The following speech questions the legality of past adoption practices and establishes a need for a public inquiry.
by Pamela Sharp, Speech to The Hayward’s Heath Women’s Club November, 1999
Why do middle aged women have to lobby Parliament for a Public Inquiry into past adoption practice? To answer this I need to talk about the history of adoption.
Prior to 1926 – guardianship, wardship and the private adoption of mainly older children were the norm. The ‘bad blood theory’ prevented most people from adopting infants – as adopted parents wished to see how the child progressed before making a commitment
The 1926 Adoption Act was initiated so that adoptees could inherit, the increased stability (not the inherent secrecy) the Act gave to the adoptee/adoptive family was more a by-product of the 1926 act and had never really been considered a reason for the inception of the policy. Adoption was still only for untitled plebes, it was not legal for the landed gentry and the peers of the realm to bequeath their titles and estates to their adopted children, you see the aristocracy believed then as they still do today, in the blue blood line and pedigrees’.
The majority of adoptions preceding and post the 1926 act were still of older children, with a trickle of numbers approx. 5K per year up to the Second World War.
Child Migration accounted for a huge number of babies and children being sent to the colonies – over a 100k between 1900-1967. Some were as young as 18 months of age, all sent without parental consent, for economic and social/racial engineering purposes. At that time it cost 15s per week to keep a child in care in the UK, in 1948 in Australia it was half that amount. Australia was also terrified of being invaded by the ‘yellow peril’ and wanted to populate with good British Stock! The blasé attitude with which philanthropists and social workers administered child migration laid the foundation for the way unmarried mothers would be treated in the post-war period.
The history of social work is interwoven with the history of adoption. After the First World War women’s roles changed forever. They were expected to find paid employment – that is the ones that could not find a husband to keep them. There was a huge shortage of single men, and for the first time single middle class women looked for work. Many went into social work in private agencies with a philanthropic fervour (men had always done this work prior to the first world war) They brought with it a bitterness, punitiveness, and a huge chip of moral outrage to their undeserving clients who so desperately needed their help.
Jane Rowe a leading adoption social worker in the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s stated “White girls who have illegitimate babies by coloured men are often emotionally ill as well as socially defiant” Rowe further claimed “that married women having out-of wedlock children tend to be rather disturbed people. While the American middle-class girl flouting the conventions by an illegitimate pregnancy may well be emotionally sicker than her English, working-class cousins”.
Adoption didn’t begin in earnest until after the Second World War, following the inception of Beveridge’s 1948 National Assistance Act
Beveridge had expressed a patriarchal concern for the importance of children being reared in the proper domestic environment, and was anxious not in any way to encourage illegitimacy, or immorality. Evidence of patriarchal domination by Beveridge is revealed through his conditions of claim for divorced and separated women, a woman had to prove that she was the innocent party in a divorce or separation to claim a separate allowance. Beveridge’s document also encouraged a pervasive concern pertaining to reinforcing and encouraging marriage, which almost amounted to marriage being defined as a vital occupation and career. Welfare Benefits were only payable when certain standards of morality (as defined by the ruling patriarchy) were adhered to. Women ‘living in sin’ were targeted by this ‘new morality’ legislation, which in fact denied benefit to any woman cohabiting, this ruling and other similar practices were strictly enforced by an army of official snoopers, employed by the Government during the 50s, 60s and 70s.
The Church also jumped on this reproductive soapbox when the Archbishop of Canterbury declared to the Mothers Union in 1952, the “One child deliberately willed as the limit is no family at all but something of a misfortune, for child and parents. Two children accepted, as the ideal limit does not make a real family – a family only truly begins with three children’.
We now all know that this was Government propaganda at its finest, all that was missing was Lord Haw Haw narrating the plot. The Government had to get women out of the work-place and out of the factories where they had replaced the men-folk at war, get them back into the home, behind the kitchen sink, pregnant and barefoot were they belong, so that their men could have their jobs back and of course retain the power and control.
Bonnie Burstow provides the following clear definition of patriarchy: “In the world that elite males create and that other men and women are at once privileged and victimized by, women are less than men; Black and Red men are less than white men; Black and Red men’s women are less than white men’s women; the working class are less than the ruling class; nature is an expendable commodity to be exploited; and the objectifying stance on which this is all based is celebrated as the scientific method”.
It is quite important to understand what power has to do with adoption – it can be defined as follows: Some women have power over other women and benefit from maintaining the status quo. For example, it is not difficult to imagine how these relations of power may work in an area such as adoption, and that it was no accident that placements of children in adoption tend to mirror these relations of power – poor to rich; Black to White; ‘third world’ country to ‘developed’ country.
