Firstly I would like to ask what groups directly effected by past adoption practices: specifically those representing mothers, fathers, their now adult children and other family members contributed to the formulation of the 12 Principles?
At first glance it seems that the Principles used to guide 21st century child welfare policy replicate the unwritten Principles used to guide the child removal policies of the past here in Australia.
Rather than focus on the inherent ‘right of the child to be brought up in its own community amongst its own kin’, the priority in the Principles as stated is to remove a child if an ‘expert’ determines that a more suitable family can be provided under the very subjective and much abused term/justification “in the child best interests.”
In the late 19th and early 20th century ‘pauper’ parents were considered unsuitable and their children were routinely removed and placed with more ‘suitable’ parents to remove the ‘taint’ of pauperism.
As the boarding-out system was promoted by the Australian government as the preferred option for destitute children in the early 20th century: usually the child/ren of poor parents, or of a single mother, were routinely removed and fostered, adopted or placed in institutions. Hence the Australian government has recently had to apologise to the ‘Forgotten Australians’ and the Indigenous stolen generations because being removed has proved NOT to be in their best interests.
As the 20th century progressed and men had more power as they unionized, poor parents were less likely to have their children removed. The demand for children though had escalated because of the various Child Welfare propaganda campaigns. Such as there were all these (supposedly) ‘unwanted’ children of single mothers who needed a loving family. The fact that the mothers wanted to keep their babies, and the children were not orphans but had extended families, was a moot point. So by the 1940s infertile couples deemed it their right to be provided with a newborn and the demand placed on the various State governments to provide newborns, as quickly as possible, is well documented in the Hansard of the times
As the Indigenous fought for their rights (and it must also be acknowledged that Australia had signed International human rights treaties and was often criticized internationally for the poor treatment of its Indigenous population) the various Child Welfare Dept’s stopped stealing/taking children away on the back of trucks, and in Black Moriahs. But it is fact that approximately 17% of the Stolen Generation are made up of newborns forcibly taken from their Indigenous mothers, not because they were Indigenous but because their mothers were single and single mothers were considered unfit, irrespective of skin colour or race, because the ‘experts’ believed that being single meant mothers were unable to provide a ‘suitable’ family environment. As a representative of Link-Up stated in her sworn testimony at the NSW Inquiry into Past Adoption Practices (1998-2000), the theft of Indigenous children evolved from stealing children from the Missions to stealing newborns from their mothers from public and private hospitals, by the same social and medical staff involved in the theft of white children from their non-Indigenous mothers.
In fact the social worker literature of the time: 1940s-1950s states that a mother and child did in no way constitute a family, and the single mother had no right to make an autonomous decision about keeping her baby – she had to be ‘helped’ to a decision by social workers – and that was to be convinced that her child ought to be brought up in a ‘suitable’ two-parent family. In fact the mother was told she was being selfish and immature if she kept her baby. No alternatives to adoption were given and certainly the financial benefits that were available, and had been since the 1920s, were never mentioned.
The loss to the child of his or her identity and heritage, and the trauma of being separated from its mother in those first crucial days after the birth, was never a consideration. While in all other areas of pediatrics the trauma to a child of being separated from its mother was acknowledged, and stated in literature from the 1930s. It has always been known, and acknowledged in common law, that the strongest bond between two people is the one between mother and child. Yet the ideology of assuming a single mother unfit and placing her child in a ‘suitable’ family because it was decided to be in the ‘child’s best interest’ was used even though it defied all logic, common sense and humanity.
Due to the barbaric practices that operated in hospitals across Australia between, 1971-1972, nearly 10,000 newborn babies were taken from their single, mostly white, unsupported mothers. Adoption had been promoted by the Child Welfare Departments in all states under the auspices of the Australian government for both eugenic (single mothers = unsuitable) and as a cost-saving exercise. If single mothers had family members’ intent on keeping their grandchild within the family then the mother got out of the hospital with her baby, but if the grandparents were poor, and, did not know their rights, and, could not withstand the bullying by hospital and social-work staff, as well as child welfare officers, they lost their grandchild.
