Saturday, December 21, 2013

The power of celebrity to change adoption laws

What Deborra Lee Furness and Tony Abbot need to read and digest before touting their pro-adoption propaganda and changing legislation regarding inter-country and domestic adoption laws.

Adoption of children should never be about the prospective adoptive parents' belief in their unalienable right to possess a child that takes precedence over the rights of the child and its parents. 

Over the past forty plus years in Australia there have been state and federal inquiries into adoption practices, yet here we have a star struck PM, bending to the demands of the rich and famous and the female power brokers of his party, on the verge of undoing the progress made at great financial and personal costs. DLF speaks of the child's right to a 'forever family'. I ask what of the child's right to genetic and cultural identity. 

Read the experiences below of those adopted within the familiar culture of this country and then add the additional trauma of being suddenly cast into a world of different sights, smells and sounds, where skin colour is alien and language unfamiliar, a condition even the best of intentions cannot erase. 

Excerpt from:

Australian Institute of Family Studies, Australian Government

Past Adoption Experiences: National Research Study on the Service Response to Past Adoption Practices

7.6 Childhood experiences

Relationship with adoptive parents

In the initial version of the survey, which went live in August 2011, the question about adoptee's views of their relationship to their adoptive parents was asked about both parents in a single question (n = 140) (see Table C11). After revisions to the survey instrument, which was released in December 2011, respondents (n = 683) were asked their views about each adoptive parent separately.
Overall, respondents to the question about both adoptive parents described the relationship with them as being either good or very good when growing up (54%). For those who responded about their adoptive parents individually, 26% had a poor or very poor relationship with their mother, and 18% had a poor or very poor relationship with their father when growing up.
Focus group discussions showed a broad range of perspectives regarding the quality of relationships with their adoptive parents and other family members while growing up, from extremely positive and loving, to the adoptees being subjected to physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse. These experiences will now be discussed.

Positive experiences

For many study participants, on average, their adoption provided them with affirming experiences throughout their childhood as well as now (see Table C11). For some, their reasons for participating in this study were to communicate how positively they viewed their experiences growing up, and the normality of simply being in a family that is supportive and loving, regardless of how it originated:
I have had a wonderful experience of adoption. My parents were very open about the adoption and always framed it for my brother and I in a positive way. I believe that adoptive parents play a vital part in helping an adopted child to develop a positive identity and self-image. One that encompasses both their birth heritage and their adoptive family. My family is just as real as any other family, and the bond is just as strong, regardless of the lack of biological ties. (698, 2012)
I wanted to complete this survey to show that adoption can have a positive impact on a person's life and does not necessarily have negative consequences or lead to difficult emotional issues. (727, 2012)
It has only ever been positive for my family, which I know is a rarity. My birth parents married a few years after having me, so I have three siblings as well as the brother I grew up with. My birth father always calls my adoptive father on Father's Day. My children have extra grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles and great grandparents. It has been readily accepted by all concerned and, despite a few hurdles early on, it has been a positive experience. I like to think that I am loved by two different families who, together, become my one big family. (18, 2012)
I grew up feeling extremely special and very much wanted and needed. (64, 2011)
It hasn't affected me like so many other people it has. I have had an awesome and supportive upbringing. I have a close family and very supportive friends. Yet there are others out there who haven't had this. (73, 2011)
I'm a very lucky person. I have been loved and treasured all my life by my parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles, etc. I've never felt not wanted - only loved. (85, 2011)
I have no negative issues from being adopted. I was raised in a very loving environment so I was very appreciative then and now. (303, 2011)
However, it should also be noted that there is a distinction between having had a positive experience of childhood and whether or not study participants experienced any negative effects as a consequence of being adopted. The two are not mutually exclusive. This subject is discussed in more detail in section 7.7.

