December 13, 2012  |  

Apology For Past Forced Adoptions

I am pleased to be able to add my comments about this important apology for past forced adoption practices, which took place in this house on 25 October. It is now many years since Lyn Kinghorn wrote to me and then met with me to tell me about her experience of having her daughter, in her words, abducted. In listening to Lyn I gained an understanding of her experience and of the profound pain and distress caused by this system of unlawful adoptions, a system about which I had heard through the media but now appreciated through Lyn’s sharing of her personal account with me. Although the event had taken place nearly 50 years ago, in 1966, it was still very clear that Lyn’s pain was enduring. 

I talked with Lyn on the phone today and on the day of the apology, and I understand the pain she continues to go through. Although she is appreciative of the apology and is fortunate to have reunited with her daughter, Lyn’s emotions continue to run deep and tears continue to be shed. Like so many other mothers, children, fathers and family members, she continues to suffer and will continue to be traumatised.

Through Lyn I have learnt of the many past practices and policies which denied the human rights of so many. These practices were abusive and unlawful, and they contravened codes of professional conduct. Lyn tells me that when giving birth to her daughter she felt so alone. She was told by the people who were supposed to be caring for her that she had done a bad thing, that she was in no condition to be able to raise her baby and that the only responsible thing she could do was sign over her baby for adoption. Lyn was made to feel guilty and in her guilt give up her child. 

In relating this experience Lyn is very clear that this was a cruel process of coercion and deception and that it was a case of abduction of her baby. There was no advocacy and no truly independent third party to assist mothers at that time.

In talking about this Lyn talked about the Biblical story of the wise king Solomon, who as a means of solving a dispute between two mothers claiming to be the mother of the same baby declared that the baby should be cut in half, with half going to each mother. The Solomon story was resolved happily, as Solomon immediately returned the baby to the mother prepared to give up the baby rather than have it cut in half. However, in the case of these adoptions, the mothers gave up their babies, were cut off from their babies and sometimes never saw them again. 

Lyn acknowledges that she has been very fortunate since that time, meeting a wonderful supportive husband and having, I think, three more children. Lyn advises that her husband became her very first advocate and helped her to look for her daughter, but they were advised that all records had been burnt. It was not until her daughter had turned 18 that some records were eventually released and Lyn was given some assistance to find that daughter. I was pleased in October on the day of the apology to meet with Christine, now in her 40s, and with her mother and sisters, along with other family members. Lyn told me today that her grandchildren, both Christine’s children and the children of one of the other daughters, had become special friends and were excited about plans to share time together over the coming school holidays. It is a happy ending in some ways, but the reality is that it does not give back the lost years and does not take away the pain.

The relationship with her long lost daughter could not be the same as it is for a mother and daughter who had shared the bond of direct affection and love in their first days and developed that relationship through childhood. As Lyn said, ‘It’s like having an arm reattached’, and it takes time and much effort to try to make it work. It has been a tough story for Lyn. She is certainly appreciative that the story has ended better for her than for others, but it reminds me that it is still a tough situation and that no-one can replace those years of loss and no-one can overcome that hurt. While the apology is something that she is very pleased about, she knows that there is more to be done. 

I trust that this government and the Parliament will continue to recognise the needs of the mothers, the needs of the children and the needs of the fathers and others involved. I trust that they will talk to them and attempt to address those needs so that this apology really means something for those many people who were so poorly affected.