There has been approx. 890k adoption since 1926, of which 750k have been of infant/new-born babies, adoptions that have denied the natural mothers the opportunity to parent their offspring – babies adopted out to strangers. The majority were adopted in the 50s, 60s and 70s the golden year 1968 when there was 27.5k adoptions, in comparison last year there was 300 infant adoptions in the whole year – in 1968 there was 600 per week!
In fact there was such a surplus of babies at this time that babies with a squint/red hair were unadoptable, as were babies with minor handicaps. The majority of these babies were returned to the natural mother to rear, somehow she was capable of looking after a handicapped baby that would need expert care, but not of a normal healthy infant.
This was shameful and amoral, did all these women really reject their first born or was there a deeper more horrifying reason for this mass maternal rejection? If so did the Government augment a study into this holocaust?
Pat Basquill’s story The damage that coercive adoption inflicted upon the mother and child was well known by the professional’s involved within the adoption industry at this time, a 15 year study concluded in 1967 by Wilfred Jarvis a clinical psychologist in NSW states; “Mothers who surrender their children for adoption seem to suffer chronic bereavement for the rest of their lives. And, as if to complement this, adopted children usually manifest a keen and often obsessional wish to locate their natural mothers, which becomes dominant during adolescence”
Dr. Donald Gough spent many years studying unmarried mothers in the unmarried mother’s homes; he spoke to the Standing Conference of Adoption in 1962 about adoption being economic, punitive and a cure for infertility. If only he had known then that the barbaric result of this insidious practice would result in over one third of natural mother (250K) having secondary infertility.
Coercive adoption does not only affect the natural mother and child, it affects all other relatives; 750K natural fathers, grandparents, siblings and partners.
Irish siblings letter. So what went wrong? How did adoption become a cure for immorality, infertility, and economic drain? Easy because they could. Young vulnerable unsupported pregnant girls are easy pickings for powerful moral welfare workers, who have created a socio-system where coercive practice and bullying is the norm.
And a loving new unmarried mother is a bad immoral selfish girl who loves her baby too much if she wants to keep it for herself. There was also another hidden agenda, to keep their power and their jobs in the mainly private adoption agencies/unmarried mother’s homes – they also needed incomes.
Unbeknown to us the state paid these pariahs’s of society to take our babies and to treat us shamefully. They took our benefits, that we were entitled to and told us when we asked there was none available and our babies would starve in our care, all to proliferate their baby racket!
Adopted parents were charged vast sums of money by the private and church adoption agencies, some paying covenants years later.
In 1976 the adoption act was changed so that adult adoptees would have the right to information concerning their parentage. Natural mothers were not consulted about the effects that this would have on their lives, as many have lived a life of deceit and lies forced upon them at the point of adoption; ‘go away and forget it ever happened ‘ was a common theme amongst the judiciary at that time.
Imagine living your life being told to go away and forget, you never truly forget – sometimes you have ‘infantile amnesia’ a strategy to help you cope, you live your whole life not knowing whether your child is dead or alive’. A mother whose child is lost in battle suffers a similar experience, however at least she has had the chance to rear her child.
In May 1998 natural mother’s from all over the world attended a conference in Felixstowe, it was extremely empowering, cathartic and for me a watershed!
NPSG has initiated research into past adoption practice, and can confirm that the law has been broken over and over again. Between 1948/1976 natural mother’s were supposed to have been given the following choices: Foster Care, National Assistance, Welfare Support, Housing Benefits
For me adoption should be at the end of a very long road, at the end of a very long pier, at the end of the world, having swallowed a bottle of pills, with a noose around your neck, after consuming several bottles of spirits.
NPSG has been lobbying Parliament in London for a Public Inquiry into past adoption practice. We have the support of over a 100 MP’s, with Sir Teddy Taylor leading the cross party Common’s delegation. We have delivered many presentations in Westminster to many MP’s and only a handful has displayed disinterest – mainly adoptive parents.
If adoption is so good why don’t we all have our babies adopted? I don’t know a single mother from the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, who said; ‘take it, it cries to much, I want a good night out’.
Why do we need an Inquiry?
We were discredited – we became discreditable. We became silent – we need to speak and be heard. We were disempowered – we need empowerment. We were de-humanized – we need to regain our dignity. We were stigmatized/isolated/excluded – we need inclusion.
But most of all we need a Public Inquiry for our daughters, granddaughters – for like the Jewish Holocaust, if this injustice is never vindicated or acknowledged, what is to stop society repeating this tragedy against womankind.
For me there are only two reasons: 1. So that I can hold my head high and people can stop treating me as a victim as I am a survivor. 2. For my daughter – for she has lived her life believing that she was unwanted and unloved – and through this Inquiry she will be able to say – my mother did love/want me – illegal coercive practices took me from her.Posted with permission by Pamela Sharp at Natural Parents Support Group in England.