Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Social Affairs, Science and Technology
Issue No. 38 - Evidence - March 21, 2018
OTTAWA, Wednesday, March 21, 2018
The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology met this day at 4:19 p.m. to study issues relating to Canada’s post-war adoption mandate for unmarried mothers (topic: Canada’s post-war adoption mandate for unmarried mothers).
Senator Art Eggleton (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.
I’m Art Eggleton, chair of the committee, and I would ask my colleagues to introduce themselves.
Senator Petitclerc: Chantal Petitclerc from Quebec, deputy chair of the committee.
Senator Dean: Tony Dean, representing Ontario.
Senator Mégie: Marie-Françoise Mégie from Montreal, Quebec.
Senator Raine: Nancy Greene Raine from B.C.
Senator Seidman: Judith Seidman from Montreal, Quebec, and Deputy Chair of the committee.
Senator Poirier: I am Rose-May Poirier from New Brunswick.
The Chair: Today, we continue with the subject of Canada’s post-war adoption mandate for unmarried mothers. This is the second meeting. We heard from a number of mothers and representatives of organizations and also adoptees last evening. Today, we’re focusing on Australia because Australia has gone through the experience. This report that I have in front of me is the Community Affairs Reference Committee report on forced adoptions and policy practices, dated February 2012. I’m pleased to welcome the chair of that committee, by video conference, of course, Senator Rachel Siewert.
To you, senator, I would say good morning because it’s the morning of March 22, I believe, for you today. Today is the afternoon of March 21. I understand this is a signature day for this report and the apology that was issued, so we have this occasion to welcome you. Could we have your opening remarks, please?
Senator Rachel Siewert, Chair, Community Affairs Reference Committee for the Forced Adoption Inquiry, Senate of Australia: Yes, and thank you. This was a very important inquiry for us. You’re right, for us it’s March 22, yesterday was March 21, and it was in fact the fifth anniversary of the apology. Some of the recommendations from our report have been implemented, but a lot haven’t.
I’m going to keep my opening comments brief because you have the report. I think where I’ll go at the moment is that, as I said, some of the recommendations have been implemented and some haven’t. I was talking to an adoptee yesterday who outlined some of the ongoing issues for the mothers, the fathers and particularly the adoptees. They’re now starting to age as well, and there are a lot of issues that they still want resolved.
For example, for those in the report, you’ll see there’s a lot of discussion about access to records, which has not been resolved in this country in a lot of the states and for a lot of the mothers and families affected.
In terms of the birth certificates, you’ll see in Australia that the birth certificates were changed for adoptees such that it reflected the adopting parents’ names on the birth certificates. There’s a lot of distress where people are finding it hard to get their original birth certificates or get those birth certificates changed. They’re also still finding it hard to access records. Some have not been available; some have been destroyed.
They’re also wanting to be able to access, more broadly, DNA services, for example, and a lot of people are deeply concerned about the quality of the counselling, access to counselling and issues around redress that have still not been addressed. Those are some of the ongoing issues.
Back to you now. I’m very happy to answer your questions, and if I can’t answer them immediately, I’ll take them on notice.
The Chair: Perhaps I could start and then I’ll call on the deputy chairs.
I’m trying to determine how much of this is very similar to our conditions here. In Canada, of course, we have provinces. You have states. We had various entities, some of them maternity homes run by churches, that were part of the adoption mandate, as we call it. Have you the same situation there? Have the churches been involved also in the apology and in the follow-up that the report calls for?
What about the states? Have you had good cooperation from them? Are you helping to provide for a national framework that in fact would help guide all of this between your government and the state governments?
Ms. Siewert: I’ll go back to your first question in terms of the religious institutions. Yes, they were very heavily involved. A great deal of them gave a separate apology and then participated in the formal apology. There is still a lot of ill feeling among some of the mothers affected and also some of the adoptees. Some of the women affected don’t want anything to do with the institutions they are involved with. In a minute I will come back to an overall framework about some of the other things that were occurring at the same time because they are interlinked.
Some of the adoptees and the mothers involved want nothing to do with the churches, so if they’re offering counselling and support services, they actually don’t want to access them; they want to access independent counselling and other sorts of support services.
Around the same time the forced adoptions were occurring was around the time we had a lot of child migrants, the whole issue of child migrants from the U.K. who were also suffering a lot in institutions. We’ve had an apology to forgotten Australians, those who were put into institutions as children, and to former child migrants. There are a lot of ongoing issues there. You’re probably aware that there’s been a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse of children in institutions, and that handed down an enormous report at the end of last year. By the way, there’s going to be a formal apology to them. They’ve just established a committee, which I will be on, to develop that apology. So there are some ongoing issues there. Of course, then we’ve had an apology to the stolen generations of our First Peoples.
These three major issues are quite interlinked. The institutions were involved in all of those situations, so sometimes it’s difficult to unwind some of that, given the breadth of the issues we’re dealing with. I think you’ve had very similar situations as well, so some of the relationships with the churches and the religious organizations aren’t very good, but most of them are trying to reach out and offer support.
In terms of the states, yes, we have a very similar situation to you. Each of the states is responsible for adoption laws. I’ll come back to the adoption laws in a minute. We also have two territories, the Northern Territory and the ACT, for which the Commonwealth is more responsible and has more of an involvement and ability to try and influence some of the rules. They also have their own parliaments, but it’s a bit of a different relationship.
In terms of the adoption laws, the Commonwealth was involved in the 1960s in setting up model adoption legislation, which is why a lot of us feel they are directly involved in this issue.
The Commonwealth, however, cannot force the states to implement model legislation, although most of the states did. Adoption is becoming a huge issue in Australia again. I know you’ve read our report. You will see that it tailed off in the mid-1970s. The peak of adoption was around 1972-73 and then it tailed off when social security came in, and adoption tailed off at the same time. There’s now an ongoing debate. In fact, on the morning news we had one of our ministers talking about wanting to change the adoption laws, which is reopening a very large wound for a lot of people.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Senator Petitclerc: Thank you so very much for being here during your early morning.
Reading the report, I see that one chapter highlights the importance of counselling and support services. We had heard from witnesses yesterday — mothers, actually — who told us how they did not have that kind of counselling and support when it happened or even after.