Negative experiences

Just over half of the adoptees reported a wide range of negative experiences, including being treated differently and feeling different to the adoptive parent's biological children, never feeling wanted, and living with secrecy and lies and even abuse:
I never felt that they accepted me for being different. I wonder if unconsciously I was trying to fit in for a while. I think I'd given up myself in order to belong. We had to go our own ways, or I had to give up a big part of myself to be part of the family. I wish I'd been stronger and gone, "Stuff you, this is how I am". (Adoptee, Victoria)
I never received a cent from those two. I asked for help once, never got it. I was never treated like a daughter. (Adoptee, Qld)
I'd had a great upbringing and good school etc., but to me, it's not about that. It's more about the feeling that I didn't belong. It didn't matter if I went to a private school or whatever, because I still didn't belong … So in some ways, I would have preferred to stay with my natural parents and deal with whatever life they gave me. (Adoptee, Victoria)
I felt different from my brother and sisters who had not been adopted. I felt as though I was welcomed, but didn't really belong. (834, 2012)
This treatment extended to attitudes from the extended family members of some participants:
My grandfather said, ever since I was a tot, "You are not blood. You will get nothing, but I will look after you until you go into the workforce or whatever you want to do". (Adoptee, Qld)
There were parts of the family where we were treated differently because we weren't blood. (Adoptee, Victoria)
There was a difference, however, between feeling lucky or special and being told they were lucky or special, which for many study participants subsequently led to feelings of needing to be grateful for something:
People would come up to me and say, "You don't know how lucky you are". Lucky that what? They put some clothes on my back? (Adoptee, Victoria)
We were told by my adoptive parents that we were special - I did not feel special, I felt different. (679, 2012)
The conflicting messages, where people are saying you are so lucky to be adopted into this great family, that had me think, well what was so bad about those people, and therefore what's wrong with me because I'm a part of them? (Adoptee, Victoria)
I always knew, but when I was young, I didn't really understand what it meant. I remember being told constantly that I should feel very lucky. (558, 2012)
I always remember feeling like I was acquired, like one acquires something they want. With that comes the feeling that you are expected to "be" something particular for the person who selected you. (1063, 2012)
Participants spoke about the stigma associated with being adopted. Comments were made such as "coming from tainted/bad blood", or being "painted with the same brush as your mother":
If I ever did anything wrong, it was because I was adopted and had "bad blood". It was brought up all the time on family outings, in front of the neighbours and relatives. (1662, 2012)
I have always not felt part of my family, as my brother was their blood and I wasn't. (182, 2012)
I was a little young to fully understand, but there was a stigma with this in the 70s, which made me sad. (1485, 2012)
I was getting chastised one time and was crying for my "mum". [A woman] said, "[name] isn't your mother, you're illegitimate. Your mother was no good and you'll turn out no good too". (1763, 2012)
Then the kids started to bully me and make fun of me and so I actually turned around and said that I had lied [about being adopted] - I just did it because I was wanting attention … That sense of shame that something was wrong. (Adoptee, Victoria)
I lived my life being told that God didn't want me because my natural mother was unmarried. These people were extremely religious. I was made to live my childhood praying and asking God for forgiveness for being conceived, and constantly told that he wouldn't forgive me anyway. (1771, 2012)
The names I was called and the way I was treated at school - it is a real surprise I didn't become extremely violent. (Adoptee, SA)
I told my best friend and she told other people, and I remember feeling ashamed and felt I had to hide the fact that I was adopted. (1680, 2012)
I was devastated that what the other kids at school were saying about me was true. I felt that I didn't belong to anyone. (1744, 2012)
Of particular concern is that quite a number of participants reported suffering abuse in the adoptive family environment.
Note: The following accounts contain information that may cause distress to the reader. We advise that those who have been affected by past adoptions or are sensitive to trauma issues may wish to avoid reading them, or ensure that appropriate support is available.
Adoption has been the single most damaging event in my life. It robbed me of the knowledge of who I am, leaving me to live in a limbo of disconnectedness - a place of not belonging, adopted into a dysfunctional family where fear and abuse were the only parenting skills used. I was passed into institutions as a flawed and failed human being. With no follow-up on adoptions into my family, the abuse went undetected and any aberrations in behaviour were seen to be the child's fault. (16, 2011)
What more information do you want? I was socially, sexually, legally, medically, physically, psychologically and financially abused. I was left with nothing. Not even clothes or a home to live in. I had no education and I had to fend for myself. Had I been left in the hands of my adopting family or the hands of the government, I would have died a long time ago. (35, 2011)
I was told by my adoptive parents that I was someone else's rubbish. (134, 2011)
In my experience, my adopted parents should never have passed the psychological test, if they even had it back then. I was told over and over that they should have left us in the orphanage, that I was "A wog or a coon" and I didn't belong to them. I was kicked out of home at 15 and told to go live in the gutter where I belong. (189, 2011)
There have been many times where I wished that I had been aborted rather than adopted. Not to sound dramatic, yet the experience has diminished my faith in both biological responsibility and adoption screening of potential adoptive parents. The adopted child is left to carry this burden. (314, 2011)
I was stolen from my mother who was unwell. I was given to people who wanted a daughter not a son, but were made to take me and wait two years to adopt a daughter. I was not wanted and was severely abused, unloved and disinherited. (359, 2011)
Some respondents who had not been placed with a family but remained in the care of the state reported that they had been subjected to medical experimentation, while others believed that they had been included in activities related to eugenics:
Orphaned boys were seen to be second class and government advocated to punish them. I was punished and tortured in a eugenics program by government. (14, 2011)
Many of those who had experienced abuse and neglect within their adoptive families felt that the issue of how their parents had been screened prior to adopting, as well as the lack of follow-up or monitoring by those who had organised their adoption, was of particular concern:
I strongly believe that more care should have been taken in the process - more home visits and involvement. Had that happened, then I strongly believe I would have been or should have been removed from that house. They adopted because back then, couples "had to have a child" and she had already had two miscarriages. [My mother] got a child for all the wrong reasons and was not able to provide. (51, 2012)
Where was the government's responsibility to ensure that the parents you were going to were safe? (Adoptee, NSW)
There couldn't have been any background checking, because there were quite a lot of longstanding issues before I was adopted into my family. (Adoptee, Qld)
My adoptive parents were shocking. My adoptive mum had a long history of mental illness and alcoholism. And they split up a year or two after me being adopted to them. And then I went through a series of foster homes, things like that. And I sort of shake my head and think: how the hell - who the hell - was making these decisions? (Adoptee, Qld)
Although a significant proportion of adoptees responding to our survey described positive personal experiences from the closed adoption period, this does not in any way minimise the significant number of adoptees who reported that their experience had been negative, and whose descriptions provide evidence of a range of ways in which closed adoption and the way it was practised in Australia until the late 1970s and early 1980s caused harm, distress and other ongoing effects. These effects are discussed in further detail below.

