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Uniting Church admits to forced adoption


by: Miles Kemp
From: The Advertiser
November 30, 2011 12:00AM 

THE Uniting Church in South Australia has accepted responsibility for the past practice of forced adoptions.

It has urged other welfare and church groups to prepare for a wave of victims seeking help for decades of suffering.

Church groups have previously denied the practice occurred but UnitingCare Wesley chief executive Simon Schrapel told The Advertiser yesterday the church now accepted it was "highly likely" that it did, so it was issuing an apology and asking victims to come forward.

Tens of thousands of unmarried pregnant women were sent to care facilities in Adelaide, particularly before single mothers could claim federal government welfare in 1973.

Mr Schrapel said that as the issue of forced adoptions emerged, there would be strong similarities with the crises which had affected the welfare sector in recent decades, such as the Aboriginal Stolen Generations and Forgotten Australians.

He said while the mothers and children were well cared for, suffering as a result of the forced separation continued.

"I'm surprised more organisations have not acknowledged this (forced adoption) was something they were 1involved in and made some sort of statement," Mr Schrapel said.

He said the decision to accept responsibility came after church leaders had read moving accounts to a current Senate inquiry into forced adoptions, which many victims said occurred at the Kate Cocks Memorial Babies Home at Brighton.

"Knowing what the practices and attitudes of the time were elsewhere, we have to say they are highly likely to have happened," Mr Schrapel said.

"I don't think you could have that many people telling these heart-rending stories for it not to be true.

"We weren't on our own in this in SA but I think it is the first acceptance here.

"I have no doubt that this will be the case for other organisations which were helping mothers at the time and hospitals it was the prevailing way the business was done."

SA-based National Council of Single Mothers and Their Children chief executive Terese Edwards said she was "ecstatic" with the acknowledgement by the Uniting Church and called on other groups to follow the example.

"We are ecstatic because it gives a precedent and sets the bar to start correcting the wrongs," she said.

"Records have not been kept, or they have been lost, people were told their babies had died sometimes; so this sort of validation and acknowledgement are the first important things that can happen."

Kangaroo Island resident Mireille Dreimanis said she was forced to give up her son for adoption through the Catholic Church in 1970 and after the birth was even refused access to him in the Manly Hospital nursery.

Ms Dreimanis, who was not reunited with her son for decades, welcomed the Uniting Church decision.

"I was drugged and I protested, but it was all the authorities against us," she said.

Since the 1920s, when church groups set up adoption services at homes to care for pregnant single mothers, around 300,000 Australian babies were adopted the vast majority before single-mothers' welfare support became available in 1973.

In SA, around 29,000 adoptions occurred but with churches denying women were pressured to give up their babies, there are no records of how many were forced adoptions.

Mr Schrapel said fire had destroyed all records at the Kate Cocks home, which was opened by the Methodist Church in 1937 and closed in 1976 because of a social trend for single mothers to keep their children and accept welfare payments until they could return to work.

The Uniting Church is the first SA group to accept responsibility for the problem, but in NSW the Benevolent Society has accepted responsibility, Catholic Health Australia and the Western Australian government have apologised.

A spokeswoman for the Catholic Church could not provide details of adoption services provided in Adelaide and the Anglican Church said it could not find any examples of it practising forced adoption.

UnitingCare Wesley wants women who suffered because of past adoption practices to contact them at 10 Pitt St Adelaide, or on 8202 5886.

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“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning . . . and the most disquieting loneliness." 

Alex Haley, Author of Roots 





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