In New South Wales research was conducted in the 1970s by the Dept of Community Services. It was found that from the introduction of the Adoption of Children Act in the 1920s up until 1976, 80% of mothers kept their babies, and that was the case even though the very skewed statistics from the years 1967-1972 were included. Between 1967-1972 the numbers of newborn taken peaked as the systemic abuse in the hospital escalated in barbarity by the use of sheets, blankets and other objects to stop the mother and newborn from sighting each other – thus interrupting the birthing process – hence traumatising the mothers into silence and compliance. Not to mention the extraordinary amount of drugs that were given to the mothers to keep them quiet.
The mental damage incurred by mothers, fathers, and their now adult children who were brutally separated because of Australian government policy under the guise of “the best interests of the child” is enormous. There is now a huge data-base of mental health studies that describe the post-traumatic stress, the pathological grief and the propensity to commit suicide amongst those members of families thus separated; all done supposedly because the experts believed placing newborns in ‘suitable’ families was in their ‘best interests.’
Suitable is a very fluid concept and changes over time, depending on the bias of the ‘expert’. In many cases the ‘experts’ who decided that single mothers were unsuitable were themselves adoptive parents, working as social workers or medical staff. Social workers who wrote about the importance of the ‘two-parent family’ were often themselves adoptive parents.
I have written the above to highlight the effect on ordinary families of the Principles you are currently advocating and which guided past adoption practices and had such a deleterious effect. The Principles were useless then and will be even more useless now. There are at present legal cases pending that are the outcome of past adoption practices guided by the same Principles that disadvantaged mothers/parents designated ‘unsuitable’ by experts. Obviously as a society we have learnt nothing from the past and therefore are destined to repeat it unless society listens to, and learns from those affected by the practices of the past.
I fail to understand why you intend to apply the Principles formulated to guide ‘Intercountry Adoption: the Hague Convention’ on ‘domestic adoptions’. Australia is a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that adoption is only one of many options, and one of last resort.
The Hague Convention’s primary purpose is to stop child trafficking and abduction – not to promote or guide the processes of either intercountry or domestic adoption.
Professor David Smolin (2010, p.6) states with respect to the Hague Convention in his article Child Laundering and the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption: TheFuture and Past of Intercountry Adoption:
“Even within this goal of combating child trafficing in the intercountry adoption system, the Hague Convention is not designed to be comprehensive. Thus, the work of preparation indicates that the Convention is not designed to address criminal law responses to these practices; at most, the Convention would facilitate the reporting of criminal offences to appropriate authorities. The Convention is based on the assumption that other means, supplemental to the Convention, will address appropriate criminal law responses to such illicit practices. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Sale of Child), created about seven years after the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, responds to this need by specifically requiring Contracting Parties to address in their criminal or penal law, certain forms of buying children for purposes of adoption. Even within the civil or regulatory realm, the Hague Convention is designed to prevent “only indirectly….the abduction, the sale of, or traffic in children’…because it is expected that the observance of the Convention’s rules will bring about the avoidance of such abuses.” Thus, proposals to term the Convention ‘an instrument against illicit
and irregular activities in this field’ were rejected, in favour of the ultimate title:
“Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.” Thus, while preventing the abuses of child trafficking within the intercountry adoption system was a central impetus and object of the Convention, the Convention attempted to do so through the indirect means of establishing safeguards to protect children in relationship to intercountry adoption. Those safeguards, in turn, included, or were to be implemented through an orderly system of international cooperation.
