A Stolen Gen 3: Pro Adoption Campaign


 Part 3

 The Current Pro Adoption Media Campaign

Prime Minister Gillard in Canberra on March 21, 2013, apologised on behalf of the nation to the survivors of Forced Adoption.  The Murdoch press published a number of articles, leading up to the day, denigrating the apology suggesting that it might “tarnish adoption”.[1]  Jerry Sammut, who authored one of the articles and is on staff  at the Centre for Independent Studies, a right wing pro-adoption, conservative think tank, accused the hundreds of activists that had worked over decades to achieve the Federal Apology of being merely “anti-adoptionists”.  There was no consideration of how his articles might tarnish the apology or even of traumatising those who had waited forty and fifty years to hear those precious words.   The sacred cow that has become “Adoption” had to be protected, after all the Federal Government had made de-stigmatising it a priority.[2]

There was no where near the media focus on the Forced Adoption Apology as there was on the apology given by Prime Minister Rudd to the Aboriginal stolen generation in February, 2008. Yet the two phenomena are intricately interlinked. Both black and white Australians had their children stolen, some for adoption, fostering or institutional life. The Aboriginal theft though had the extra dimension of being done for the cultural destruction of their race.   However the apology to survivors of Forced Adoption was no small deal. It was issued to half a million parents and a quarter of a million children. It included their families, hence brothers, sisters grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins.  In short, Ms Gillard was apologising on behalf of the Australian Government and people to upwards of two million people.   Yet the Murdoch press chose to focus on a leadership spill, that was a ‘lot to do about nothing’. Some blamed Simon Crean, but Crean does not control the Australian media.  It was a deliberate attempt to undermine public support for the survivors and revealed a media bias in support of the pro-adoption / anti-bio-family lobby.

Pro adoption bias is certainly evident in the current campaign; for instance, Minister Goward’s introduction of even more draconian legislation to make adoption of babies “easier and quicker” for white middle class couples. This then is supposed to provide a legislative and policy framework for adoption reform in all states and territories by the end of 2014.[3]  This is in line with the stated agenda of Deborra Lee Furness and Louise Voigt, Barnardos CEO.[4] Voigt enthusiastically supports Goward’s pro adoption stance:

There is now a change. Pru Goward … has clearly advocated her support for adoption and plans for her Department … to change.  Change is occurring.  … One politician in one state in Australia is now changing the expectations of the NSW Government Department, social workers and lawyers and this change is beginning to be noticed in other states.[5]

Barnardos is already operating a policy of Forced Adoption under the guise of an Open Adoption Program.  Voigt states: “Very few of Barnardos’ adoptions are contested by birth parents.  In most cases the court dispenses with their consent in favour of the wellbeing of the child”.[6]  Between 2002 and 2011, 64% of their adoptions were undertaken without parental consent and 13% were contested. Only 13% were consented to and 6% were agreed to by the child.[7] Voigt encourages the Queensland Government to follow NSW’s lead and extend  its capacity to dispense with parental consent thus freeing up more babies for adoption. In particular, where it relates to adoption by foster carers by allowing instead of parental abuse being the reason for termination rather they can be dispensed with where “foster parents, are able to demonstrate love and commitment to the foster child”.  This she explains will have the consequence of making “adoption numbers higher”[8]  Tellingly, Voigt is keen to ensure that “these children are not stolen”.[9] She is no fan of family preservation stating:

[The] often unreasoned, belief that social welfare professionals can bring about significant change in entrenched behaviour of parents is highly questionable.[10]

So with the media[11] in tow the spin doctors are once again busy utilising their favourite slogans and catch-all phrases: “in the best interests of the child” and a “child centred” child protection system to cover up what is ultimately a repeat of the past and the creation of yet another stolen generation.  Those of us who have experienced past Forced Adoption know that it was under the guise of being in the child’s best interests that our children were taken and given to strangers.  Not because we had ever abused them, not even because we were substance dependent, but because we were unwed. It is my experience that the term “best interests” is usually the tool of choice of the more powerful to manipulate a situation in their best interests.[12]