I want to hear from you on how determinant your report and the formal apologies were in making sure that this was corrected now and after the report in terms of what kind of an effect it had to make sure that, even if late, that support came, if it did.
Ms. Siewert: So when the apology was made, a package was also announced by the government, and it offered a range of services. It didn’t deal with the issue of redress, but a large part of that did relate to counselling and support services.
A lot of the focus of that package was training psychologists in issues around counselling and support for adoptees, but particularly focusing on the women whose babies were taken. I’m sure that, when you heard yesterday from the mothers, you would have heard about very similar circumstances as we heard. It was a wide range of them, and they were pretty shocking and horrendous. You probably heard yesterday that it has affected their whole lives, and it has affected the adoptees, their sons and daughters. So we needed counselling services for both the mothers and fathers and the adoptees.
In the evidence we heard, a lot of people were critical of the lack of counselling. When they did go for counselling— to psychologists, for example— some of them were just told to get over it. It was quite obvious that the profession did not understand the nature of the impact— and the lifelong impact— on mothers, in particular, who lost their child. Some of them never saw their child. You’re aware of those circumstances.
Adoptees thought their mothers didn’t love them, and that has impacted on their whole lives, whether they went to a happy situation in their adoptive families— and many did. Many, even though they had a good upbringing, with loving adopting parents, still felt something was missing.
Sorry, that was a long answer. What the package did was provide funding to the Australian Psychological Association for training of psychologists and to develop a package for these psychologists.
That has ended. I’ve heard quite a bit of criticism about the fact that there doesn’t seem to be an ongoing program of getting the training and the manual out. There’s no requirement for psychologists to read that. People are also critical of the fact that more funding wasn’t provided for counselling. The funding for the Link-Up services that have been provided, and some of the other support services— for example, support to find your records, which is a major ongoing issue— people have been critical of that as well. It runs out in two years. In fact, the people I was talking to yesterday were saying they need ongoing funding and they need funding for the sorts of things so that we can trace DNA. So I undertook to ask questions of the government about that.
The other point is that people say you don’t get fixed by short-term counselling. These are lifelong impacts, and therefore they need access to counselling lifelong.
People have also raised the issue that as people are aging — and it’s the same with former child migrants and forgotten Australians — they have fears about interacting with institutions again, particularly religious institutions, which provide some of the age care services here, and particularly residential services. So there is that ongoing issue as well that we need to look at. We’re not yet fully comprehending or working out how we’re going to address that issue either.
Senator Seidman: Thank you so much for being with us today. It’s sometimes very challenging doing this by video conference, but we really appreciate the opportunity to discuss something with you that you’ve experienced and that we’re now looking at.
I noticed that your Senate report contains 20 recommendations. I know we’ve heard that the government did agree with these recommendations, but I would like to know if all these recommendations have been carried out, enacted or acted upon. And if not all, then which ones were not acted upon and what were the challenges around those particular recommendations?
The Chair: That’s a big question.
Ms. Siewert: My assessment is that, no, not all of the recommendations have been carried out. Some have not been carried out to their full extent. For example, the counselling has been carried out partly but not fully. The apology obviously has. As you know, a number of our recommendations related to that apology.
There’s a clarification in what I’m about to say. By and large, people were very pleased and happy with the apology. It was extremely well done by the government in terms of being inclusive. There was a reference committee set up.
The report, as you’ll see, was a consensus report across both the government, which was a Labour government at the time, the coalition, which is the Liberal-National Coalition, and ourselves. We all agreed on this, which was important. We worked hard to get that consensus report.
The government set up a reference committee to help develop the apology and to provide advice on the package. Although we didn’t get to see the package that the government announced at the time, we had a lot of input into it. The three key representatives of the three parties involved in the report were on the reference committee. It included women who had been affected by forced adoptions, who had their babies taken, and it included adoptees as well. The government took on board a lot of our recommendations in terms of the apology.
The problem with the apology was that, just after it finished, there was a political issue here where there was a challenge to the prime minister, and that overshadowed the apology in the news. That really upset a big group of people. The apology in itself was very moving, as I said, very well done, and the government paid for people to be able to come to Canberra to hear the apology personally, and made a lot of effort.
So that part of it was done. As I’ve described, I don’t think the counselling services go to the full extent of the recommendations. There was funding provided for the Link-Up services to support people to find their records.
Some of the states have reacted differently to the recommendations. Some states are better at access to information in their records. Babies were also transferred out of states, so that makes it hard. Their records are in another state. For example, some of the babies from Western Australia went to the eastern states, so that makes it hard to chase the records.
The birth certificates still aren’t revolved. Issues around adoption laws haven’t been addressed. We talked about the issue of redress and encouraging the states to address that issue. As far as I’m aware, they haven’t addressed that issue. In fact, we’re going through an issue at the moment in terms of the government moving to put in a redress system for children who were sexually abused in institutions. There is legislation currently before Parliament. We’re in the middle of an inquiry into that legislation.
Some of the adoptees who were in institutions are also involved in that issue. You’re probably aware from the report that some of the children ended up growing up in institutions. Some of the evidence we received was that they were also abused in institutions. Then they are most likely therefore to be involved in that process of redress. So they will get redress for that, but at the moment there’s no redress for those who weren’t sexually abused but who were abused in other ways in institutions.
But specifically for adoptees who were affected and mothers who were affected with those lifelong impacts that you’ll have heard about and that we heard about have not been addressed.
It’s patchy. Unfortunately, over here, there’s no requirement. These are recommendations. The government responded, and you’ve probably seen the government’s response. But there’s no mechanism other than public pressure and pressure through our parliamentary institution and state institutions to require them to implement the recommendations.
I think I may not have completely answered a previous question about the states. Western Australia has apologized. Most of the states now have made an apology through their Parliaments as well. In fact, West Australia’s Parliament, my home state, apologized before we even started the inquiry.
Does that answer your question?
Senator Seidman: It’s a good beginning. Thank you very much.
I have one quick followup. The first recommendation was to implement a national framework to address the consequences. Has that national framework been established?
Ms. Siewert: Not in my opinion, no.
Senator Seidman: Thank you.
Senator Poirier: Thank you for the presentation and for being with us. I really appreciate it.
I have a couple of questions. First, following the government’s response in 2013 with a promise of various funding, how would you rate the impact of the apology and the funding? Also, was the response satisfactory to the people who were forced into adoption?