7.7 Effects of childhood experiences of adoption

The comparisons that come out whether people are better off adopted; I think that's a useless argument and I don't see any point in it. The issues are there. There are issues with being adopted. Whether we would have been better off or not is really beside the point, because you can't really understate the emotional ramifications that are lifelong for all parties. (Adoptee, Queensland)
The information presented thus far from study participants shows a relatively equal mix of positive and negative experiences. There are complexities across and within these experiences. Similar to mothers who participated in the study, people who were adopted were keen to reflect on their past experiences in detail in order for us to gain an understanding of how these experiences have played out over the course of their lives.
When asked whether they believed being adopted had had any effect on their health, behaviours or wellbeing while growing up, 69% of adoptee survey respondents agreed (see Table C2). (Six per cent did not know they were adopted until they were an adult, so could not respond to this question.)
The following section presents information on the effects of their childhood experiences of adoption. Firstly, we examine some common themes that emerged in both the survey results and focus group discussions, which related to issues of secrecy and lies, identity, abandonment, worthiness and attachment. These issues were described not only by those with negative experiences of growing up as an adopted child; challenges with identity and belonging were frequently presented by study participants, regardless of whether they had a "textbook perfect" upbringing, a relatively "normal" upbringing, or whether they had been subject to varying levels of abuse and neglect within their adoptive families.