The replacement of traditional parent-focused standards for court intervention by purportedly child-focused standards is a disturbing erosion of critical due process protections that served the interests of both parents and children.  As a vehicle for judging when state intervention is appropriate, a “best interest” standard offers little guidance in determining which families and children should be subject to judicial scrutiny … this standard is exceptionally vulnerable to arbitrary decision-making.  The lack of a uniform understanding of the term “best interests”, coupled with the uncertainty inherent in its use, raise significant concerns about “social engineering” … Such ambiguity will have the greatest impact on the least visible and respected population of families whose racial and economic status already place them at great risk of destructive state intervention …[it]  does not protect children from decisions based on the conflicting interests of unrelated adults.[13]

In Australia the use of the term ‘in the child best interests’ has been used to justify the theft of both the children of unmarried white women and Aboriginal parents and the giving of them to middle class white couples. In the US it has been used by the judiciary to justify the theft of children by adoption agents and the subsequent placement with adoptive couples.[14]  Unfortunately a warning given in 1967 at a conference to usher in the new Adoption of Children Act 1965 (NSW) went unheeded:

An exclusive attention to the welfare of the infant could justify a court in making an order for removing an infant from the custody of poor parents to others who could feed, clothe and educate it and provide for its future much better than its own parents.  In other words, an exclusive attention to the welfare of the infant would allow rich men to adopt children against the will of poor parents … if the welfare of an infant is to be the only consideration in relation to its custody then certainly poor parents and/or those of weak [ineffective][15] character would run the risk of losing their children to people who would be deemed much better and wiser custodians of the infant from the point of view of the welfare of the infant.[16]

In 1983, at a US Conference[17] to debate the judicial utilisation of the Best Interest of the Child Principle, its application was highly criticised for being used to indiscriminately remove the children of the poor and those of colour.  The child’s need for continuity and stability once removed from parents was not being applied prior to removal. It was claimed that the term was used against parents who lacked political power and who consequently were losing their children in large numbers.  Multiple participants warned that decisions to disrupt intact families were being driven by bias against the poor, uneducated, culturally and racially different communities.[18] And that professionals who engaged with them were influenced by their own personal biases rather than being informed by their professional knowledge, especially when children were at the centre of the controversy. The controversy over the disruption of disadvantaged families has raged since then and in October 2004 the New York Court of Appeals issued a landmark decision in Nicholson v Scoptta. It rejected the so called “safer course” doctrine: the removal of a child from parents alleged to have been neglectful as being less harmful than leaving the child with the parents. Instead a family court judge now must determine whether the trauma to the child of removal is greater than the risk to the child’s health and safety of being allowed to remain at home pending a determination of whether the parent has neglected the child.

The Nicholson court noted both the historical concern of the legislature of unwarranted intervention in family life and the need to guard against finding neglect based solely on undesirable parental conduct. Nicholson recognizes the deep bonds between parents and children and the looming destructive power of state intervention that [was] earlier identified as key elements in child-welfare placement policies.[19]

Hence some controls are being implemented on the State’s enormous judicial power to interfere in family life and break up families based on the very limited judgement of many of those applying the best interests principle.[20]

Cotemporary Use of the Best Interests Principle

The rhetoric used currently to promote forced removals is to claim that child protection has NOW become “a more child-focused system”; inferring that previously it wasn’t.  Apparently being child centred means adoption must be the default option and is therefore promoted as the safe alternative to remaining with one’s own family.  So in an attempt to silence victims of past Forced Adoption it is being spun as a means to ‘save children’. Low levels of adoptions are blamed for the rise in child abuse.[21]  The propaganda campaign is starting to take hold.  Forced Adoption having been conflated with ‘good child welfare practice’ is now seen as the way to protect children from their purported dysfunctional and abusive families. It is not only an attempt by the social controllers to hide the brutal practices inherent in Forced Adoption, but to white wash history for the benefit of those with an agenda. These fallacious statements and distortions of reality need to be challenged otherwise we are complicit in a race to create another generation of lost children.