Ms. Siewert: I’d say the apology was accepted. The emotion in the room at the time was very intense. It took a little while for it to sink in for people, because they had been working for so long to get this issue on the national agenda, and they had been ignored for so long. So, yes, I think the apology was accepted.
As I said, the fact that the political commotion happened only hours later really upset a group of people.
But yes, it was. Regarding the support services, people felt they went some way to addressing their issues but a lot of people felt it was not far enough. I have a group of mothers and adoptees who regularly ring me, as have some of the other senators who have expressed concerns about the ongoing issues they’re not getting support for.
What some people in government and some people would say is insignificant, but what is very significant for adoptees is this issue around not being able to get your proper birth certificates and get your birth parents on your certificates. Basically, they see their birth certificates as a lie. If they’ve got the adopted parents on, they see that as a false document, as a lie. They also have trouble, therefore, getting passports and things like that. That, for some, is a bit of an issue as well.
I’d say there are still ongoing issues, because the four lines of issues haven’t been addressed.
Does that answer your question?
Senator Poirier: Yes, it does.
In your Recommendation No. 10, you recommended that financial contribution be sought from the state and territory governments and the organizations that were involved in the practice of placing the children of single mothers for adoption. “In support, the funding for the services is prescribed in the previous two recommendations.”
Has that been done? Did the government approve that? Is that working well?
Ms. Siewert: The government provided some funding support as part of their response to the committee and the package they announced with the apology. Some of those services are going to run out of funding, and that’s where the lobbying is starting to see if they can be increased.
Institution by institution, some institutions have been offering some services, but I’d say that was patchy. A lot of the mothers and the adoptees, as I said earlier, don’t want to be involved with those institutions. There’s not really, as far as I’m aware, a process where they can contribute funding to another service— this is the institutions— to actually help the people affected.
So it’s very patchy. That’s my understanding. Of course, it’s state by state, and there’s no coordination across the states for that, other than if the institutions were coordinating.
I’ve got to also say that a lot of attention of the institutions has been focused very strongly on the royal commission that has just been completed into sexual abuse of children in institutions. That has taken a lot of their attention, particularly some of the major institutions that were involved in that. For example, the Catholic Church, the Salvation Army in particular and a number of other institutions have been very focused on that.
I would say that’s also been taking quite a lot of their attention.
My overall assessment is that it has been inadequate.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you so much, senator, for being with us. I too realize how difficult it is.
Yesterday, we had our first set of witnesses. I heard something that was quite remarkable, and I thought I would check whether you had the same experience. It was noted that mothers of colour in Canada who fall into this discussion were given the resources to mother their babies, because those Black babies were not considered as valuable as blonde, blue-eyed babies. As the witness said, it’s probably the only time in history when a woman of colour got a better deal.
Can you describe your own experiences in Australia with children of women of colour?
Ms. Siewert: That was not an issue that really came up. The issue for us was that, at the same time that this was happening, it was in the period also where we had the Stolen Generations. The Stolen Generations is what we call when Aboriginal children were deliberately taken from their families and adopted into White families or non-Aboriginal families. So that did occur.
So, no, we didn’t have that situation that I’m aware of. In fact, it was the reverse, where Aboriginal children were being deliberately taken and adopted into White families. Children and babies were being taken.
We did hear from Aboriginal mothers whose babies were taken at birth, although generally it was slightly older children who were taken during that period of the Stolen Generations. We heard from an Aboriginal adoptee who was taken out of the country to Scotland and had come home. Of course, she had been removed and grew up outside of her culture, and that had a significant impact on her.
So, no, the situation you mention did not occur in Australia. I might mention Western Australia, because we had particularly awful situations with a number of children taken through that period of the Stolen Generations.
Senator Omidvar: My second question goes to the recommendations in your report on public awareness; namely, that the government should undertake public awareness activities.
I also notice in your report that there was an exhibition or you wanted to host an exhibition. Can I get an assessment from you on how well the public awareness strategy has worked, and what would you recommend to us in terms of, if we make this recommendation, what are some of the nuances that we need to consider? Because you’ve gone before us in history, and we can learn from you.
Ms. Siewert: I’ll start with the exhibition. Again, the reference committee that was set up for the apology was also consulted over the exhibition, and that was first down at the national archives. I think the exhibition itself was very good.
The exhibition travelled around Australia, and there was a group of mothers that didn’t like it. But, by in large, I’d say it was supported by the bulk of mothers and adoptees.
The apology, of course, did get media. Not as much as it should have because of the event that happened on the side, but it did get some media. In terms, then, of raising public awareness, quite frankly, more broadly in the community, I think a lot of people are still ignorant of the issues. There was some awareness, and there was some media around the inquiry, which helped a lot. That was, by in large, I’d say, fairly positive media about something that was really awful. It didn’t demonize. In the past, you’ll probably be aware that single mothers were demonized. I noticed you are calling the women “unmarried mothers,” I think. Here, the situation is generally called “single mothers.”
That media was much more sympathetic than it had been in the past, where sometimes it was quite condemning of single mothers. So my answer is there’s been some, but there hasn’t been a coordinated approach to raising public awareness.
Senator Raine: Thank you very much for appearing with us today and giving us the benefit of your experience.
I think you mentioned, in your opening remarks, that there was a manual that was developed for psychologists and that you were a bit concerned that they weren’t reading it. Would that manual be available for us to get here in Canada?
Ms. Siewert: My understanding is that it’s a series of modules and things like that. I’ve asked a question, in fact, of the government because some of the mothers contacted me and outlined their concern that that program of funding had finished. Yet, they were concerned that it would just sit on the shelf. So I’ve been chasing the government about how it’s going to get out there.
I think there needed to be, from the limited information I’ve had about where that’s up to, because it was up to, then, the association to get that information out. And mothers are the ones who are particularly concerned that it’s not being taken up as it should.
I can take on notice where that’s available because I’ve been told that it’s up to the psychologist to get it out there and to encourage the psychologist to pick it up in terms of reading it and starting to implement it.
So I can take that on notice to get back to you about where it’s available because it’s not a publicly available document, as far as I’m aware.
Senator Raine: I think that would be very helpful because, if you’ve funded and developed training documentation for people counselling those with trauma, then it would be very helpful for us to look at it because, probably, our cultural backgrounds are similar enough that it could be useful.
