For more than a year, Shine Lawyers has campaigned on behalf of Victorian mothers who, mainly during the 1950s to the 1970s, had their children forcibly taken and put up for adoption.
We support the recommendations made in the Inquiry into responses to historical forced adoption in Victoria report and call on the Victorian government to pass the recommendations into law.
What were the forced adoption practices in Victoria
Forced adoption refers to a range of policies and practices mothers were subject to in hospital, charity and non-government organisation care.
According to the report, forced adoption practices included:
- sending expectant mothers away from their family to maternity homes with harsh conditions
- mothers being subject to degrading or abusive treatment and being made to feel unfit to be mothers
- coercing or duping mothers into signing adoption consent forms, or dispending consent altogether
- separating mothers and children immediately after birth
- informing parents their child had died when this was false.
These are only some of the examples of forced adoption practices documented in Victoria.
Shine Lawyers represents a number of Victorian mothers who have told us of their traumatic experiences involving the forced adoption of their children.
"They were deemed to be unfit mothers, treated as social pariahs, and made to feel like they had done something wrong.,” says Cameron Tout, Legal Practice Manager and Special Counsel of Shine Lawyers Melbourne.
Forced Adoption statistics in Victoria
Given the deceptive practices discussed above, it is impossible to know exactly how many adoptions were forced in Victoria.
The evidence of forced adoption is for the most part drawn from the personal accounts of mothers who were victims of these policies.
The Victorian Adoption Network for Self Help (VANISH) included in their inquiry submission a graph comparing the number of adoptions in Victoria with key legislative and social changes.
Source: VANISH Inc., Submission to the Inquiry into responses to historical forced adoption in Victoria, p. 21.
The graph highlights how adoption peaked during the 1960s, coinciding with the height of forced adoptions. However, as laws and policies were introduced by the early 1970s to support mothers, along with the closure of institutions where adoption occurred like Maternity and Babies’ Homes, the rate of adoption fell considerably over time.
What the forced adoption inquiry recommended
In the final report tabled in parliament, the Legal and Social Issues Committee made 56 recommendations, to which the government has until early 2022 to formally respond.
The committee recommended, in keeping with Shine Lawyers' submissions, the creation of a redress scheme for mothers and children. The scheme should include financial compensation, counselling and psychological support.
"A redress scheme allows victims who don't wish to pursue a lawsuit to receive compensation without having to prove negligence by a defendant,” says Cameron.
It was further recommended the significant injury test be removed. If implemented, this would remove the significant legal burden placed on mothers.
“Forcing mothers to demonstrate the severity of the harm committed against them is both harrowing and impractical given the time elapsed,” Cameron concludes.
Shine Lawyers, welcomes the recommendations arising from the Victorian Parliament's inquiry into responses to historical forced adoptions and encourages the Victorian Government to implement these recommendations.
Statute of limitations removal recommended
The committee also endorsed Shine Lawyers’ further submission on the abolition of the statute of limitations with regard to forced adoptions, similar to how it was removed in cases of historical child sexual abuse.
"We are thrilled the Legal and Social Issues Committee has listened to the mothers who called for the removal of the statute of limitations.
"For too long, this has acted as a barrier to justice for women whose children were illegally taken from them by the State,” says Cameron.
The next steps for survivors of forced adoption
The report and its recommendations are the culmination of decades of brave and hard-fought work by our clients for recognition of, and restitution for, the harms caused by forced adoption.
Our expert team are here to listen to you, act on your behalf and help you to access the compensation you deserve. Contact us today for obligation-free legal advice.
For more information on forced adoption, the Department of Social Services have produced a fact sheet - History and experiences of forced adoption.
Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: October 11, 2021.