When wasn’t child protection supposed to be child centred or done in a child’s best interests?  Yet it has and does remain full of abuse and failures.[22] The catchcry that there are not enough adoptions has been heard for most of the 20th century. Up until recently though, it was only expressed by childless couples waiting for babies or their supporters.[23] Not being able to source enough babies from unwed mothers to suit the needs of the infertile was labelled a “crisis” in the mid 1970s.[24] The reality is that adoptions have dropped because there isn’t the supply of newborns. No longer are unwed mothers drugged, tied to beds, have pillows and sheets placed over their faces at the birth and drugged into submission, to make more babies available for the adoption   market.[25]  Unfortunately we are coming close to repeating these scenarios.    The atrocities that were employed to keep up the number of adoptions are never mentioned when pundits are lamenting the low levels of adoptions.  This is why the present purposeful stigmatisation of certain sections of the Australian community to ensure a ready supply of babies for adoption is so contemptible.[26]

It has become fashionable for the media to compare Australia’s adoption rate to the US and find it lacking. Maybe, because the film star led propaganda campaigns have misled people to believe that adoption is only about removing children from unsafe environments. However there has never been any real investigation of the truth of any of Furness’s allegations and journalists continue to lament the low levels of adoption. This is particularly alarming when they have no understanding that adopters want babies and there is no inquiry as to from where these babies are to be sourced.   Their superficial assessment of such a complex issue is an indictment on this country’s journalism; as is the nonsensical repetition that there are millions of children waiting for a home and many adoptive parents who want to assist, but cannot because of “red tape” and “bureaucracy”.

The dynamics driving all the previous stolen generations have not changed. The wealthy lobby the State to keep their taxes low by decreasing welfare spending; the childless want babies and the State wants to assimilate children from the lower to the middle class so eugenically build up the population via increasing the growth of more “effective” self financing families. The past abuses according to Tony Abbott do not have to reoccur.  I contend that since the exact same dynamics are driving the current push to expand Forced Adoption they absolutely will.

The apologies to the Stolen Generations, Forgotten Australians and the survivors of Forced Adoption seem to be sinking into some sort of amnesiac void.[27]  Why didn’t the media hold a brighter light up to government for its past atrocities? Why didn’t the survivors of Forced Adoption get the media focus on their Federal apology so that the Australian community were educated about the abuses they suffered? Why is the media promoting Forced Adoption? The media should be accountable for its misinformation about and the stigmatisation of vulnerable groups and for uncritically accepting the nonsense that talking heads espouse. The promotion of adoption is going to place more children at risk of abuse and to lose, what for many may be, an already stable and permanent home.[28]

Adoptive parents do not want to adopt older, damaged children.  They want perfect little babies, preferably newborns.  Historically adoption has never been about the best interests of the child, it has always been about finding babies for childless couples.[29]  Removing thousands of children to be made available for adoption is going to lead to thousands languishing in foster care.  Older children are not so easily adopted.  In the late 1960s until 1971 so many babies were taken that for the first time there was an over supply and infants with even minor problems were often doomed to spend their youth in institutions’. In some instances, adopters refused to take children because of the shape of their nose or if their colouring was not right.[30]

[1]  Sammut, J. (2013). ‘Apologise but allow Adoption: Don’t let mistakes of the past entrench today’s flawed family preservation policies’, The Australian, Mar 19; Morton, R. (2013). ‘Apology for forced adoptions ‘risky’’, The Australian, Mar 19.

[2] House Standing Committee on Family and Human Services. (2005). Overseas Adoption in Australia: Report on the Inquiry of children from overseas, http://www.aph.gov.au/parliamentary_business/committees/house_of_representatives_committees?url=fhs/./adoption/report.htm

[3] Peter Lloyd (2013, Dec 19) ‘New taskforce to make adoption easier’, ABC PM, http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2013/s3914933.htm  PETER LLOYD: “It’s the New South Wales model that could be the basis of reforms in every state and territory by the end of next year”.