Upon closer examination, then, the Hague Convention, rather than representing a comprehensive approach to intercountry adoption, is primarily an anti-trafficking treaty, and a very incomplete anti-trafficking treaty at that. Its primary impetus and purpose is to prevent abusive adoption practices, specifically targeting, abducting, buying, and trafficking in children; its response to this set of evils is to provide for a set of safeguards and international cooperation. In a sense, the Convention is ambitious, for it aims to take the “chaotic, contradictory and unsatisfactory” practice of intercountry adoption which existed prior to the Convention, and replace it with an intercountry adoption system with regularized sets of procedures and accredited and defined sets of actors. On the other hand, the Convention’s agenda is modest, as the Convention leaves unaddressed significant principles of child welfare or child rights at stake in intercountry adoption, while providing only partial coverage even to issues, such as abusive child laundering practices, which it does seek to address.
1. It is very telling when Principle 1 states: Adoption can provide permanency. It automatically assumes that adoption is the first priority and that adopters will never die or divorce and that the nuclear family is once again being privileged above a child being kept with his or her parent, kin and community.
Preferably Principle 1 might read:
1. All children have a right to be raised by their own parents, or parent, or failing this by members of their extended family within the culture of which they are a member, as far as possible in a permanent, secure, safe and loving environment.
The term birth families needs to be defined – in the past the term has applied only to a mother and father in a nuclear family. What about kinship care, where the child has ongoing relationships with significant family members, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings? He or she does not have their identity and past relationships extinguished.
Adoption under the new Australian Capital Territory Adoption Act on both social and legal grounds is based on openness and maintaining on-going contact with their original family. It is more like a Guardianship Act. It is progressive and honours the rights of all those affected by the transfer of a child from one set of familiar relationships to another.
When the word ‘Adoption’ is used, what is being referred to? The ‘closed secret’ adoption, which because of mental health reasons, is being done away with, or is ‘Adoption’ being used in the same sense as it is being used in the ACT Adoption Act – more as a guardianship order with the child maintaining contacts with its original family?
When you say adoption can provide this permanency – what about if the parents divorce, one dies etc.? There is plenty of evidence of this happening in the past, in domestic adoptions. Additionally the adopter may be happy to accept an alien child into the family, but what of other members of the adoptive family? I know of many instances where the adopted child was not accepted by aunts or uncles or grandparents because they were not “blood”.
Families in crisis may need extra support. There is now research coming out of the United States that indicates children whose families have been supported during times of crisis, do better than those removed and placed in stranger families.
As already noted the ‘best interests of the child’ has been misused. It has generally turned out to be the ‘best interests of those in more powerful positions deciding who is ‘suitable’ and who is not to rear another person’s child.’ Additionally, why only the life-long best interests in adoption practice? The interests of the child will surely change over the course of his or her life. How can anyone know what a child, who is adopted, will want at 20, 30 or 40 years of age? Presently – all over the world – adoptees are fighting for the right to find out who they are, to have access to their original birth certificates, and again since the concept of ‘best interests’ is so subjective and fluid, who can state in 2030 how the best interests of the child will be defined?
This is a very general statement. Under the Convention on the Rights of Child the fundamental right is to be brought up by the family, then the community – if the community is poor, to assist the community, so the child can maintain its culture and heritage. Hague Convention is a set of guidelines to gain the co-operation of countries to stop trafficking in children. It does not facilitate adoption, nor does it place intercountry adoption above being raised in one’s own family/community country.
Adoption as was practiced for most of the 20th century where a child was lost to its whole extended family, its heritage and true identity hidden under the cover of secrecy, maintained by Legislation, has never been part of any society’s natural practices. It has been a failed social experiment; leaving mothers who had their children taken at birth and hidden from them, experience ‘adoption’ as a form of ‘legally sanctioned kidnap’ whilst adoptees suffer many psychological problems, not the least being ‘identity confusion’. Non-indigenous should be afforded the same rights and recognition as their Indigenous brother and sisters, and that is the recognition of the importance of familiar connections and blood ties. These are not extinguished because a piece of paper states they are.
Again the onus is on the nuclear family. There is nothing about helping to preserve or support the child within its own kin. Who decides who is suitable? Does having more material goods make a family more suitable? The money that goes into a single adoption could support a whole community.