Secrecy and lies

One of the most common themes to emerge from adoptees in relation to the effects of their adoption was the issue of the secrecy and lies that have been told over the years, with much of this still happening. Even though many knew from an early age that they had been adopted, they were often not allowed to talk about it or, if they did, their adoptive parents were elusive with the details. Some were even told that their mother was dead, which was later found out to be untrue:
That secrecy has continued. That sense of shame that something was wrong [with people knowing]. (Adoptee, Victoria)
I had been told, and believed growing up, that my birth mother had died during birth. I have since found out that was not the case and that she was only a teenager who was forced to give me up. (767, 2012)
Respondents said that they need to know the truth, and that they have been hurt by the dishonesty. They have felt cheated and invalidated; for example, some found out years later that others knew of their adoption when they didn't - a number mentioned that "everyone" appeared to know except them. This veil of secrecy has led to a loss of trust, a need for acceptance and fear of rejection:
I think the biggest thing for me was finding out how many people had known. As in: all of my extended family, in-laws that came into the family were always told, my husband was told. I was never to be told. (Adoptee, Victoria)
Every child I grew up with in my life, went to school with - and some of them are still my best friends - every single one of them knew I was adopted. Every single one. And they were under dire threats from their parents that if they let me know they would be in so much trouble. (Adoptee, Qld).
Some respondents who attended the focus groups said that participation in the current study was the first time they had discussed their adoption with anyone, and many appreciated the opportunity to speak with others who had had the experience of being adopted:
I have no real complaints about how I was treated by my adoptive parents. But I don't like some of the processes involved with this. I don't like the lying, and I don't like the fact that I don't trust any human being because I don't know who has got a hidden agenda or who knows something that I don't know. (Adoptee, SA)
That's where I find being adopted the worst thing. Because we spend our lives lying to each other and everyone around us. But we trust this piece of paper that someone wrote in two seconds, and basically in a lot of cases, they [mothers] didn't write it. When I first saw my piece of paper, it told me my father was four years older than he was and he had a different name, and all these things that weren't true. So we base everything and say, "Well, that piece of paper is going to be the truth", when actually, nothing has been the truth. (Adoptee, SA)
It's getting harder when you get older, because when you grow up you are told to lie in a way. I feel like I was brought up to lie about everything. I had a very good upbringing, but they didn't want to know really what I felt. So I gave them what they wanted to hear. (Adoptee, SA)
I wasn't allowed to talk about it, so it was completely closed and I had to pretend I was theirs. They pretended if we met anybody. I mean, their friends knew, but never once was it said out loud. (Adoptee, SA)
I felt different growing up and was ashamed of being adopted. My parents were trying to protect me and strongly suggested that I kept my adoption a secret. This had a big effect on my confidence. (40, 2011)


Two of the key themes also to emerge were issues relating to identity and belonging; that everyone has the right to know who they are and where they come from. Not having information about themselves was an issue for many, as was feeling like no one else understood what it was like to be adopted (particularly if they had not had the opportunity to discuss this with anyone else). The added complexity of knowing how to tell their own children who they are was also raised as an issue relating to identity for many in this respondent group:
I do believe it is the sense of belonging that has been a void. You do not always look like your adoptive parents. I would also not like to be the dirty little secret in my biological mother's life. By not acknowledging my birth to my siblings, I feel there is a certain shame about that time in her life. (596, 2012)
I had to pretend I was something I wasn't. I think that's really unfair, no matter how well you get on with your parents and your siblings. I love them, they were my parents, they were lovely to me. But I was always upset with them because I was a lie. I still have to lie today. (Adoptee, SA)
There were various reports of feeling different (e.g., "not feeling like I fit", "I was different to everyone and couldn't make sense of myself within that [family] unit"), and wanting or needing to feel a sense of "belonging somewhere in the world - making sense of where I fit":
I just need to accept that as an adoptee, I am a mixture of my birth parents and my adoptive parents. I have genetic, emotional and personality traits from my birth mother and have learned personality traits from my adoptive parents. Unfortunately, that makes me feel that I don't really fit with either parents and I just have to accept that. (218, 2012)
The feeling of not really belonging. (138, 2012)
I felt I didn't belong. My parents didn't understand me as I was so different - the way I thought. They just thought they would teach me to be like them, and I was different. I lacked self-esteem when I was young and didn't know why, and never felt I fitted in with school friends. (114, 2012)
I thought I was different to other kids. I worried that I had an intellectual disability and that was why I was adopted out. I didn't feel like I belonged to my extended family on my maternal side. I didn't look like anyone in the family, so I often felt alone, not part of something bigger. (152, 2012)
Some felt they were cut off from identification with any group in society:
We are not validated as people. We were given up because our mothers had to because of society's wishes. And we were adopted for a purpose, to fulfil a need in that family. And then if we didn't perform? You were discarded. (Adoptee, Qld)
I always felt different and alienated from everybody else … because they weren't adopted. (288, 2012)
I always felt that I lived a side-saddle life - not quite belonging anywhere, with few rights to access things I saw others access. (267, 2012)
Others had less of an issue with their sense of personal identity:
Being adopted is just a part of me that other people find interesting, but it is not who I am. (168, 2012)
The effects also varied according to when respondents found out that they were adopted:
And I think it's a human right for everyone. Everyone should have the right to know who they are. I think every person should be told they are adopted from a very early age. Because hearing these stories and hearing stories from late discovery adoptees - the lies and deceit. (Adoptee, Victoria)
Because I have always known, I believe that this has made me better adjusted, and it is others [who weren't told at a young age] that have trouble dealing with adoption. (297, 2012)
For late discovery adoptees in particular, the issue of identity was significant, as many felt that everything they had known about themselves to that point in time was untrue:
Absolutely let down. I had led a lie for my first 24 years of my life. Upon disclosure, a big black hole opened up for me - "Who was I really?" (1053, 2012)
Although I did not know I was adopted, I always felt different from the rest of the family. I did not think or behave within the norm for that family. I felt I did not belong and was constantly confused about the way I was treated by my parents. Greater expectations placed on me than my brothers. (401, 2012)
I felt my life had been a lie. (131, 2012)
Devastated. My whole life was a lie. I never got over it. (1138, 2012)