[4] Barnardos Australia Submission to Queensland Child Protection Inquiry September 2012, http://www.childprotectioninquiry.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/162384/Barnardos_Australia_Voigt_Louise.pdf

[5] Voigt, L. (2013). ‘Social Impact Bond Schemes & Service Providers’,A presentation by Louise Voigt, CEO and Director of Welfare, Barnardos Australia on 8 August 2013, ‘Social Finance Forum – 7-8 August’, http://www.barnardos.org.au/media/39157/louise-voigts-speech-to-social-finance-forum-8-aug-2013.pdf  at p. 6

[6] Barnardos Australia Submission to Queensland Child Protection Inquiry September 2012, http://www.childprotectioninquiry.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/162384/Barnardos_Australia_Voigt_Louise.pdf

[7] ibid

[8] ibid

[9] Voigt, L. (2013). ‘Social Impact Bond Schemes & Service Providers’,A presentation by Louise Voigt, CEO and Director of Welfare, Barnardos Australia on 8 August 2013, ‘Social Finance Forum – 7-8 August’, http://www.barnardos.org.au/media/39157/louise-voigts-speech-to-social-finance-forum-8-aug-2013.pdf  at p. 6

[10] Ibid; Voigt, L. (2013, Feb) Submission to Queensland Child Protection Inquiry – Response to parts of discussion paper  from Barnardos Australia, http://www.barnardos.org.au/media/49946/queensland-inquiry-into-cp-parts-15-03-13.pdf

[11] National Adoption Awareness Week started by Deborra Lee Furness in 2008 to replicate the adoption celebration month held every year in the US during November. NAWW is now a lobby group devoted to over hauling the adoption system in Australia specifically to “cut the red tape” and “get rid of  the Bureaucracy”. In order to cut waiting time for infertile couples waiting for babies.  Her list of supporters is formidable, and includes members of the Murdoch press  http://www.adoptionawarenessweek.com.au/KeyPeople

[12] The best interests approach depends upon the value system of the decision-maker. Absent any rule or guideline, that approach simply creates an un-examinable discretion in the repository of power. Brennan J in ‘Marion’s Case’ (1992) 175 CLR 218, 271 see Siobhan Clair  (2010). ‘Taking into Account ‘The Best Interests of the Child’ in the Australian Intercountry Adoption System: An analysis of the principle, practice and persuasive force of a much-debated legal phrase’, The University of Queensland Law Student Review 3(1).

[13] Parental Rights VS. Interests of the Child: A False Dichotomy in the Context of Adoption’, Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, 2(63), pp.63-83 at p. 66

[14] Franklin, R.  (2009).  ‘The ‘Best Interests of the Child’ Concept – Misused from the Beginning’, http://mkg4583.wordpress.com/2009/11/30/THE-%E2%80%98BEST-INTERESTS-OF-THE-CHILD%E2%80%99-CONCEPT-%E2%80%93-MISUSED-FROM-THE-BEGINNING-GLENN-SACKS-ON-MND/  Parental Rights VS. Interests of the Child: A False Dichotomy in the Context of Adoption’, Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, 2(63), pp.63-83

[15] PM Tony Abbott and Premier Barry O’Farrell’s contemporary criteria for mothers/ parents who do not deserve to rear their own children – ABC News, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-12-19/tony-abbott-vows-measures-easier-adoption/5167098

[16] Chief Justice Latham, cited in I. J. Harvey, Solicitor, Adoption Services in New South Wales,  ‘Legal Aspects of Adoption Service’, Proceedings of a Seminar held on 3rd February, 1967, Department of Child Welfare and Social Welfare, Sydney, p. 32

[17] Held at RutgersLawSchool see Spinak, , J. (2007), ‘When Did Lawyers for Children Stop Reading Goldstein, Freud and Solnit? Lessons from the Twentieth Century on Best Interests and the Role of the Child Advocate’,  Family Law Quarterly, 41(2), at p. 400. http://web.law.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/microsites/30-years-family-advocacy/files/Spinak_When_Did_Lawyers_Stop_Reading_Goldstein_Freud_Solnit.pdf