‘Suitable’ should be defined otherwise it is a subjective evaluation used through the class or social bias of the so called ‘expert’.
According to Professor Smolin (2010, p.5)
“It would be possible to argue that providing family preservation assistance to birth families is a necessary “safeguard” to ensure that intercountry adoptions are in the best interests of children and protect their rights. As a matter of child welfare, it is generally recognized that it is usually in the best interests of children to remain with their original families, and it violates a number of rights in the Convention on the Rights of the Child for the child to lose their original family. Thus, a requirement that parent(s) considering relinquishment – primarily due to extreme poverty – be offered modest aid to assist them to keep their child, and would apparently be a safeguard necessary to protect the best interests and rights of children. Children should not needlessly lose their families, and it is rational to make reasonable family preservation efforts prior to accepting a relinquishment.”
What measures will be used? The use of the term ‘focused’ is weak, ill defined and has no substantive value. If a child must be taken from all that he, or she, has ever known, then it should be mandatory on the child being transferred to an alien culture, that they have all information relating to their birth: their family, community and culture. And their original birth certificate. If their kin are poor, then how are the child’s connections to his original family maintained? Is the Australian government going to provide funds so that this can be achieved? All the adopters need to say is ‘they do not have the funds to provide ongoing contact.’ If contact is by letter or telephone, who supervises that this form of contact is maintained? I know of many instances in the United States where young poor women have been promised ‘open adoptions’ – which are not legally enforceable -and the adopters have reneged on their promises and mothers have committed suicide – as was the case of the mother of Deborra-lee Furness’s adopted son Oscar. In the A.C.T. Adoption Act, ongoing contact is written into the legislation.
This principle should be at Number 1. The fact that it has been placed at Number 7 – as if an after-thought, speaks volumes. Australia as signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child has a responsibility in line with the obligation of signing that Treaty to have it at Number 1. Otherwise one can only assume that adoption is once again; a child welfare option that places the needs of middle-class (wealthy, compared to the original parents both domestically and internationally) adopters.
How is Australia going to ensure that the consent taking is freely given in a developing country, where there is now copious research of corruption in every country that has been involved in Intercountry Adoption?
The NSW Law Reform Commission wrote in 1994, that we could not depend on developing countries to enforce legislation such as the Hague Convention. Experience in this country has taught us that even in a developed country such as Australia, where laws were explicit in there being ‘no coercion or duress to gain consents from vulnerable mothers’, this is NOT what happened. Mothers were bullied, lied to, illegally had their children kidnapped from them at birth. And, as of present, no-one has been made accountable for these atrocities.
Adoption is about supply and demand. The demand was great and single mothers were not considered ‘suitable’, therefore our babies were stolen. This has been substantiated by the NSW Inquiry into Past Adoption Practices (1998-2000), the Tasmanian Parliamentary Inquiry (1999) and the Senate Inquiry: The Forgotten Australians. Mothers were forced to take legal action, because of the practices used to gain consents. This was documented in Ann Cunningham’s Report to the Tasmanian Government (1997).
How is Australia going to ensure that a very poor mother, living in Cambodia, Vietnam, South Korea or the Philippines etc., is going to give her consent freely, without being told if she does not sign the consent papers, she will have to pay her medical bills? And when it is known that children have been kidnapped from their parents, as is the case with 30 stolen Indian children brought into Australia, how do these families get their stolen children back?
The above is the same thinking that had mothers in this country falsely imprisoned in Australian hospitals until they signed adoption consents. Hence most mothers were forced to sign consents on the 5th day after birth, and before being able to leave the hospital. Whilst more than 20% of these children taken, deemed unsuitable (not perfect enough) for adoption, were kept in institutions until the pediatrician deemed them adoptable. This practice was roundly criticized in 1975 by social workers, not because of the welfare of the child, but because the demand was so great and the number of babies taken was decreasing as more and more mothers – being aware of their rights – fought to keep their newborns. Undue delay sounds very much like a coercive practice to ensure the numbers of children available is kept high. There should be no pressure put on a mother, or poor parents, or kin, to speed up a process that will affect so many people detrimentally for the rest of their lives.