A number of participants reported feelings of abandonment ("I wasn't wanted") and the confusion of rationalising in their head that their mother didn't have a choice, but in their heart not being able to believe it ("She could have tried harder to keep me"). Some felt that if they had more information on the circumstances of their adoption, then it might lessen the feelings of abandonment:
I need help dealing with the issue of feeling abandoned by people. I have a low self-esteem because of this and I feel angry because I am stuck in this thought pattern. (255, 2012)
As an adopted person, you grow up with a feeling of insecurity and abandonment. As an adult, you can rationalise, but as a child you can't and you don't understand. (316, 2012)
I had always been told as a child it meant that I was special. As such, I felt privileged. As I grew older, this turned to feelings of rejection, as I could not understand why my mother "would not want me". (821, 2012)
I imagine most adoptees would feel some sense of rejection, even if they were able to understand the mothers' reason for letting them go. (1138, 2012)
Adoptees also talked about the "ever-present fear" of being sent back or given away ("If I don't behave, I'll be abandoned again"):
Children discarded by their own mothers, unlovable, unwanted … Believing we are less than deserving of respect, love, safety and truth, we play the game of fitting in to survive. We adapt to our new environment, pretending everything is OK for fear of being abandoned and rejected yet again. (Adoptee, Qld)
I often felt terror and feeling abandoned when left alone. (147, 2012)
Some participants spoke about how not knowing what happened to them between the time they were born and when they were placed with their adoptive parents plays on their minds:
She wasn't allowed to hold me or anything … I was in hospital I think for a couple of months because I was underweight. That's a period of my life that I'm really worried about. Having had children myself, I'm so attentive to them when they cry and when you breastfeed them. I sort of think, well two months in a hospital - who was really there? (Adoptee, Victoria)