[18] Ibid p. 401

[19] Ibid p. 407

[20] Ibid

[21] NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell Media Release. Landmark Child Protection Reforms to Improve the Lives of Vulnerable Children, Thursday 21 November 2013,  http://www.nsw.gov.au/news/landmark-child-protection-reforms-improve-lives-vulnerable-children

[22] Legislative Council of South Australia, Select Committee on Families SA. (2009, Nov). Report of the Select Committee on Families SA, Presented to the Third Session, Fifty-First Parliament 2008-2009, http://www.bressington.net/Files/FamiliesSAReport.pdf  ; Carmody, T. (2013). Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry: Taking Responsibility: A Roadmap for Queensland Child Protection, Queensland: Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry http://www.childprotectioninquiry.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/175248/QCPCI_Discussion_paper.pdf

[23] Rickarby, G (1998). Interim Report on Inquiry into Adoption Practices: Transcript of Evidence, From 27 August 1998 to 19 October 1998, Report 17, p. 71; Cole, C. (2008). Releasing the Past: Mothers’ Stories of their Stolen Babies, Sydney: Sasko Valjanov; Cole, C. (2013). Stolen Babies Broken Hearts: Forced Adoption in Australia 1881-1987, Unpublished Doctorate, School of Social Sciences and Psychology,  UWS, http://arrow.uws.edu.au:8080/vital/access/manager/Repository/uws:17555.

[24] Kraus, J. (1976).  ‘Historical Context of the Adoption ‘Crisis’ in New South Wales, Australian Social Work, 29(4), pp. 19-25.

[25] Community Affairs Reference Committee. (2012). Senate Committee ReportCommonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices.  Canberra: Senate Community Affairs References Committee Secretariat http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=clac_ctte/completed_inquiries/2010-13/comm_contrib_former_forced_adoption/report/index.htm

[26] Barnardos Australia Submission to Queensland Child Protection Inquiry September 2012, http://www.childprotectioninquiry.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/162384/Barnardos_Australia_Voigt_Louise.pdf ; Louse Voigt of Barnardos is presently promoting their Open Adoptions Program – her tactic is to lament the low number of adoption see Ben Westcott, (2014, Jan 8). ‘Adoptions in ACT fall to their lowest ever’, Canberra Timeshttp://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/adoptions-in-act-fall-to-their-lowest-ever-20140107-30fkx.html

[27] Olsson, K. (2013). All the lost children, The Australian, March 30.  http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/all-the-lost-children/story-e6frg8h6-1226607413904

[28] A fact acknowledged by the Liberal Member  (Fed) for Mackellar: Bronwyn Bishop when she commented on the Commonwealth’s and State’s Past Forced Adoption Policy at an Inquiry she chaired: “ … there were the most appalling policies in the way those young women were treated. … as bad people who had to be punished  … I think a lot of children have missed out on being able to be in a loving, permanent home because of that policy”  However Bishop acknowledged that there had been “very strong advocates of the [Forced Adoption] Policy”. See: Bishop, B. (2005a). Standing Committee on Family and Human Services. Adoption of children from overseas.  Sept 23.  Sydney: Official Hansard. At p. 41.  http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/committees/commrep/8714/toc_pdf/4253-2.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22committees/commrep/8714/0000%22

[29] Child Welfare in New South Wales, A child welfare training manual of NSW adoption practice, NSW Government Printers, Sydney,1958, p. 34 – The 1958 Child Welfare booklet states ‘The Department provides an adoption service … for married couples who desire to adopt children…[the service] has 3 phases [which included] (1) the location of suitable children, mainly babies for adoption; R Pannor & A Baran, cited in M. A. Hale, ‘Past relinquishing mothers: a forgotten group. A study of the legislation, policy and social conditions for a group of women who relinquished new-born infants for adoption in the past’, unpublished MA thesis, School of Social Studies, SA Institute of Technology, 1988; McHutchison NSW Adoption: an historical perspective 1985 Unpublished paper: Cole, C. (2008). Releasing the Past: Mothers’ Stories of their Stolen Babies, Sydney: Sasko Veljanov

[30] Berryman, I. (1979).   ‘So you want to Adopt’, Sunday Herald, April 8.


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