The truth about forced adoption and how you can find someone who has been adopted
This article is written in conjunction with Joanna North Associates.
My name is David Oates, I am the Head Researcher at Relative Connections, you can view my LinkedIn by clicking here. I am also the director of the adoption support agency which is regulated by Ofsted.
A government report has just been released which talks about forced adoptions and the implications they had on birth families. If you or your birth family have experiences of adoption you will find it interesting.
Before we get into this report.
Please note that – All our adoption tracing and intermediary work for birth relatives is carried out by Joanna North Associates. JNA is an Ofsted registered Adoption Support Agency.
If you have an interest in searching for a birth relative via our adoption tracing. Please contact us on 0113 282 5900 and we can talk you through the process. If you choose to go ahead, we will pass you over to JNA to work with you.
To be 100% clear Relative Connections carry out no trace or intermediary work in relation to adoption. It is all done in its entirety by Joanna North Associates.
Now to talk about this incredible report and how it might affect you and your feelings
The topic of forced adoption has been in the news lately as a new government enquiry by the Joint Committee on Human Rights has been damning in its verdict towards the Government.
One of the lines even went as far to say, “The Government therefore bears responsibility for what happened to these mothers.”
But what does that mean for birth relatives and their desire for contact.
Firstly, we understand this is a huge issue for many families affected by adoption. This includes birth mothers, adoptees and the wider family network.
The report focuses on the period between 1949 when the adoption act 1949 was pass until and 1976 when the adoption act 1976 came into force.
It covers England and Wales. Interestingly though Scotland and Northern Ireland are having separate enquiries.
The report concludes that forced adoption may have affect up to 180,000 women during those years although there were probably many more adoptions.
Young women who became pregnant were deemed ‘feckless’ and unworthy of assistance. Ultimately women who were affected by narrow cultural values, misogyny, and disempowerment not to mention the fathers involved.
More than anything their Human right to family life was snatched from them causing incalculable harm.
Harriet Harman, MP for Camberwell, and Peckham since 1982, took up the mantle of understanding this civil wrong to women at this time.
She had heard many stories and deemed the common links in these events to be worthy of attention. Many countries have issued apologies for forced adoption including Australia in 2013.
Canada made an enquiry in 2018 but no apology was forthcoming. Ireland has had an enquiry and an apology was issued in 2021 for the ‘profound generational wrong visited upon Irish mothers.
Whilst the British government moved forward to an enquiry it continues to fall short of offering an apology.
As a result of Harriet Harman MP’s efforts and the brave women who shared their stories with her, the Joint Committee of Human Rights investigated this violation of family life between the years 1949-1976.
The report was published on 6th July 2022 and the findings and recommendations will bring relief and healing to many. Especially these mothers and their children who have lived in upset and shame since their teen years with immense psychological distress.
Their Human right to family life was snatched from them causing incalculable harm.
Societal Views and Pressures on Unmarried Mothers
The harmful behaviours stemmed from the assumption during these years that mothers could not care for their babies if they were single and that the babies would not have good lives.
Dr. Jatinder Sandu (October 2012) reported to the enquiry on her research into 20th century pregnancy when illegitimate pregnancy was rooted in shame and stigma and women were condemned morally and spiritually. Pregnancy out of wedlock was perceived as deviant and based on disturbance.
The Findings report (page 36 point 3). ‘The evidence we have received has done something towards setting the record straight on what actually happened to many unmarried women who became pregnant during the 50s, 60s and 70s, and the appalling way in which they were often treated by those whose job it was to help them – professionals such as social workers, medical staff including doctors, midwives and nurses and sadly often by their own family members.’
The report is particularly relevant to the work Joanna North Associates carry out as an Ofsted registered adoption support agency for adults. This work includes tracing birth families where adoption is involved.
There are many reasons for tracing family not the least the following:
The need to form a complete and coherent identity. Whilst many adopted parents give fantastic support and wonderful lives to adopted children, many adopted people are left with the question – who am I? In short this is epitomised when we commonly hear ‘nobody in my family looks like me’.
We take it for granted that we will look like others, and we forget that this gives an anchor to us that we exist in a tribe. Whilst adopted people will feel their adopted tribe there will be the stark reminders…. that their genetic origins belong somewhere else.
Overall, it is helpful for people just to say hello to their people, just as say those who belong to a global diaspora would rejoice in meeting their people and locking into the fundamental need to belong.
The need-to-know medical history of genetic parents to predict and understand the individuals’ medical needs.
For example, knowledge of a pre-disposition to diabetes, breast cancer, bowel cancer could be lifesaving.