The other question I wanted to just clarify for my own —
Ms. Siewert: We do have a lot of deep similarities with the situations that you are facing there. So I’d say, yes, it would be useful.
Senator Raine: The other question I had was: In Canada, statistics on births, deaths, marriages and those kinds of things are all kept provincially, and there isn’t a national database of births and deaths.
It sounds like it’s the same in Australia. When there is an adoption that crosses state lines, is there an obligation for one state to share the information with the other state? How is that tracked? We’re now looking at all the advertising on the Internet about finding your genealogy, and I think, in Canada, we were surprised to find, on St. Patrick’s Day, that we’re all Irish. But genealogy is something that we would expect to find documented in our statistics. So how does it work in Australia with national and state statistics?
Ms. Siewert: In the Community Affairs Committee, invariably, in a whole lot of our inquiries, the issue about data and sharing data and the collection of data comes up.
You’re hearing from Daryl Higgins next. He’s from the Australian Institute of Welfare. Sorry, I’ve got that wrong.
The Chair: Child Protection Studies is what I have.
Ms. Siewert: Sorry. I get the acronym wrong and the name of it wrong all the time. Anyway, he was enormously useful to our committee. He has been doing a lot of work on adoptions, so he will be able to tell you a lot more about those issues.
From our perspective, you’re right; the states are responsible for those areas. In terms of the adoptions, we have much fewer adoptions now in Australia, although there’s been — again, it was on the radio this morning — a bit of an increase in New South Wales.
In the past, there has been no requirement for another state to provide information to somebody in, say, Western Australia. They then have to use that state’s rules to get access to their records, not Western Australian rules. There’s no coordination at the moment — and there certainly wasn’t then — around the rules in regard to access to people’s records, whether they are their medical records or their birth certificates, particularly the records of adoption. They were closed adoptions, so that was particularly difficult. There has been work to better coordinate that, but the feedback I’m getting from adoptees and mothers is that it’s still very difficult.
The issue here that I should also mention is that some of the parents involved are now starting to pass away, particularly the older ones, and that then closes off, sometimes, people’s ability to find out more information. You’re right in terms of genealogy. Particularly, adoptees are turning to trying to get their DNA and using that as a way to trace people, but we’re at the very beginning of discussing it now.
Daryl should be able to help you a bit more about how they’re dealing with that, if he knows how they are dealing with that, because it’s an area I don’t know a lot about in terms of recording that.
Senator Mégie: Ms. Siewert, I’m going to ask you a question in French. Is the translation coming through?
Do you have translation?
Ms. Siewert: I’m told I’m going to hear it interpreted, but I haven’t.
The Chair: You don’t have translation?
Shaila Anwar, Clerk of the Committee: Senator Mégie, you can go ahead, since there will be a short delay.
Senator Mégie: My question is about international adoption currently. I know that, nowadays, single mothers are no longer demonized. Forced adoption no longer exists, but international adoption does. Do you think that the publication of your recommendations could help shape different international adoption policies that we could apply today? The adoptions happen now, but we could hear from parents or children down the road. Can we draw any lessons from past practices for current adoption policies?
Ms. Siewert: Yes, I do. This issue came up during this inquiry, and has come up in some of our other inquiries. One of the issues was that the debate was quite polarized in Australia around adoption overall, with a lot of those affected by past practices who were very anti-adoption and said we should ban it completely. Then there was the other side of the debate, particularly for families who are unable to have children and the argument about providing permanent homes for people in out-of-home care. It’s still a very live debate here and, in fact, it has kicked off again.
In terms of international adoptions, a lot of the issues around international adoptions were intensified because the issues that came up through the forced adoption practices highlighted a lot of the negative impacts that it can have, particularly if you’re unable to get access to your records, if you’re unable to trace your birth family. That’s even harder internationally.
Also, there is the guarantee that there were not forced adoptions because, in Australia, we’ve heard a lot about the unethical practices in some countries around taking children away from their birth families who weren’t really orphans or weren’t really supposed to be in institutions. So it raised all those issues and it raised issues about the need for open adoptions, the need for children to be able to contact their birth parents and understand their family history, their backgrounds.
So yes, I think there is a lot to learn for international adoptions.
As I said, there’s still a large group of people who think we shouldn’t be facilitating international adoptions, or adoptions at all. And now there is talk about permanent placements rather than adoption and a lot of changes.
There have been a lot of changes already to adoption processes. They are open adoptions, records now are much more available and there for the adoptee. So there are a lot of lessons we need to take from past practices for international adoptions.
Senator Munson: Thank you for being with us today or tonight, whatever time it is for you.
Last night, it was very emotional with mothers speaking to us in our committee. Of course, everybody agreed that an apology is in order, a major apology. I’ve noticed out of the 20 recommendations, there are seven that deal with an apology. The first seven deal with an apology. I was struck by Recommendation No. 6. I know we’ve talked about apologies, but it was suggested here that the committee recommends that formal apologies should always be accompanied by undertakings to take concrete actions that offer appropriate redress for past mistakes.
In your view, what is appropriate redress for past mistakes and how can we learn from that here, if we put that into our recommendations?
Ms. Siewert: First, when we heard evidence from our witnesses, particularly from mothers, it was very clear that people wanted an apology but that there had to be something with it, and the research we did showed that apologies that weren’t accompanied by concrete actions were often seen as useless or were only half-baked.
The committee found it enormously emotional when we were hearing evidence from witnesses from mothers and adoptees, and grandparents and fathers by the way. We talk about mothers a lot but we got evidence from a number of fathers who were deeply affected by this as well.
We had counsellors in the room, one in the room and one in a separate room that people could go and talk to, because we were conscious of not retraumatizing people. I just mention that because that was very important when people were giving us their evidence.
Some mothers had never ever spoken about this before. It was the first time some people had spoken to us publicly.
In terms of the concrete measures, they are absolutely essential, which is why the government announced at the same time the package that we’ve been talking about in terms of the counselling support, the other support services.
So yes, it’s very important. It’s an issue of ongoing concern that the package didn’t go far enough or it still needs to be extended and that people have lifelong impacts so there needs to be more. But the bottom line is it’s very important that there are concrete measures announced with the apology.
