Australia: King Edward Memorial Hospital removes 'offensive' forced adoption apology amid redress fight

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Lisa Moore says she was coerced into giving up her baby for adoption at the age of 15. (ABC News: Claire Moodie) © Provided by ABC NEWS Lisa Moore says she was coerced into giving up her baby for adoption at the age of 15. (ABC News: Claire Moodie)

Holding up the adoption certificate she reluctantly signed as a 15-year-old mother, Lisa Moore still struggles to contain her outrage over the events of 40 years ago.

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

Even though her parents offered to look after the baby, Ms Moore says the family was manipulated and lied to by social workers who were hell-bent on adopting out her unborn child.

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"You’re told you can give them nothing and the adoptive parents can give them everything so you’re made to feel like a loser in a way," she says.

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

Baby snatched away

Following the birth at Perth's King Edward Memorial hospital, Ms Moore says her son was whisked 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 handed a birth registration document to sign that already had a boy's name on it.

"They said the nurses named him after one of the doctors there," she says.

"I didn't get to name him. Even that right was taken from me."

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

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And when she tried herself to see her newborn, she was taken back to her room and told if she did not calm down, she would be sedated.

Little action since apology

Ms Moore's horrific story helped to spark a public apology  by the West Australian parliament in 2010 to women forced to give up their babies.

But 12 years on, Ms Moore – like many survivors of the forced adoption era – is still plagued by unanswered questions and unfulfilled promises.

Despite the WA apology and a subsequent federal apology, as well as a senate inquiry, survivors say little has been done since to address the toll on both mothers and adoptees (the children, now adults, who were adopted out).

Ms Moore is backing calls for Western Australia to follow Victoria and hold a fresh inquiry.

This week, adoptees who and have been pushing for a WA inquiry, had a small but significant win.

After speaking out to the ABC, the group achieved some key concessions from King Edward Memorial Hospital.

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On Wednesday, the hospital agreed to take down a controversial  'formal apology' from its website which had enraged survivors when it was posted in May.

They had labelled it "not truthful", "offensive" and potentially triggering for both mothers and adoptees because it didn't actually apologise for what the hospital had done, instead referring readers to the state and national apologies.

They said the so-called apology breached recommendations from the senate report that said "formal apologies should always be accompanied by undertakings to take concrete actions that offer appropriate redress for past mistakes."

Women and Newborn Health Service acting executive director Diane Barr told the ABC she had met with an affected community member to hear their concerns and had reiterated her commitment to partner with the community to "improve the apology statement".

Medical records access sought

Adoptee Jen McRae says the hospital had also pledged to investigate how survivors could be better assisted to get hold of their medical records, long a bone of contention for those trying to put together the missing pieces of their lives.

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Lisa Moore tried in 2008 to get hold of her medical records but was told they had been mislaid.

"I think I'm entitled to those records," she says.

"I think maybe more care should be taken with adoption records. This 'can't find them but that was the times back then' — sorry, that's just not good enough.

"I will never get back what was taken from me."

Lasting trauma

Ms Moore had to wait 26 years before she finally met her son.

Although he lives in the United Kingdom, they now have a good, albeit long-distance relationship.

But she has had to pay for specialist counselling to cope with the complex trauma that both mothers and adoptees often face.

"You go through life thinking that you are a bad person because good people don't give babies up," she says.

Free specialised counselling for all forced adoption survivors should be made available according to the group ARMS WA, a support group for mothers separated from their children by adoption.

In a statement, the Department of Communities said a Forced Adoption Support Service run by Relationships WA offered "referral and information services that include support and counselling for anyone who has been affected by forced adoption".

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

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In Western Australia, it helped over 100 clients last financial year with a range of services including searching for records, Centrelink applications and trauma-informed counselling.

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

"We need fully qualified psychologists and probably psychiatrists as well who have studied in depth the difficulties created by enforced separation by adoption," she said.

"We have all lived a deep and soul-wrenching event committed upon us by an uncaring society and somehow we have to live with the aftermath and pretend to live normal lives.

"It is not good enough."

The group has been lobbying the State Opposition to support a WA inquiry.

"We need truth-telling and we need an inquiry because, quite simply, an apology without any back-up is a somewhat empty vessel," Ms Devine said.

Adoption inquiry, redress call

Deputy Liberal leader Libby Mettam supports calls for WA to hold another inquiry, which may lead to a redress scheme being set up.

"The bipartisan apology that happened in 2010 was vitally important but there is now more that needs to be done. There is a lot of hurt," she says.

"There does need to be some look into what can be done to at least in some part support these women, but also their children, a bit better going forward.

"The stories I have heard so far are deeply distressing, not just the coercion that 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 as well."

The state government said consideration was being given to the recommendations from a number of reports and inquiries related to forced adoption.

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

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