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Hospital sorry for forced adoptions

Alana Rosenbaum, Theage.com.au January 24, 2012

THE Royal Women's Hospital has admitted that single women were treated differently from married mothers until the mid-1970s and apologised for the pain and suffering that the practice caused.

The apology came as the hospital filed to a Senate inquiry into forced adoption a submission that admitted denying unwed mothers access to their babies. The submission said it was unlikely they were informed of options other than adoption.

The hospital's chief executive, Dale Fisher, said in a statement: ''I apologise to every woman who felt she had no choice but to relinquish her baby for adoption while in our care. I understand many relinquishing mothers experienced, and continue to experience, feelings of grief, pain, anger, helplessness and loss, and for this I apologise unreservedly.''

But the submission denied using illegal tactics to cajole women to give up their babies.

The apology follows a study of adoption practices at the hospital by historian Shurlee Swain titled ''Confinement and Delivery Practices in Relation to Single Women Confined at the Royal Women's Hospital 1945-1975''. The study acknowledged that unmarried mothers were:

■Denied access to newborn babies.

■Most likely denied information on options other than adoption.

■Treated in different wards to married women.

■Forced to endure longer labours to avoid Caesarean section.

■Routinely referred to social workers to discuss adoption.

Fiona Judd, director of the Centre for Women's Mental Health at the hospital, said such practices should be viewed in historical context.

''It's very different today, when a single mother can receive benefits, when a single mother is not stigmatised and discriminated against, when the family doesn't encourage her to go away for six months and have the baby so no one knows about it, and adopt the baby - these things don't happen today and we need to look at it in that context.''

Professor Judd would not comment on whether victims would be eligible for compensation, saying that was a government decision.

The apology has received a mixed

response from adoption advocacy groups. Kate O'Dwyer, convener of adoption grief counselling group ARMS, described it as a ''quasi-apology'', and called into question the claim that the hospital had not broken the law.

She cited the case of a 14-year-old mother who signed adoption papers in 1979, even though she was below the age of consent. Ms O'Dwyer said when the mother returned to the hospital a week later, she was told her baby had been adopted.

''What the Royal Women's Hospital is doing is retraumatising women with this quasi-apology,'' she said.

But VANISH, another advocacy group, welcomed the apology. ''What we know is that many relinquishing mothers remember what happened to them daily, and now someone in authority recognises their pain and loss,'' said VANISH manager Coleen Clare.

The Royal Women's Hospital is the first in Victoria to apologise for forced adoptions. In 2009, the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital issued an apology. That same year, the Western Australian government also said sorry.

There are no accurate figures on forced adoption in Australia, but advocacy groups estimate that more than 250,000 babies were taken away from the 1940s to the early 1980s.

The Senate is conducting the first nationwide study of forced adoption, examining the Commonwealth's role. The commission has received almost 400 submissions from relinquishing mothers, adopted children, advocacy groups and welfare organisations. The findings are due on February 29.

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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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