The Chair: Let me follow up on this for a moment. Was there any request in terms of redress, for individual redress by these people, or did they stick with pretty much what you recommended?
Ms. Siewert: There was a lot of concern around our redress that people should get some sort of financial redress as well.
It’s a very touchy issue here and, in fact, a lot of us have been campaigning for a long time for redress for the Stolen Generations, financial redress, and that still has not been addressed. So there’s an ongoing campaign for reparations.
We were very conscious of that in this committee report and that’s why we’ve been encouraging the states and the Commonwealth to talk about that. Various states have had bits and pieces of redress. Western Australia had a redress scheme. There was an announcement of a redress scheme, which mainly centred on issues around abuse. So most of the adoptees and mothers would not have been included, other than if adoptees were in institutions where they are abused. But they announced this redress scheme and then the government changed, a new government came in and halved it, halfway through the process.
That was a disaster. It caused more trauma. The take-home message there was when you do redress, make sure it’s satisfactory and make sure you don’t change the rules halfway through the process. It is an ongoing issue where many of us feel there needs to be financial reparations on top of the other services that are provided.
The Chair: I could explore that more because I want to go to Senator Bernard because we’re running out of time.
Senator Bernard: Thank you, senator, for being with us this evening.
You partially answered the question I wanted to ask in response to the question Senator Munson asked, and that’s with regard to fathers. Last night we heard that there’s very little attention paid to fathers in this whole discussion. You mentioned in your response that you had a few birth fathers. I’m certainly aware that in the broader context of child welfare’s provision of services, fathers are typically not involved. There’s a whole body of literature that speaks to that.
Could you say a bit more about what your study did in terms of trying to hear from birth fathers?
Ms. Siewert: First off, I think Daryl may be able to help with a few statistics in this area, but we had far more mothers than fathers. In terms of trying to get submissions, we advertised widely in terms of encouraging people to give submissions, as did a number of the non-government organizations, particularly the organizations that had set up to support mothers and parents, but there were largely mothers and adoptees.
I need to point out here that a lot of men and fathers have been demonized as abandoning their partners when they became pregnant, and that did happen. I’m not pretending it didn’t. But what happened here in a lot of the evidence we got was that fathers were actively pushed away because of a determined approach to take the babies.
If they were going to take the babies, it was easier just to deal with the mother so in a number of cases we heard about, fathers wanted their names on the birth certificates. They wanted to be present. They were actively ignored and pushed away by the authorities and by the institutions.
You’ll see from our report that, at the time, we really weren’t able to get a handle on just how many forced adoptions there were in the overall number of adoptions in Australia. Darryl will be able to help you more with the statistics.
I can’t tell you the statistics on the fathers, but it’s not as clear cut as all fathers did not want to be involved. It’s just not true. Fathers that we did hear from were also deeply traumatized by the fact that they weren’t able to have contact with their baby and their child and they have also suffered lifelong consequences from that.
The Chair: We’ve come to the end of this session, unfortunately, because there’s so much more we could explore with you, Senator Siewert. Thank you very much for being with us and congratulations on this great work that you and your committee did in 2012.
Of course, this, at least in the Canadian time zone, is the fifth anniversary of the official apology. Thank you very much for taking the time, particularly at an early time for you, to be with us today.
We will get the opportunity with Daryl Higgins to explore a little bit more in the next session, coming up momentarily.
So thank you again, senator.
Ms. Siewert: I’m happy to take questions on notice. If you want to send some questions, I’m happy to answer them in writing.
The Chair: Thank you for that offer. If you have any information on what you mentioned in response to Senator Greene Raine, it would be most helpful if you could send it to the clerk of the Social Affairs Committee of the Senate, and we’ll get it to the members. Thank you very much.
This is an all-video conference session, so we have to get two up for the next one, one from Melbourne, Australia and the other from Victoria, British Columbia.
On our second panel of the day, we have Daryl Higgins, Professor, Director, Institute of Child Protection Studies, Australian Catholic University. He’s coming to us from Melbourne. He had a lot to do with this report that we’ve just had an hour-long conference with Senator Siewert in discussion. In fact, Senator Siewert referred to you, Mr. Higgins, a number of times as being able to answer some of the questions we might have.
Also from here in our own country, from Victoria, British Columbia, we have Veronica Strong-Boag, Historian and Historical Consultant, Professor Emerita, University of British Columbia.
Welcome to both of you. Of course, in the case of Melbourne, Australia, I will say good morning, and in the case of Victoria, I will say good afternoon. We’re later in the afternoon but on March 21 here as opposed to March 22 in Australia.
Welcome to both of you. I’ll start with Professor Higgins, if you have some opening comments you could make about the report, about your role, and then after Professor Strong-Boag, I will turn it over to the committee for questions.
Daryl Higgins, Professor, Director, Institute of Child Protection Studies, Australian Catholic University: In the decades prior to the mid-1970s, it was common in Australia for babies of vulnerable young women, mostly unwed but not always, to be adopted. Shame and silence surrounded pregnancy out of wedlock, and this was met by the mounting social pressure to meet the needs of infertile couples. Societal views — reflected in organizational practices in the case of hospitals, children’s homes, government welfare departments and other agencies — prioritized the needs of these deserving infertile couples. The needs of single or other vulnerable young pregnant women giving birth were largely ignored.
Adoptions in Australia reached a peak of almost 10,000 per year in the early 1970s. Since then, rates have dropped significantly. Currently fewer than 50 a year are local adoptions by unknown parties.
When the adoption process in Australia was at its peak, adoptions were what we call closed. The closed adoption is where an adopted child’s original birth certificate was sealed forever and an amended birth certificate was issued that established the child’s new identity and relationship with the adoptive family. Mothers were not informed about adoptive families, and the very fact of their adoption was usually kept secret from children.
Changes in legislation now allow access to such information as long as no veto has been put in place by the other party. The majority of local adoptions, those of children born or permanently residing in Australia, are now open.
There are a range of reforms that have affected past practice, and these legislative and social reforms have contributed to the shift away from this peak period of adoption in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They included, for example, the establishment of the Council of the Single Mother and Her Children here in my State of Victoria in 1970, and then a national equivalent in 1973, which really helped to challenge the stigma of adoption and providing support to single and what were then called “relinquishing mothers.”
