The key focus of the study is to improve knowledge about the extent and effects of past adoption practices, and to strengthen the evidence available to governments to address the current needs of individuals affected by past adoption practices, including information, counselling, search and contact services, and other supports.
The practices in Australia around the permanent transfer of parental legal rights and responsibilities from a child’s birth parent(s) to adoptive parent(s) have varied over time. The Australian Senate noted in their report on the Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices (Senate Community Affairs References Committee, 2012; “the Senate Inquiry”) that “adoption as it is now understood is a peculiarly twentieth century phenomenon” (p. 3). Not only have adoption practices in Australia undergone considerable change, so too have society’s responses to pregnancies outside of marriage and single motherhood. Until a range of social, legal and economic changes in the 1970s, unwed (single) women who were pregnant were encouraged—or forced—to “give up” their babies for adoption.
The shame and silence that surrounded pregnancy out of wedlock meant that these women were seen as “unfit” mothers. The practices at the time, called “closed adoption”, were seen as the solution. “Closed adoption” was where an adopted child’s original birth certificate was sealed forever and an amended birth certificate issued that established the child’s new identity and relationship with their adoptive family. Given the prevalence of adoption in Australia in the second half of the twentieth century— particularly in the 1960s and early 1970s—a significant proportion of the population has had some experience of or exposure to issues relating to adoption.
The rationale for conducting the current study—the National Research Study on the Service Response to Past Adoption Practices—is to improve the adequacy of the evidence base for understanding the issues and the needs of those affected. Despite there being a wealth of primary material, there has been little systematic research on the experience of past adoption practices in Australia. The focus has also been on mothers’ experiences of “forced adoption” and the experiences of adoptees, with less focus on fathers, adoptive parents and other family members.