Many adopted people face practical difficulties in putting in place plans for preventative medical care due to lack of access to their history.
This also means that there may be an inability to draw on benefits where they are indicated i.e. Free eye tests for people with a family history of glaucoma.
The need to know what happened. Many children adopted in this era were not afforded their right to know they were adopted, who they were born to and their history and heritage.
Somehow it was all forgotten. In modern adoption practice adoptive parents are encouraged to accept the triangular nature of adoption and let their children know that they had different parents at birth.
Young children accept this more easily and naturally, but it does not erase the sense that ‘I am different to you ’that children in birth families can easily take for granted. It is shocking to hear in this report that many children were told that their mothers ‘gave them away’. (Page 21 points 75). This in many cases is a false belief that is harmful and unhelpful. Rarely did mothers in this era give their children away.
In our work we are frequently having conversations with adopted people who believe their mothers gave them up and they are shocked and overwhelmed to find out the true story when they do meet up with their mums.
This by the way is not just anecdotal for us and we often find this information in the historic files that we receive from the adoption agency.
Is the child I had adopted still alive? We see many examples in our work of mother’s tracing children who were adopted who are now deceased. Often this is shocking news for them but none the less in many cases they are grateful to know.
Obviously searching for a birth parent who may be deceased is a common risk for children who search for birth parents.
The report recommends that the government should look at options to alert mothers to the death of a child who has been adopted. In many cases this sets a process in motion of grieving and resolution.
The Psychological Impact of Mental Pain of loss
The painful emotions of shame and guilt especially seem to affect mothers who have given babies up for adoption (but also fathers and the children themselves).
Many mothers come to us feeling dreadful about separation from their babies and struggling with emotions of guilt and shame combined with grief at their loss.
Babies were often removed during the years 1949-1976 because mothers were unmarried or very young during an era where this was deemed unacceptable. Mothers felt forced into having babies adopted, even, the report suggests, bullied, and harassed and treated unkindly at times.
They received no support from families, churches or social institutions and were often treated as if they were ‘bad’ people. It’s not surprising then that many young mothers came to believe this of themselves, blamed themselves for giving up their babies, and a lot of the mothers we meet have lived with guilt and shame and not been able to share this secret with anyone.
The JNA organization has always recognised that to treat young women in this way was shocking, wrong, and very harmful. We meet many of these young women in their senior years and recognise very quickly that this has caused them a lifetime of shame and mental pain and anguish.
The young women themselves were subject to sexism, racism, and class issues (more commonly referred to as intersectionality i.e., several issues conspiring against them).
They were demeaned, demonised, and rejected in a way that would not currently be acceptable. All these women needed was some support. Even if young women felt that they made good decisions to go ahead with adoption, they still have lived with guilt and shame. The system was wrong, and this latest report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights now recognises this fact.
The sexism of this era meant that young women seemed to be held responsible for their own pregnancy forgetting that it takes two people to form another human being.
The enquiry though heard of fathers being hurt by these events. Fathers were often prevented from putting their names on the birth certificate of the babies.
Saddest of all is that the couple where the baby would be adopted often on to marry and have more children. Further children did nothing to diminish the anguish of the loss of that first baby.
In the JNA organisation they frequently find couples who are still together and our adopted adults tracing their parents are at a loss to understand why they could not be together for them. The truth is that these adoptions were often forced and there was no choice. The report tells us that (page 12 point 31) that fathers who tried to support the mother were often excluded from the adoption process with instances of threats of arrest or prosecution.
It is perhaps hard for us to understand what it was like for women to live in an era when they had few choices about how to progress with pregnancy. Abortion was not legal in the Uk until 1968 when it became legal on a wide number of grounds up to 28 weeks of gestation.
We have to remember that there were few over the counter pregnancy tests and young women were afraid to be found out.
Often, they would try to dissociate from the fact of the pregnancy meaning that pregnancy was not noticed until it was too late.
So, it was not really an easy option in this era and it certainly was often considered another reason for living with shame to have an abortion.
Many women must have been terrified of the consequences of becoming pregnant, not only did they live without options, but they also lived with without emotional support.
It should also be noted that sex education was not a ‘thing’ during this era. Girls were not given good information about contraception and intercourse or even the importance of having a love life and consequently their choices were lessened.
As you can see this report is incredibly detailed and covers many areas of adoption. If you would like to read the full report or find out more about Joanna North Associates.
If you feel you need additional support, please contact – Mental Health Support Network provided by Chasing the Stigma | Hub of hope