King Edward Memorial Hospital drops ‘offensive’ forced adoption apology amid fight for redress

Holding up the adoption certificate she reluctantly signed as a mother of 15, Lisa Moore is still struggling to contain her outrage at the events of 40 years ago.

She chokes and wipes away tears as she recounts what happened after she fell pregnant by her 18-year-old boyfriend while growing up in suburban Perth in 1981.

Even though her parents offered to look after the baby, Ms Moore says the family were manipulated and lied to by social workers who were determined to adopt her unborn child.

“You’re told you can’t give them anything and the adoptive parents can give them everything, so you feel like a loser in a way,” she says.

“I was told that if I loved him, I would give him up.”

Baby snatch

After birth at King Edward Memorial Hospital in Perth, Ms Moore said her son was taken away before she could hold him.

“He was born and the nurse went to give him to me and the doctor said ‘no, you can’t do that, he’s up for adoption’,” she said.

The next day, she was given a birth registration document to sign that already had a boy’s name on it.

Lisa Moore was just 15 when she was forced to give up her baby for adoption in 1981.(Provided: Lisa Moore)

“They said the nurses named it after one of the doctors there,” she says.

“I couldn’t name him. Even that right was taken away from me.”

When her parents visited her in hospital and tried to see the baby, Ms Moore says they were escorted away by security.

And when she tried to see her newborn, she was taken back to her room and told that if she didn’t calm down, she would be sedated.

Little action since the apology

Ms Moore’s horrific story helped spark a public apology from Western Australia’s parliament in 2010 to women forced to give up their babies.

But 12 years later, Ms Moore – like many survivors of the forced adoption era – is still plagued with unanswered questions and broken promises.

Gillard apologizes for forced adoptions
In 2013, then Prime Minister Julia Gillard issued a historic apology to those affected by past forced adoption practices.(PA: Alan Porritt)

Despite WA’s apology and subsequent federal apology, as well as a Senate investigation, survivors say little has been done since to address the toll of mothers and adoptees (the children, now adults, who were adopted).

Ms Moore is backing calls for Western Australia to track Victoria and carry out a new investigation.

This week, adoptees pushing for a WA investigation won a small but significant victory.

A stork motif above the entrance to the King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women.
King Edward Memorial Hospital has removed the apology from its website.(720 ABC Perth: Emma Wynne )

After speaking to the ABC, the group secured key concessions from King Edward Memorial Hospital.

On Wednesday, the hospital agreed to remove a controversial “formal apology” from its website that angered survivors when it was posted in May.

They called it ‘untruthful’, ‘offensive’ and potentially triggering for mothers and adoptees because it didn’t really apologize for what the hospital had done, instead referring readers to the apologies of the State and national.

women standing in a group on the steps of parliament WA
Mothers from the ARMS WA support group say little has been done to support them since the state’s 2010 apology.(ABC News: Claire Moodie)

They said the so-called apology violated the Senate report’s recommendations that “formal apologies should always be accompanied by commitments to take concrete action that provides appropriate redress for past wrongs.”

Women and Newborn Health Service acting executive director Diane Barr told the ABC that she met with a member of the affected community to hear their concerns and reiterated her commitment to partner with the community to ” improve the statement of apologies”.

Access to medical records sought

Adoptee Jen McRae said the hospital was also committed to investigating how survivors could be better helped to obtain their medical records, a long-time bone of contention for those trying to piece together the missing pieces of their life.

Lisa Moore tried in 2008 to get her hands on her medical records but was told they had been misplaced.

Jen McRae standing in front of the hospital entrance
Jen McRae says there are many unanswered questions regarding forced adoptions in WA.(ABC News: Claire Moodie)

“I think I’m entitled to these records,” she says.

“I think maybe we should be more careful with the adoption records. This ‘can’t find them but that was the time then’ – sorry, that’s just not enough Well.

“I will never get back what was taken from me.”

Lasting trauma

Mrs Moore had to wait 26 years before finally meeting her son.

Although he lives in the UK, they now have a good relationship, albeit at a distance.

But she had to pay for specialist counseling to deal with the complex trauma mothers and adoptees often face.

“You go through life thinking you’re a bad person because good people don’t give up on babies,” she says.

Jen and Lynn sitting together looking at the camera
Jen McRae is working with Lynne Devine of ARMS WA to push for a WA investigation into forced adoptions.(ABC News: Claire Moodie)

According to the ARMS WA group, a support group for mothers separated from their children through adoption, free specialist counseling for all survivors of forced adoption should be made available.

In a statement, the Communities Department said a forced adoption support service run by Relationships WA offered “guidance and information services including support and counseling for anyone affected by adoption. forced”.

The free national service has been funded by the Federal Department of Social Services since 2014.

In Western Australia, it helped more than 100 clients last year with a range of services including records search, Centrelink apps and trauma-informed advice.

But ARMS WA coordinator Lynne Devine said the service, while caring and appreciated, does not have the time or funds to deal with severely traumatized clients.

“We need fully qualified psychologists and probably also psychiatrists who have studied in depth the difficulties created by forced separation through adoption,” she said.

“We have all experienced a profound and heartbreaking event committed on us by an indifferent society and in one way or another we have to live with the consequences and pretend to live a normal life.

“That’s not good enough.”

The group lobbied the state opposition to support a WA investigation.

“We need to come clean and we need an investigation because, quite simply, an apology without any support is somewhat of an empty vessel,” Ms Devine said.

Adoption investigation, repair appeal

Deputy Liberal Leader Libby Mettam is backing calls for WA to hold another inquiry, which could lead to the establishment of a redress scheme.

“The bipartisan apology that took place in 2010 was vitally important, but there is still a lot to do. There is a lot of wrong,” she says.

Libby Mettam, Liberal Deputy Leader
Libby Mettam backs calls for a new investigation into forced adoption.(ABC News: Claire Moodie)

“You have to look at what can be done to at least partly support these women, but also their children, a little better in the future.

“The stories I have heard so far are deeply heartbreaking, not just the coercion these mothers felt, but also the way they were treated in hospital.

“There’s a lot of trauma associated with these experiences, but also a lot of unanswered questions.”

The state government said recommendations from a number of reports and inquiries related to the forced adoption were being considered.

If you have been affected by a forced adoption, the Forced Adoption Assistance Service can be reached on 1300 364 277 or via their website here.

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