If more mothers had been able to get out of the hospital with their babies, and were not pushed into adoption, there would have been far less adoptions in Australia between the late 1960s and the early 1970s. The hospitals were effectively operating as de-facto adoption agencies. ‘Undue delay’ is a frightening concept and another term used expediently depending on the needs of those in more powerful positions.
According to Professor David Smolin the Hague Convention’s primary use is not to provide adoptions for institutionalized children but rather:
“The Hague Convention’s stated objective to ‘prevent the abduction, the sale of, or traffic in children’ is a response to the call of the CRC to “take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent the abduction of, the sale of or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form.”
Thus, the Hague Convention applies this general call to prevent child trafficking to the specific field of intercountry adoption, which by the late 1980s and early 1990s was already known as ‘a field subject to the abusive practices of abducting, selling, and trafficking in children’… The Convention is not even a comprehensive response to the “abduction, sale of, or traffic in children”, let alone a comprehensive response to all abusive practices in the intercountry adoption field. (p.12)
“Sixteen years after the creation of the Hague Convention, the treaty thus far has failed to meet its goals. Child laundering/child trafficking scandals have continued to arise in the Hague era in sending countries such as Cambodia, China, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Liberia, Nepal, Samoa, and Vietnam. Many potential sending countries, particularly in Africa and Latin America, have decided to close themselves to all, or almost all, intercountry adoptions, in significant part based on concern over abusive practices, including, particularly child trafficking. … Years of determined cheerleading by the adoption community have failed to cleanse intercountry adoption from its associations with scandal, corruption, trafficking, and profiteering. The boom in intercountry adoption that accompanied the initial decade after the creation of the Hague Convention is now abating, with further declines anticipated .. intercountry adoption has been diminished by a sense of lawlessness, despite the extensive regulation and bureaucratic procedures which often accompany it.” (p.30)
Assessment should not just be if the adopters are suitable, but if they are able and are supported to deal with children who may have very serious mental health problems.
Professor David Smolin (2010, p.18) states:
“The most dramatic result of these problems has been the well-publicized horror of 14 Russian adoptees being killed by their American adoptive parents. At least some of these deaths seem to be the result of sending psychologically damaged, post-institutionalized children into adoptive homes unprepared for such children, and a lack in post-adoption resources to assist adoptive families and their children. It turns out that getting children out of institutions at all costs, without proper evaluation of children, selection of adoptive homes, preparation of adoptive parents, and post-adoption evaluation and services, is a prescription for disaster.”
Adoptive parents have fought for decades to have adoptions kept closed and secret. The fear was always that the parents or mother would come back and reclaim her infant. It is a well known psychological fact that secrets in families create a toxic environment for all involved. Adoptees are fighting to have access to all their relevant birth information – because it is imperative for their mental well-being. Openness, honesty, transparency should be a keystone of any adoption, for the mental well-being of all involved. It should not be reliant on the ‘sensitivities, preferences and views’ of some of those involved.
The above twelve principles are in the main retrogressive; the focus is on promoting adoption and the interests of the adopting parents, are at odds with the movement in Australian adoption law for openness, honesty and the maintaining of links with the original family.
Please read the new Adoption Act of the A.C.T. which is based on the social and psychological needs of ALL parties.
Progressive changes to the A.C.T.’s adoption laws that confirm that adoption is primarily a service for children and respect the rights of all parties to adoptions have commenced, Minister for Children and Young People, Joy Burch said.
“Ms Burch said the changes responded to a better understanding of the psychological, emotional and legal implications of adoptions for all parties involved since the original Act was developed 17 years ago, and sought to provide better clarity and support for those involved in future A.C.T. adoptions”