children in the foster care system.  The focus has been on quick removal rather than family preservation.  Children are going into care at younger ages and staying longer. Tilbury stated there are a number of dynamics at play creating obstacles for a child being reunited with its family or for family preservation strategies being implemented.  Hence over time there has been an accumulation of children in the out-of –home care system. Could this be the result of privatising the care industry – as placing and keeping a child in foster care is financially expedient for the non-government organisations now contracted to facilitate care?  The fact children are kept in care longer coupled with the impact of mandatory reporting creates another problem, there are not enough reputable foster carers, hence state contractors have employed foster carers that are not properly screened.[i]  This has led to numerous complaints and currently many carers are under investigation.  This is discussed later.

It is important for policy considerations to understand the real reason for the increase in the number children in care otherwise there will be implementation of very poor public policy. A case in point is Goward’s introduction of the punitive legislation that underpins Forced Adoption which she justifies by stating it is to curb the increase of children in foster care and to provide more stability in placement.  Unfortunately this  speaks more to her pro adoption agenda than resolution of a societal problem.  For instance, at 30 June 2001, there were 18,241 children in out-of-home care across Australia.  By 30 June 2008, this had risen by 73.6% to 31,166 children.  The prevalence rate of children in care increased from 3.9 per 1000 in 2001 to 6.3 per 1000 in 2008.  However, there had been little change in the number per year of children entering out-of-home care across Australia over the period.[ii] A total of 12,030 children were admitted to out-of-home care across Australia in 2000-2001 compared with 12,891 in 2007-2008, an increase of 7.2%.  The rate per 1000 of admissions to out-of-home care across Australia in that period increased slightly from 2.5 to 2.6 per 1000. Hence the inflow each year has remained steady. In some states, the rate of admissions declined.  In Victoria the number of admissions increased over the period by just 1%.  In NSW the number of admissions decreased by 1.7% from 4,542 to 4,467 over the 8 year period.[iii]

Mandatory reporting differs across states and territories. This impacts on the number of children placed in out-of-home care in the various jurisdictions For instance, the persons who may report, the criteria used to determine types and levels of abuse that meet notification requirements are not uniform across Australia.[iv]  An example of which is the following case study which highlights the fact that even after abuse in the foster care industry was exposed the numbers admitted to care increased sharply.

A Crime and Misconduct Commission Inquiry into the abuse of children in foster care commenced implementation in 2004.[v]  The Commission investigated allegations of sexual and physical abuse of children in foster care. There were two investigations of misconduct conducted on officers of the Department of Families and “many other complaints” against departmental officers accessed. In short children removed from their families supposedly for their protection were placed with individuals who sexually and physically abused them. When officers were alerted to the abuse they failed to remove the child from their foster homes.[vi] The Report identified significant failings within the child protection system and concluded that “over a long period of time the Queensland child protection system itself failed to deliver the support and services required for children at risk of abuse”.  It recommended a serious overhaul of the system.[vii]  However Claire Tilbury noted: “It is ironic that an inquiry finding widespread abuse of children in foster care should be followed by a spike in admissions of children to foster care”.[viii]

An explanation for this spike may be that in 2005 nurses were included as mandatory reporters in Queensland under the  Public Health Act 2005 (Qld.) sect 191 & 192.[ix]  Additionally Queensland mandatory reporting is wide and includes notification if the person has a reason to suspect the child is “likely to be harmed”  by any person (not just those who reside in the same domicile) and includes the criteria of psychological and/or emotional abuse.[x]  Tilbury concludes: “Queensland data are largely responsible for a “status quo” rate of children entering care every year for Australia.  If Queensland was out of the picture, or showed the same pattern as other jurisdictions, the entry rate to care each year would have declined Australia-wide”.[xi]  Tilbury hypothesised that the number of children in foster care increased over the 8 years of her research because “reunification efforts waned as permanency planning captured policy attention”. And that “adversarial stances with parents have contributed to concentrating the permanency debate on adoption and permanent care orders”, rather than alternative options for stability such as keeping the family intact.[xii]

The Commission suggested that reunifications were not undertaken as there existed a conflict of interest with protection workers who on the one hand made the notification about the child being at risk and on the other selected the foster carers. To avoid this conflict it recommended that these two functions should be conducted by separate entities in which case the child had a better chance of reunification with its family.[xiii]



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See July 2015 article:

Social workers who made a 35 year old Italian mother to give up her baby after a forced caesarean is required to explain themselves to Britain’s top Family Judge. In a highly unusual intervention, Sir James Munby has demanded to know why the girl should not be reunited with her mother. As per Fabio Roia, the most senior Judge in Milan, it is an unprecedented ‘act of extreme violence’ that could not have happened in Italy…….