Another change is the status of illegitimacy changing to ex-nuptial births, and it began in 1974 in both Victoria and Tasmania.
Abortion became allowable in most states from the early 1970s.
In 1973, the Commonwealth government introduced the Supporting Mothers’ Benefit, which provided financial access that wasn’t dependent upon which state or territory you lived in.
Further legislative reforms to overturn the blanket of secrecy surrounding adoption also occurred up to the changes in the 1980s. Information on parents was not available to adopted children. So that was a massive shift as well.
There was also the establishment of registers for those wanting to make contact, both for parents and adopted children, beginning in New South Wales in 1976.
The implementation of legislation in Victoria in 1984 granted adopted persons over the age of 18 the right to access their birth certificate, subject to mandatory counselling, with similar changes following in other states.
Of course, there were legislative changes in most of the eight Australian states and territories by the early 1990s that ensured consent for adoption had come from both mothers and fathers.
However, the damages that have incurred to many thousands of Australians prior to these reforms are certainly evident today. They’re evidenced in the Australian government’s formal apology in March 2013 with the Commonwealth contribution to former forced adoption practices. I know you have heard from Senator Siewert about the inquiry, but it was groundbreaking in terms of putting these issues on the national agenda.
Although legislative responsibility for adoptions has remained with the states and territories, this collective responsibility and the national apology is an important acknowledgment of that natural responsibility and the implications that that provides for meeting the current service and support needs of those affected.
That’s really where my role came in. As a researcher, I was asked, first of all, to look at what the state of the research evidence was about the number of people affected and the implications that an experience with forced adoption had had on their lives. I concluded in that initial report that we didn’t have an adequate evidence base on which to base policy.
On June 4, 2010, the Community and Disability Services Minister’s Conference, which is the Commonwealth coming together of the various states and territories ministers, announced that these ministers had agreed to a joint national research study into closed adoption and its effects to be conducted by my former institution, the Australian Institute of Family Studies where I was the deputy director and led that work.
The key focus of the study was on the current needs for services and supports, and was designed to produce evidence that can assist with improving service responses to those affected by past practices, including the provision of information, counselling, search and contact services and other supports.
The study, the results of which are published in the report Past adoption experiences: National Research Study on the Service Response to Part Adoption Practices, targeted a large group of those with past adoption experiences and incorporated mixed methods of online surveys, in-depth interviews and focus groups, integrating results across those different elements of the study and building on existing research and evidence about the extent and the effects of past adoption experiences in order to understand what the current needs are.
Overall, we had more than 1,500 individuals across Australia participate in the study. The largest group was adults who were adopted as children, 823; 505 mothers; 94 adoptive parents; 94 other family members; and 12 fathers. In addition, we also surveyed 58 service providers about their views on the current service needs and service provision models for those affected by past adoption practices. Follow-up interviews and focus groups included over 300 participants in 19 locations across all of the states and territories.
I’m happy to answer particular questions, but I will point out a couple of key things that emerged.
One of the advantages to the study was that there was a national and coherent voice among the participants. Although we applied a broad lens, we were able to reflect on some of the lessons learned regarding past adoption practices, with a specific focus on the currency of some of those issues in today’s legal and ethical discussions related to things such as assisted reproduction, current adoption practices and permanency care planning.
The particular things that I would point out and am happy to answer questions on related to issues around identity, connection and access to information, and that was particularly for that largest group of participants, those adults who, as children, were adopted. They are living examples of the outcomes of past policy practices.
I also followed on with a spoken study that was commissioned by the national apology reference group. I’m sure you have heard about that group. That was a spoken study of how best to respond to those needs and what are the best practice models for addressing those needs. In that report I developed service options that would enhance and complement the existing services to improve support for people affected by forced adoption and past removal policies and practices. That was subsequently funded by and has now been implemented by the Australian government.
I have also had the privilege of working on a number of activities that were supported by that funding model, including a massive education program for a whole range of service providers who are delivering counselling and support services for those affected.
Those are my opening remarks, and I’m happy to take questions when you’re ready.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Professor Higgins. Coming over to the Canadian side now, I will ask for comments from Ms. Strong-Boag.
Veronica Strong-Boag, Historian and Historical Consultant, Professor Emerita, University of British Columbia: Thank you for the invitation to speak to the committee. I come to this interview with a rather different perspective than Professor Higgins. As a historian, I’ve been studying child welfare in Canada in the 19th and 20th centuries up to near the present, so I always see the situation of unwed women having to surrender their children after 1945 very much in the historical context of a shifting set of views about children, women and sexuality.
First of all, we have to see that the choice to surrender children or to have children taken from you is often not a real choice. It’s always in the context of limited options and opportunities. That was true in the 19th century and remains true today.
The other aspects that I think we need to acknowledge, probably in Australia as well as Canada, are the very diverse experiences that are reported from the territories and the provinces. Various racialized, classed and otherwise distinguished communities had their own ways often of dealing with unmarried pregnancy, and these shifted over time. So they might look very different in the late 19th century than they do today.
I think the other aspect of the issue that we confront, even today, and certainly in the past and after 1945, is that misrepresentation and ignorance were very common in dealing with the question of unwed pregnancy. What I found in surveying — and I’ve surveyed all the records of all the provinces and all the territories between about 1860 to 1900 — is that the data is often deeply flawed and underreported. Statistics Canada certainly cannot be trusted on any of the records. Families hid what they were doing. Often, over the course of even just one generation, knowledge was lost, so many families have adoptees within them or surrendered children that they still don’t know about.
The silence around infanticide is part of the same story, because the victims of infanticide were certainly disproportionately the children of unwed mothers.
We also need to think about the historical context in which the treatment of unwed mothers after 1945 emerged. It was very much at the time of the Cold War, where we were seeing a reassertion of the notion of the priceless child in our battle with godless communism and a sentimentalization and essentialization of motherhood, particularly for certain mothers, those who were White and middle class, and these groups, White middle-class children and their mothers, in ways that were previously largely unknown, it suddenly became possible to save them, to rescue them. These women were seen, particularly teenagers, as psychologically maladjusted, and therefore, at least it was possible to think of resocializing them to be better wives and mothers. This was, of course, considered much less likely for Indigenous women and women who were racialized or indeed not part of the mainstream European fabric of the country.
