Catholic Health Australia (CHA) has endorsed the call for a national apology for past adoption policies, including forced adoption that affected up to 150,000 children and mothers.
The Senate Inquiry report into past adoption policies and practices has proposed the national apology following its investigations which started on November 15 2010 and, because of the huge volume of submissions, extended its deadline to February 2012.
Catholic Health Australia (CHA) was one of more than 400 organisations and individuals that made a submission to the inquiry.
CHA last year issued its own apology to those, "who carry broken hearts as a result of the role that some Catholic organisations played in this widespread, common public policy practice of years past.”
The health group, which represents 75 hospitals and 550 residential and community aged care services operated by the Catholic Church, wants all state and territory governments in Australia acknowledge that ongoing pain has been caused for many as a result of past adoption policies, and a national government apology as part of the healing process for many affected people.
CHA chief executive officer Martin Laverty said he is pleased that many of the recommendations his organisation made to the Inquiry have been embraced because, "we think they are concrete steps that can help those affected by past adoption practices move towards healing."
Mr Laverty proposed to the community and disability service ministers of all states and territories a four-step plan to help progress the healing process for those affected by past adoption policies.
These are, a new nationally co-ordinated programme to facilitate improved access to medical, birth and social work records; a national fund supporting access to tailored counselling for mothers, fathers, adopted children, their siblings and parents who have cared for adopted children; a national process to hear grievances of birth mothers about their birth experience or consent procedure, and; a national apology supported by all governments, recognising that the Western Australian Government has already taken this step.
Mr Laverty said, "A New South Wales parliamentary inquiry was held more than a decade ago. I've met birth mothers who gave evidence to that inquiry, and those years later they feel little has been done. The same mistake can't be made this time, and the report of the Senate Inquiry should lead to a national apology."
Lily Arthur, who co-ordinates support group Origins, says an apology, "is a way of doing a Pontius Pilate," allowing authorities and institutions to wash their hands of the problem.
Mrs Arthur, who works with organisations including the Aboriginal community’s Stolen Generations and the Forgotten Australians, who have already been given an apology, has seen, "first-hand," how little tangible difference it made to people's lives.
For an apology to have meaning, victims of forced adoption needed a small Centrelink allowance "so they can get some things in life to make them comfortable,” she said.
The Stolen Generations (also stolen children) refers to those children of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were removed from their families by the Australian Federal and State government agencies and church missions, under acts of their respective parliaments.
The first law the Victorian Aboriginal Protection Act 1869, gave the colony powers over Aboriginal and so called, half-caste persons, including the forcible removal of children from what were deemed ‘at risk' girls.
By 1950, similar policies and legislation had been adopted by other states and territories and authorities were promoting the fostering / adoption of Aboriginal children by white parents.
The inquiry into the period of the late 1950s to mid-1970s covers ‘forced’ adoption of babies of mostly young and unmarried mothers.
The number of adoptions from 1951 to 1975 was between 140,000 and 150,000.
Total adoptions from 1940 to now are well in excess of 210,000, and could be as high as 250,000.
Now there are new adoption laws and there were 412 adoptions in 2009 to 2010.
The common practice between the 1950s and 1970s was that young single pregnant women were sent away to relatives or group homes operated by religious organisations.
Social workers and religious sisters usually recommended adoption to single mothers whose files were marked BFA or baby for adoption.
Their babies were removed at birth and sometimes kept on a separate floor until adoptive parents took them home.
Mothers often returned home to their families after the birth and were expected to continue with education or work, with no mention of the pregnancy.
Fathers almost never played a role in giving consent for adoption, mothers were discouraged from formally identifying them, and they were often barred from access to the hospital, the mother or the baby.