A commonly reported experience reported by adoptees in this study, was the feeling that they had to show gratitude/appreciation to their adoptive parents for "taking them". This often resulted in over-achievement and over-compliance:
I've always felt my entire life indebted to them; that I owe them a debt. And therefore, if anything's ever happened to my parents, I've been the one to support them … I just feel constantly that I have to give, I have to give back. (Adoptee, Victoria)
I thought I should be grateful of having parents who loved and looked after me, therefore I never liked to ask for anything and tried to be very good and keep out of trouble. (610, 2012)
I tried overly hard to please my adoptive parents. I built a strong imaginary world that I lived in a lot, and built barriers between me and others. I was independent, strong-willed and didn't ever want to rely on any one else. I didn't want anyone to see me as weak. And took rejection (even that everyday rejection in the school yard) very badly. I was hurt a lot and although I appeared to be confident and happy, I was often sad, and was very happy to stay away from other kids and read books. (354, 2012)
I felt unsure of my position in my family - felt I had to "earn" my place in my family, felt an obligation in fact for my life and that I somehow had to be grateful for my very existence and justify being here. I had to be grateful for my life and the sacrifice others had made in order to adopt me. (463, 2012)
I have a strong desire to achieve. I feel I always need to prove myself to be good enough. (288, 2012)
Although being told you were special/chosen was in many ways a wonderful experience for participants ("We chose you because you were the one that smiled"), this often led to pressure associated with needing to uphold a certain level of behaviour ("I always felt I had to be happy"):
Feeling of inadequacy and of needing to be grateful someone had taken me, and had better be good and nice and likable. (357, 2012)
As previously mentioned, others, when talking to the adopted individual about their circumstance, often used the term "lucky". Many respondents felt this was a misnomer:
The terminology that people used for children, as being "We saved you". An adopted child's self-esteem is already low … You have a parent who says, "I saved you; you owe me". And now I am going to do something to you in a way that is morally wrong. The whole terminology leaves you already set up to be abused, whether it's by the [adoptive] parent, or by your spouse, or by your workplace or whatever. Because you see yourself somewhere else down the rung, and that you owe society just to breathe. (Adoptee, Queensland)
Many respondents questioned whether the adoption was done in the best interests of the child:
I remember yelling at someone saying, "Well I am just a parcel! No one asked me do you want to be given away? What's the right thing for me?" They talk about it being the best thing for the child, but that's bullshit. (Adoptee, SA)
It's a right to a healthy upbringing, not a privilege because we're adopted! (Adoptee, Queensland)


The flow-on effects of feeling like the "forever grateful adoptee" or being "unwanted" manifested themselves through many participants having difficulties throughout their lives with feeling worthy of anything good. This has affected many areas of their lives, including their relationships and career:
If only I could feel worthy … I am respected at work and loved by my husband and children, but I still feel like I belong on a scrapheap and one day everyone will realise that. (351, 2012)
What I need now is to find the courage to be the person who was "discarded" and honour myself as this; to "accept" myself and find a way to shake off the shame and the fear of being misunderstood. (573, 2012)
My biggest issue that has resulted from being adopted is a low self-worth. If I wasn't worthy of being kept and loved by my birth mother, then what am I worthy of? This affects me every day; I don't deserve to look nice, have clothes that fit. (241, 2012)
When I was a teenager, I sought out the different side of life - the bad boys, the bad lifestyle, the drugs, the alcohol, the running amok. Not caring about what people thought because you don't feel like you fit into society. So I felt like I didn't have to act like I was in society. I didn't care about people because they didn't care about me. (Adoptee, NSW)
The desire to prove myself worthy all the time. (451, 2012)


Attachment issues were common for study participants as a result of their adoption experience. Issues with attachment had an effect on some adopted individuals' childhood relationships - never getting close and trying to avoid being too clingy - as well as later on in life, such as their capacity to bond with their own children:
I intensely feared rejection and abandonment. I constantly needed reassurance that I was loved. I intensely feared making mistakes, any mistakes, to the point where it limited my ability to achieve. I had extreme difficulty making friends. I didn't trust people not to desert me. (704, 2012)
I have always expected a lot from my friendships. If they didn't give me as much as I was giving them, then I'd let them go. (Adoptee, Victoria).
I have been diagnosed with an attachment disorder. For me to try and navigate life, it's extremely difficult because I don't make attachments. I don't see love the way other people see love. For me, it's important that the government see that these are the ramifications and there are people who are out there that really need support. (Adoptee, NSW)
I didn't really bond at all with my own children. (Adoptee, WA)
I'm not sure if I'm properly connected in any of my relationships. (Adoptee, WA)

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For some reason I'm yet to fathom I'm unable to reply to comments left by others so thank you for dropping by and taking the time to read and comment. Merlene