We have to remember that pregnancy still remained dangerous in this era. It was in the context of relatively high infant and maternal mortality, particularly for women who were unmarried. The costs of raising children was high, a calculation that families faced in ways that limited their choices.
I think we need to think of the treatment of unmarried mothers after 1945 as part of a sort of historical continuum in which children, both girls and boys, have historically been readily shifted around in response to resources. That was certainly true in my family, and from what I can tell in the 19th and 20th centuries, it was true among many families. The mothers who were most likely to have to give up their children were unwed mothers, usually giving them to their sisters. That was really quite common, and it’s a historic pattern we actually still see the remnants of today.
I really want to insist upon the diverse outcomes for mothers and offspring without negating in any way the tragedies involved on both sides. There were hard choices and hard outcomes.
I think we have to remember that single parenthood today, as in the past — still more in the past — experienced continuing problems with support, both from within families who often felt stigmatized and their loss of respectability, and governments that certainly were unwilling to extend even the slow extension of social welfare to single mothers.
British Columbia is distinguished after the First World War in extending the benefit of its mothers’ pensions to single mothers, but that was not true across the country, so single women would face very significant challenges in supporting their children. Single motherhood and motherhood in general, of course, remained dangerous for women and families. It should also be remembered that not all women and girls wanted to be mothers at any time or when they got pregnant, and not all women are good mothers. Certainly reading the accounts, as I have read, of children abused within families, there are plenty of reminders of mistreatment of children within families, even when parents are relatively well-to-do.
Now, we have to see the difficulties of single parenthood as really about a desire to control female sexuality and shore up heterosexual marriage. Together with this, of course, we see the refusal to support contraception and the illegalization of both contraception and abortion. Secrecy became a sort of code word to spare, supposedly, birth mothers and their families and to reinforce images of normalcy, and there was often a circle of denial among many participants. So families from all stations of society have feared loss of respectability and the additional call on resources.
A 1991 report typically discovered that close to 80 per cent of all unmarried mothers in Nova Scotia received and continued to receive child care help from relatives. Results could be tragic. One B.C. five-year-old, the daughter of a young, unwed mother, was handed around among relatives and neighbours so frequently that she understandably felt and acted as if she belonged nowhere and was a confirmed runaway was a typical casualty.
Ontario social work scholar Cyril Greenland captured the special vulnerability of these children when he observed that maternal child abusers in Ontario, like many in the U.K. and the U.S., have commonly been teenagers — pregnant, depressed, previous state wards, brutalized and abandoned by adult men and economically marginal. So we don’t want to romanticize the outcome of keeping children.
Now, unwed mothers in institutions after World War II was really a 20th century phenomenon, with the exception of the Catholic church that had some of these institutions in Quebec earlier on. These institutions were run overwhelmingly by churches, although there were private operations as well. The church ones tended to be cheaper. They were not comparable to the federal government’s investment in a genocidal program of residential schools for Indigenous students, but they were a reflection of pervasive investment in patriarchy by most Canadian communities.
Institutions for the unwed offered diverse treatment within them, and it often reflected whatever sort of cultural capital the girls and young women were believed to bring with them. So they could be treated better or worse, depending who the organizers of the institution believed their relatives were. The treatment would have been very much determined by the class and racial background of the mothers.
Until well after World War II, children of unmarried mothers were likely to be highly stigmatized and not ready candidates for adoption. After World War II, young mothers, especially from the White middle class, became more acceptable as candidates because, again, they believed they could be remade psychologically, but only if they gave up their children, and the children too would have to be remade.
In conclusion, whatever their origins, in the past as now, unwed mothers confronted a terrible contradiction. Most desperately needed paid employment and further education often, but not being in the home ensured they would be censured as bad mothers. Their predicament was all the more inevitable because day nurseries have been, as one angry social worker noted in 1950, few and far between in Canada. The comment of that social worker reminds us that social workers are not always the enemy or even often the enemy. They too were working in a context of limited options and general prejudice against unwed mothers. So all things being equal, few women ever chose single parenthood. As one British study has argued, even when well-loved, illegitimate children were a terrible burden financially, emotionally and socially. Some ambivalence from their mothers was all but inevitable.
One Canadian teen, despite her supportive parents, spoke for many before and after in concluding, “I had to give up my child, not because I really wanted to, but because I knew it would be better for him. I was only 15 with a Grade 10 education, no husband and no means of support. I wish I could have kept him.”
Single mothers have then been effectively punished if they kept or surrendered children. Consequences for both could be severe. There were only hard choices and uncertain outcomes.
The Chair: You talked about the church involvement on this. What about the federal government involvement? Can you outline in what ways the federal government facilitated the adoption practices that occurred after the war up until the 1970s?
Ms. Strong-Boag: The federal government had no direct involvement. Certainly there may have been some funding that came for support of child welfare on an occasional basis, but it was certainly not true for the institutions for unwed mothers. It did not come from the federal government. It came from the churches. It came from volunteers, private charities, and some of it, very little, certainly not enough to support women and children in any dignity, came from the provinces and the local municipalities.
I noticed one of your commentators in the data I got today suggested that Canada helped fund that in the Canada Assistance Plan, I think. That was later on. If you’re looking at the period from 1945 to 1960, there’s no federal involvement. The feds are as complicit as everyone else is. I’m positive if you did a survey of MPs and bureaucrats in Ottawa, they would have felt that unwed motherhood brought stigma on the family and shouldn’t be rewarded in any way by state support.
The Chair: What about the National Adoption Desk?
Ms. Strong-Boag: Yes, there was the National Adoption Desk. But that emerged in response to the increasing destigmatization of the idea of adoption, and it was particularly interested in international adoptions. You have to see their work as often associated with trying to get supposedly unadoptable children, who were often Indigenous, from one part of the country to another, and was often involved tangentially, at least, and sometimes more than that, with the Vietnamese adoptions and some of the beginning of the Asian adoptions as well.
It was always underfunded. It had very a difficult relationship with the provincial governments, which did not want to support it. It was not meaningful except in the general sense that it was part and parcel of the general feeling that women who got pregnant, if they didn’t deserve what they got, they were certainly victims, and their children should be rescued as soon as possible.
The Chair: I will ask my colleagues to direct their questions to either of our panelists. We need to do that on a video conference because of the delays in the communication.