This story is being recirculated but it is important as it shows the length state representatives can go to acquire babies for ideological and economical agendas. Many may not be aware but something very similar happened here in Australia in the early 1970s. The notorious Dr. Harry Bailey had his heavily pregnant and drugged patient transported from his Deep Sleep Therapy Hospital to Crown St Women’s Hospital. He performed a caesarean that produced twin girls. The mother 20 years later visited Dr. Geoff Rickarby trying to find out what happened to her babies. Dr. Rickarby so shocked by what the mother told him searched the hospital’s microfiche and found that twin girls had indeed been taken from the mother by Dr.  Bailey.  In Bailey’s biography it notes that Bailey adopted twin girls. Why has no-one ever been made accountable for these crimes? In places where there is no transparency and no accountability the most egregious crimes are committed – it seems with impunity.

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The bond between grandparents and grandchildren


The above was a recent post on Facebook to which I could not help responding:


If only it was true that the bond between grandparents and grandchildren can never be broken – some parents for all sorts of reasons work hard to undermine this relationship. This is even more the case when a child is adopted and the adopters want to extinguish all ties with the entire biological family – their excuse – it might be disruptive to the adoptee to maintain contact with their real grandparents – it is only when a child is adopted that this nonsense is accepted as fact – imagine the outcry if this same justification was used when parents divorced.

It is accepted as fact that children need to have contact with both sides of their biological family – in their best interests. Imagine if the court ruled that the child could no longer have any contact with its father or paternal grandparents and the fathers name must be permanently removed from the child’s birth certificate- and the child was no longer able to receive any information about that side of the family – in fact it was made illegal for them to do so. There would be such outrage expressed on behalf of the child about the denial of rights and that of half his or her  family. Yet in adoption the permanent removal from the  entire family is accepted without question – and as well his or her real parentage is obliterated from their birth certificate -to be replaced in most cases by the names of  genetic strangers.

In fact the child is given a new and false identity. This is normal practice in adoption yet would be considered abhorrent in the context of divorce. Adoptees and their real families are designated 2nd class citizens and their human and civil rights are violated over and over again through the course of their lives. It must be asked how such an outrageous situation came to be considered normal and who is to blame for this travesty?

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Former prime minister Julia Gillard will launch a new national charity that will support pregnant teenagers.

Gillard has signed on as ambassador for the Brave Foundation, a charity that aims to provide “education, support and resources for teenage and unplanned pregnancy”. Australia’s first female PM will launch the charity nationally on Friday 13 November at the Melbourne Town Hall – ………….
What great news! Our first female Prime Minister never received the accolades she should have giving the apology on behalf of the nation to survivors of Australian state and federal governments’ policy of tearing families apart by forcibly removing the newborns of young, unwed mothers. Indigenous mothers were included in Rudd’s apology – white mothers were not. This made us the most marginalised members of society. Apologising to us was a bold and powerfully symbolic gesture – and it took a woman to do it!  Now our former PM is once again showing support for us by supporting this national charity. Congratulations Ms Gillard – you are my hero.
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The Corrupt Business of Child Protection: US Legal Case – Parents v CPA

The following is an excerpt of what US Senator Schaefer stated about the US Child Protection Industry:

The Adoption and the Safe Families Act, set in motion by President Bill Clinton,
offered cash “bonuses” to the states for every child they adopted out of foster care. In
order to receive the “adoption incentive bonuses” local child protective services need
more children. They must have merchandise (children) that sell and you must have
plenty of them so the buyer can choose. Some counties are known to give a $4,000
bonus for each child adopted and an additional $2,000 for a “special needs” child.
Employees work to keep the federal dollars flowing


Following on from Clinton’s decision to finacially incentivise the forced removal of children with cash payments Tony Blair introduced similar legislation in England.

And what a mess that has made.  Parents demonstrating on the streets to get their children back and social workers advertising children on the internet or at ‘adoption markets’ in order to find the hundreds of forcibly removed children a home.

In NSW Bernardos will receive $37,000 for every child fast tracked from foster care into adoption.  Since 2006 NSW has changed its Child Protection Legislation to enable social workers to legally take a baby by force from its mother at birth. Often on the grounds that the child MAY suffer emotional abuse sometime in the future.  It was reported that there were over 500 foster carers under investigation for serious crimes against children in NSW (see:

Yet the juggernaut of the industry moves on.  As we are all aware the Catholic Church played an integral part in many countries in the forced removal of newborns from their mothers: Australia, Ireland and Spain to name a few.  So I guess it is only fitting that 2 Bishops and an Abbott are firmly behind this current wave of promoting the forced removal of children from loving families.

In the US there is now an organisation that has taken up the plight of loving families broken up by the child protection industry.

We wish them every success in their campaign and await a similar occurrence here in Australia.

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