Coping with Forced Adoption July 2015

Sarah* knew she was adopted from a very young age.

“Mum was good like that,” she said. “She and Dad were open with me.

“I have always known that I was adopted, that I was part of a loving family. But I never knew who my birth parents were. I have wondered if I have brothers or sisters? How my life may have been different? Why I wasn’t brought up by my birth family?

“I’m not complaining. Growing up my parents were wonderful, they housed me, dressed me, educated me, gave me a family. But now as an adult, thinking about having children of my own, I can’t help but wonder who my mother was. What I inherited from her and what I need to know before I have children.”

Between the 1950’s and 1970’s there were an estimated 150,000 adoptions in Australia. While the exact numbers are unknown, a significant number of these adoptions involved the placement of babies of often young and single mothers. Many adoptions were arranged without consent, where the young mothers were given little or no choice. The adoptions were carried out using dishonest and unethical practices, were illegal and now described as “forced”.

Forced adoption had two key features: the application of “clean break theory” and the framework of “closed adoption”.

Clean break theory involved the removal of a baby from the mother immediately after birth, often with no contact taking place between parent and child, followed by permanent placement of the baby with an adopting family within a period of several weeks.

Closed adoption involved the sealing of the record of adoption. The records were closed so that the parties to the adoption remained permanently unaware of the identity of the other parties.**

Because of the stigma attached to being born out of wedlock, and the absence of any financial support for single mothers, there was a widespread view at the time that adopting out the babies of unmarried mothers was in the “best interest of the child.” ***

But of course the consequences of these practices are far reaching, often causing harm, anguish and suffering for those affected including, the mothers, fathers, people who were adopted and their families.
Relationships Australia Northern Territory provides an information, referral and support service for those affected by Forced Adoption practices.

Support includes information about Forced Adoption, referrals to appropriate counselling services, assistance in how to apply for adoption records and a friendly staff member to keep in contact with you through the process.

So, if like Sarah, you are affected by Forced Adoption or want to find out more, please call Relationships Australia on (08) 8923 4999 or FREE CALL 1800 21 03 13. This free call service was set up to reflect National Apology Day 21 March 2013.

Visit the National Website on or the Australian Government Department of Social Services
Further information for mothers and fathers who have lost a child to adoption can also be found here:

*Sarah, not her real name
**Kenny et al. 2012, 009-10
*** “Today’s policies are tomorrow’s apologies” the Age Melbourne

kathy belinda and marie kathy and chris

Relationships Australia Northern Territory launched the new Forced Adoption Support Service on 28 July 2015.
The launched included a Welcome to Country by Larrakeyah man Darryn Wilson, an introduction to the service by CEO Marie Morrison and information about the ongoing trauma associated with Forced Adoption by Director of Early Intervention Services Belinda Emmerson-Whyte.
Launch guests then watched the National Archives of Australia Without Consent exhibition launch DVD with David Fricker’s speech, Professor Nahum Mushin, who was appointed as the chair of the Australian Government’s Past Forced Adoptions Implementation Working Group, MP Julia Gillard’s speech, and Without Consent exhibition introduction and explanation by Louise Doyle and Amy Lay.
The DVD for the Without Consent exhibition launch is available for viewing on the NAAs Forced Adoptions website at on

belinda speaking watching the launch of without consent