Vic to say sorry for forced adoptions

JO Fraser returns to the place where her son was taken from her at birth more than 40 years ago on the first Saturday of every month.

By Melissa Jenkins

August 16, 2012 / The Australian

The old Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital site is now the Queen Victoria Women's Centre and hosts support group meetings for mothers who had their babies forcibly put up for adoption at a time when society thought marriage was a prerequisite for motherhood.

Forced adoptions of children born to single mothers was widespread in Australia during the period from the 1950s to the 1970s when up to 250,000 babies taken.

Many younger people cannot comprehend Ms Fraser's experience and wonder how such a thing could have happened, she says.

"Things have changed so much that they just really can't understand how completely different it was back then," Ms Fraser told AAP after the Victorian government this week announced it would apologise to people touched by past forced adoptions.

"You can't imagine it, it's just too horrible to think about."

She says it was not her choice and as a 17-year-old, she just did what she was told.

"I didn't have any of those terrible things happen to me where I was drugged or ... handcuffed or tied to the bed or told that my baby was dead," she said.

"(But) it hasn't made it any easier to lose a child."

Years before finding her son, Ms Fraser wrote several letters to the Department of Human Services, which she did not send, wanting to find out if he was okay.

"That's the worst part, really - you don't know if your child's dead or alive."

After his 18th birthday she tracked her son down and the pair reconnected when she was 38.

He now has an ongoing relationship with Ms Fraser and her two other children.

The Victorian parliament will hold a joint session for the formal apology on October 25.

Governments in Western Australia and South Australia have already said sorry, while the federal and Tasmanian governments will also apologise.

It follows a Senate committee recommending in February that Australian governments formally apologise to mothers and children who were victims of past forced adoption practices.

Catholic Health Australia and the Uniting Church have also offered apologies, as well as Melbourne's Royal Women's Hospital.

But how much is sorry worth?

Ms Fraser says apologies do matter and are part of the healing process if they are unqualified and genuine.

She said the Royal Women's Hospital statement was a "dreadful Clayton's apology".

In its January statement, the hospital said about 45 per cent of single women who gave birth there between 1945 and 1975 relinquished their babies for adoption.

The hospital noted there was no evidence of illegal practices or of policies that discriminated specifically against single mothers.

The door may open to compensation payments after the state government apology.

The Senate committee recommended the Commonwealth lead discussions with states and territories about the establishment of compensation schemes.

Victorian Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge said the government would announce its response to the committee's recommendations when the formal apology was delivered.

Slater & Gordon specialist public liability lawyer Barrie Woollacott said the government should set up a compensation fund.

"The law makes it very difficult for individuals to pursue a state government for these sorts of policy practices in the distant past," he told AAP.

"It's really for that reason that it's appropriate that the state government set up a fund to compensate the victims and not make them jump through legal hurdles for the mistakes of past governments."

Ms Fraser wants government funding for counselling services across metropolitan and regional Victoria.

"While part of the apology we believe should be some sort of reparation, it's not necessarily money as such that we're looking for," she said.

"How much is your child worth? You can't put monetary value on losing a baby."


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