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Victoria must act on forced adoptions

18 November 2021

Forced adoption

A mother whose child was taken from her after birth under historical forced adoptions policies has urged the Victorian Government to adopt all of the recommendations of a parliamentary inquiry into the cruel practice. 

On September 8, the Legal and Social Issues Committee tabled its final report containing 56 recommendations, including the removal of the statute of limitations for legal claims and the establishment of a redress scheme for affected mothers and children. 

In an emotional address to the Legislative Assembly yesterday, State Member for Geelong Chris Couzens, who sits on the committee, acknowledged the ongoing pain of victims. 

“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. 

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

Barbara, who has chosen not to disclose her surname, said she was reunited with her son in 2013 after a law change allowing 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. 

“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.” 

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,” she said. 

“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.” 

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 significant stigma surrounding single parents. How many of those adoptions occurred without the consent of mothers is unknown. 

Find out more about the Victorian Forced Adoption Inquiry Recommendations here.

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