Victorian government urged to take action on forced adoptions

23 November 2021 By Lauren Croft
Victorian Government

The Victorian government has been urged to adopt all recommendations made in a parliamentary inquiry into historical forced adoptions in an address to the Legislative Assembly last week.

State member for Geelong Chris Couzens acknowledged the ongoing pain of victims in an emotional address to the Victorian Legislative Assembly following months of inaction from the government.

“We heard from mothers who were shunned, shamed, and treated with contempt by their families, communities and staff at maternity homes and hospitals,” she said.

This news follows the release of the final report into the Victorian Parliament’s inquiry into historical forced adoptions from the legal and social issues committee, after over 100 submissions from victims, medical and legal organisations were received.

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The Legislative Assembly worked on the inquiry into responses to historical forced adoption in Victoria for two years and released a report, which contains 56 recommendations in September – including the removal of the statute of limitations for legal claims and the establishment of a redress scheme for affected mothers and children. 

The majority of forced adoptions took place between the 1940s and 1980s throughout Australia, during which babies were forcibly taken from mothers who were unfairly judged as unfit to raise them – yet often were placed with unsuitable and unsafe adoptive families.

Ms Couzens also mentioned the trauma suffered by Barbara, whose son was taken from her in 1966 shortly after he was born at the Jessie McPherson Private Hospital in Melbourne. 

Barbara, who chose not to disclose her surname, said she was reunited with her son in 2013 after a law change allowed mothers to access information about their children. 

“I grew up in the country, on a farm, and at one stage ,we had sheep. When the sheep and the lambs got to a certain age, they would be separated. You could hear the sheep and the lambs calling out to each other at night,” she said.

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“That’s how I view what happened to me. It broke my spirit, and I was touched that Chris Couzens acknowledged that in her remarks. I felt validated that somebody had listened. 

“The committee has done a wonderful job with their recommendations, but they need to be implemented sooner rather than later as a lot of the mothers are getting old.” 

According to the Department of Justice and Community Safety, there were 40,000 adoptions in Victoria between 1958 and 1984, with the peak occurring in the 1960s when there was a significant stigma surrounding single parents. However, it is unknown how many adoptions occurred without the consent of the mother.

Shakira Ramsdell, a solicitor at Shine Lawyers who represents Barbara, echoed her clients call for immediate action. 

“Many of the mothers were drugged, forced to sign adoption papers against their will, and their experience was shrouded in secrecy and shame,” Ms Ramsdell said. 

“For this reason, it has taken many decades for some victims to tell their story and seek legal advice. The statute of limitations remains a barrier to justice and should be removed to allow these women to pursue the reparations they deserve. 

“This inquiry has taken place almost a decade after an apology from the Victorian government, and it would be a tragedy if victims of historical forced adoptions had to wait another nine years for action to be taken.” 

Victorian government urged to take action on forced adoptions
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