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Inquiry into Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices, Commonwealth of Australia


The Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices was a Senate Committee Inquiry that began in 2011. The Inquiry resulted from the efforts over many years of mothers who were separated from their children by adoption. The Senate Committee invited interested individuals and organisations to make submissions. It reported in February 2012.

The terms of reference were:

  1. The role, if any, of the Commonwealth Government, its policies and practices in contributing to forced adoption; and
  2. The potential role of the Commonwealth in developing a national framework to assist states and territories to address the consequences for the mothers, their families and children who were subject to forced adoption policies.

Using the submissions made to it, the Inquiry set out the experiences of birth mothers and fathers, people who had been adopted, and their relatives. It found the effects of forced adoption were far reaching and profound. It did not believe that social attitudes from the early twentieth century to the 1950s and 1960s were to blame for adoption policies of that period.

According to the Inquiry, the Commonwealth government’s ability to affect policy was limited because the jurisdiction for adoption belonged to the states. However, between 1961 and 1964, it did develop model legislation in conjunction with the States and Territories which they had all implemented by 1968. Some of the provisions in the legislation should have reduced the number of forced adoptions. However, the Inquiry concluded that the States and Territories did not enforce them adequately.

The Inquiry found that the Commonwealth affected outcomes for single mothers through its system of benefits. Until 1973, when it introduced the Supporting Parents’ Benefit, these were inadequate and poorly advertised. A number of submissions to the Inquiry showed that the lack of income for single mothers contributed to the adoption of many babies. Sometimes submissions gave this as the only reason for the adoption.

The Inquiry made 20 recommendations. These included the establishment of a national framework for addressing the results of forced adoption, a formal apology by Commonwealth, State, and Territory governments, specialised counselling services, funding of peer support groups by the Commonwealth government, and mechanisms for hearing and addressing grievances caused by governments and institutions. The Inquiry suggested that the Commonwealth lead discussions with the State and Territory governments about setting-up a financial reparation scheme. It made recommendations to simplify and assist with searches for birth families and to improve the information on birth certificates. Finally, the Inquiry proposed that the Commonwealth commission an exhibition to document the experiences of people affected by forced adoption.

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