Author Topic: When saying sorry isn't enough  (Read 28 times)

Auntie Cee

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When saying sorry isn't enough
« on: April 02, 2021, 03:29:46 PM »

When saying sorry isn't enough

The following story contains content of a sensitive nature relating to forced adoptions which some people may find distressing.

“The option of keeping him was never discussed. The decision was made before he was born. We had no say in the matter. We were told to start a new life as if nothing had happened.”

Mother Nancy Johnson’s harrowing story of separation is similar to the tens of thousands of young, mostly unmarried women who between the late 1940s and 1980s were subjected to forced adoption.  Their grief, loss and lifelong devastation, along with that of adopted people has been laid bare during the public hearings of a parliamentary inquiry into Responses to Historical Forced Adoptions in Victoria.  The Legislative Assembly Legal and Social Issues Committee is investigating the adequacy of support services and responses to the issue since it came to light.  Governments, non-government organisations (NGOs), religious institutions and professionals such as doctors and social workers were all responsible for carrying out the policies and practices of forced adoption.  Mother June Smith said the statute of limitations must be lifted.  “If the statute was lifted, those people would have to come and be accountable, and they need to be,” she said.

“It is not about suing. It is not about money. I know people will think it is, but it is not.  It is about making people accountable and making them aware for what they have done so they will not do it again or we hope they will not.”

Fellow mother Lyn Kinghorn echoed Ms Smith’s plea as she detailed the incomparable level of pain and judgement mothers endured.  “The stigma mothers were forced to bear at the very start of our lives, lives, which should have been supported and under construction, suffered destruction and devastation by those who exploited and failed us,” she said.

“I was a survivor, as nothing else could compare to the agony and torture it was demanded I endure. Even the full-term stillbirth of my second daughter does not come close.”

Another mother, Marilyn Murphy called for long-overdue financial assistance for all those who have suffered.  “At this late stage it is decent and ethical to look  at some form of compensation, either in the form of a gold card, such as war veterans and their partners receive, or a compensation payment by the AMA and the government free of a statute of limitations and long-drawn-out procedures,” she said.

In October 2012 the Victorian Government apologised for the profound harm caused by past adoption practices in the state.  The Federal Government delivered the National Apology for Forced Adoptions six months later.  An adoptee, who didn’t wish to be named, described the distinct trauma of forced adoption.  “We feel disenfranchised grief where we try to adapt to this strange environment we find ourselves in, where no-one looks or acts like we do, and blame ourselves when we do not fit in,” they said.

“We fear rejection from one family if we look for our ancestors, and we also fear rejection from the other if they have not told anybody about us. So, one of my favourite expressions is, ‘My identity is secret in one family and my existence is secret in another’.

“There is a vast difference between having a secret" an Fellow adoptee Isabell Collins implored the Committee to establish a separate inquiry to specifically examine the impacts of adoption on adopted people.

“Probably the only time I have ever felt safe is when I am in a room with other adoptees where you know that your views are not going to be rejected; they are going to be respected, and it is safe to express them,” she said.

“I do not want to underestimate the fear of rejection that adoptees walk around with all the time. It is not only about fear of rejection in families; it is fear of rejection everywhere.”

While each witness had a uniquely tragic experience, they shared common concerns about recognition of their pain and suffering and the efforts to redress it.  A mother, who didn’t wish to be named, said support to date had not been adequate, available or appropriate.  “I believe that the most significant requirement is a fully funded, integrated mental health support program that is available to all, including mothers, adoptees, siblings of mothers of adoptees and children of adoptees who are not fully aware of body-based trauma counselling,” she said.

Fellow mother Wilhelmina Marshall said the loss is immense and indescribable.  “As we did not receive appropriate counselling at the time of adoption, it was just shelved in the files somewhere in the archives of my mind,” she said.

“We got on with our lives, but the heartache was always there, and many a time buckets of tears flowed, especially when I was alone.”

Adopted person Suzanne Scholz said she had never come across a counsellor with experience of adoption.  “I do not understand why, when we have 50,000 people in foster care right now and we have 65,000 people affected by past adoption in Victoria, there are no specialised counsellors,” she said.

“Why isn’t there a course at uni run on specialised counselling to do with family separation?”

Fears for the ongoing viability of support services due to uncertainty of funding were also raised.  Ms Scholz said providers of adoption-related services had failed to meet demand and keep up with new technologies and methods.  “Adoptees now use social media and DNA to find their family and to bypass outdated processes,” she said.

“In the absence of useful support agencies, it is well known, and often laughed at, that the adoptees and parents are forced to become detectives, cyberstalking their own family to learn basic information such as their own identity, sometimes skating to the edge of what is legal.”

Ms Scholz threw her support behind an integrated birth certificate which includes information about an adopted person’s parents and siblings at birth, as well as their parents and siblings after adoption.  Many of the mothers also expressed misgivings about the memorial sculpture erected in Treasury Gardens as a tribute to all those affected by forced adoption.

“I went to the unveiling of the one here, wherever it is,” Ms Murphy said.

"I was shocked. What is it? This pseudo-artistic whatever it is. I mean, what an insult.”

Ms Marshall urged the Committee to follow the lead of Western Australia, which has a specially dedicated memorial garden with plaques in Perth.  “And I would like something similar done to that here in Melbourne, either in our botanical gardens here in Melbourne or at Cranbourne,” she said.

As deep and as evident as their pain is, so is the determination of mothers and adopted people to have their voices heard and to no longer be ignored.  “I honestly from my heart thank you all that you are there, you are listening, and I just hope with all my heart that our truth is heard,” Ms Smith said.

Ms Johnson said after half a century of suppression she wants closure.  “To acknowledge the pain and suffering that we went through over the years we had to keep it a dark secret, because it does change your character and your personality too,” she said.

A series of public hearings will be held across regional Victoria on 30 and 31 March and in May before the Committee tables its final report by July 1st.  Transcripts from the first two days of hearings are available here.