Australian Apology 2013

If you haven’t heard about the formal apology Australian adopted people and their natural  parents received on 21 March 2013 then check this out

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard – apology – 21 March 2013

What would an apology of this kind mean for you, your natural parents, your children, and the important people in your  life who you love and that love you?

‘Sorry’, a genuine sorry, can never repair what was severed, never take back the years of wondering, isolation, grief, and other feelings that followed at your heels through your life.  It can’t imbed memories of playing with your biological siblings as a child, or secure your natural mother’s gaze so firmly in your soul that you know no matter what she will always be your mum, or erase the non-belonging when some ‘relative’ inserted ‘blood is thicker than water’ in some conversation at a ‘family’ gathering - none of those.

However, a sincere apology will go some way to validate the sadness, loss and grief of our adoption.  It will not ‘fix’ adoption or bring ‘closure’.  But it will go some way to place the responsibility of our loss where it belongs, that is, outside of us.  It will say to those ignorant of adoption that adoption is not a happy ending – there is no ending.

Adopted is written in indelible ink at the deepest part of our being.  Whether we are conscious of it or not, it left an imprint about trust and love and vulnerability and courage on which we began to build our knowing of the world.

A sincere apology that comes from a thorough understanding of the impacts of adoption and its consequences over the past 60 years will go some way to empowering a large group of New Zealand women and men who have been shamed, silenced and patronised by the ignorance and/or guilt of many involved in adoption over that time.

National Radio adoption apology discussion – 22 July 2013

The New Zealand Government has not apologised for the wrongs of past adoption practices in New Zealand.  The Government’s line is, ‘there were no forced adoptions in New Zealand’ – that’s not at all congruent with the experiences birth mothers have shared with us.

If you didn’t hear the discussion broadcast on New Zealand National Radio about the possibility of an apology to people affected by adoption in New Zealand, then you can listen to it here:

National Radio asked Minister Collins, the Minister responsible for administering the Adoption Act 1955, for a response to the Australian apology with regard to New Zealand’s adoption past practice.  Minister Collins declined the invitation to join the discussion and instead gave the following written response which you can find here: )

New Zealand has never had an official policy of forced adoptions – rather it was societal pressure in New Zealand at the time, including from families and churches, that coerced birth mothers into giving up their babies.

In 1955 when our current Adoption Act was passed, the principal purpose of adoption was to benefit a child who had no parents or whose parents were unable or unwilling to care for it.   The Act has always required the parents’ or mother’s consent to the adoption (unless dispensed with by the Court) and it remains an offence to force a person to consent to the adoption of a child. 

 As a parent, and a former lawyer with extensive experience working with birth mothers, I feel greatly for the trauma and emotional pain they and their children have experienced. I know these mothers must have carried this loss throughout their lives.  It is unfortunate that our society was not as supportive of solo mothers as it could have been. At the time, New Zealand could have been a hard and difficult place for a young and unmarried mother.

Since 2000, there have been several reviews of adoption laws. In 2000, the Law Commission released a report, Adoption and its Alternatives. This was followed by an enquiry led by the Government Administration Committee in 2001.  In 2003 Associate Minister of Justice Lianne Dalziel submitted a paper to the Cabinet proposing amendments our adoption law. In 2007 these proposals were updated, but on both occasions, no further action was taken.

Adoption practices have changed significantly in recent years – they are now much more open and focused on the best interests of the child. Fewer children are in need of adoption and there are more alternatives including guardianship orders and parenting orders from the Family Court.

While we can’t change the past or attitudes that existed at the time, we acknowledge that New Zealand society has come a long way. Society now recognises women’s need for care and support, not society’s judgement.  In hindsight I’m sure New Zealanders have a greater understanding of the loss, regret and sorrow these women and children have lived with, and would join me in saying we would never want to see it happen again.

 July 2013 – Reader’s response to the Minister’s statement above:

I truly don’t understand why it’s so hard to acknowledge that women, men, grandmas, granddads, siblings etc had their babies unwillingly taken from them!! And that we [adopted people] were expected to be grateful, silent, mindful of the adult needs around us, quietly compliant, and well-adjusted adopted people (due to the improved ‘opportunities’ and ‘legitimacy’ that adoption gave us).  Even though living under this pressure distorted our connection to our authentic selves, and of course, to others. 

When the Minister and her advisers actually place the child at the centre of their decision making about this and ALL other adoption matters, they will see past their own guilt, shame and self-imposed recriminations to see those of us affected by past adoption policies primarily want acknowledgement of a wrong that has (for better or worse) affected our entire lives to a greater or lesser degree, and, for that matter, the lives of our children, our partners, our friends, and pretty much most people we have some kind of relationships with.  
I detect some guilt laden Orwellian new-speak in the Minister’s response!!! She has clearly not been adequately advised prior to her making that response, or she is simply arrogant, perhaps both is the case!!”

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