Senator Seidman: Thank you both very much for your presentations. I’m going to address my question, if I may, to Professor Higgins.
The themes of the recommendations of the Australian Senate study, as we just heard, focused around redress for the so-called adoption mandate, essentially forced adoption policies. Those themes were apology, financial contributions and support counselling and other services.
Professor Higgins, you talked about service needs and best practice models for addressing the needs of those affected. It’s a really important issue, and it’s important for us, in this study, to come up with some recommendations ourselves as a result of doing this. What would you tell us about this particular aspect, the service needs? What recommendations would be really critical to put forward?
Mr. Higgins: The first thing I would say, the report that I led was funded by the Department of Social Services, but it was really for the implementation working group that flowed from the findings of the Senate inquiry and then the national apology. That study had direct relevance for your work because what I outlined there is what the key needs are that each of those groups talked about, but particularly the mothers. There was very strong representation from mothers about the trauma they experienced and what would help them.
The other important caveat to note, though, was the report was being done in the context that the national apology implementation working group had already been advised that there was $11.5 million available, which is not a large amount; it’s very small. My job in conducting the study was not to paint a blue sky, let’s do all the bells and whistles, but in the context of very constrained resources, how to get the most effective services.
One of the key principles that I outlined was where are the ways that people who are experiencing trauma might already be able to get services, but there are obstacles either because they don’t feel as though — and this is important from the research — they don’t feel as though they’re going to be believed, they have to tell their own story and be the expert in their own situation.
Health professionals, who are already funded in a whole range of ways, so I am talking about general practitioners in the medical field, mental health nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists, et cetera, they’re already funded in their own way; so it wasn’t like we needed more of them. What we needed was for them to be sensitive to the issue and to have practice models that fitted with their own way of operating. If you have a clinician working within a psychiatric framework, how do you apply the understanding of what are the needs and issues faced by a mother in her seventies who maybe had some contact but is no longer in a relationship with her son or daughter from whom she was separated. It was about trying to identify the best way of up-skilling that work force.
The second thing was adoption-specific services. There were a number of services run in the separate states and territories that often grew up from a peer support base, and it was about assisting with that process of making contact, supporting the reaching out, whether it is from adopting to a mother or a father, if they’re aware of it, but those organizations also needed support.
The second tranche of the model that I outlined was how best to support those people to do the job that they do, but recognizing they’re going to be dealing with a relatively small number when they’re going through that process of finally making contact or just needing peer support.
I held those two things in attention and tried to address recommendations that were about both the larger group of mainstream mental health and support workers while at the same time supporting that narrower group of victims.
Senator Seidman: What would be the primary role for the Commonwealth?
Mr. Higgins: It does depend on where the funding comes from for those different things. Most of the services that I outlined — psychiatric services, psychological services — are funded through grants from the Commonwealth Department of Health, even though they might be administered at the state level, and there are a lot of arrangements, and a lot of people might see psychologists or psychiatrists privately, there are still rebates through our national medicare system. So the access to those services was already there. The biggest issue was the skill set.
On the basis of my recommendations, there was a funding stream put out to do exactly what I said: build the capacity of those mainstream service providers. So an organization that happened to be a professional body, the Australian Psychological Society — but it could have been anybody — won that tender. They reached out to all of those different fundamental health groups and created a really comprehensive package of education. I was an expert adviser to it.
They had representation from each of those groups on the working parties that actually developed what the content needs to be and how it works with the way my profession operates — the practice models, if you like, that I would use.
So it was not someone from outside teaching us. It was a psychologist saying, “This is how a psychologist would do it.” It was a clinical social worker saying how a clinical social worker works, and these are the ways in which this additional information can be communicated and supported.
Those resources are already there, so I would recommend not duplicating but perhaps developing a relationship with the Australian Department of Health to get access to those, either online — a system of learning, very vigorous — and it featured video presentations from a number of experts who explored that in an online learning environment.
The Australian Psychological Society also backed it up with webinars. Their practitioners could log in and have two or three experts talking together about a particular topic. It could have been to do with grief, managing first contact with families or relationship breakdowns. It was one particular aspect and trying to bring in an interdisciplinary aspect to that.
Senator Petitclerc: I will ask my question to Professor Strong-Boag.
I would like to have your input as a historian on something that really resonated with me yesterday when we had some mothers talking about their experiences. We also had a lot of testimony that we received in the form of writing. One of the things I want to have your historical clarification on is that we heard a lot of the fact that there was not really an option to give up the child. But we also heard and read some mothers who said that — and maybe it’s later on in the 1960s — that when those options, or emerging services or social programs and supports, started to emerge, even in that case, the mothers were not being informed that maybe they could have some help.
I found that shocking. And the mothers sometimes wrote that they learned about that a few years or a few months after they gave up their babies. They learned of existing limited and emerging social programs that could have made a big difference in their “non-choice,” really.
So I want to know if it’s very isolated, or if there was a time in history where this started to happen but still the mothers did not have that option presented to them.
Ms. Strong-Boag: I think that you’re quite right to say, as I’m sure your witnesses have said, that there were emerging programs, but they were always underfunded. Application was difficult. Social workers had tremendous case loads. Their assumption, as they looked at the choices for White middle-class children, or children who could be presumed to be White and middle class, was that there were better options, options that involved greater amounts of support, income, housing and stuff than would be available to unwed mothers.
If we look at the situation just today, and if we look at children who are in the welfare system and who often go into foster care, you can see that the welfare system — a less benighted age we might be, but children and their mothers are significantly underfunded today. That was certainly very true in the period immediately after World War II.
It is correct that social workers either withheld the information, or often they didn’t know the information. The information was often not readily available to social workers. We tend to see social workers as being right on top of all the newest data— and it’s easy to say from hindsight— but the provincial and territorial regulations differed substantially from region to region. Social workers, particularly overworked social workers, with far too many children and mothers in their care, were often not well equipped to provide any information.
It is a reminder that when you’re caring for children and the parents associated with them, you need a diverse range of supports. Those supports weren’t often there. The same social workers who were also handling adoption — adoption became a more specialized area for social workers later on, certainly by the 1970s. Previously, they were the same people who were also dealing with terrible tragedies occurring in child welfare and children abused within homes. It was for them to make a connection between children who were being abused by their birth families and children of unwed mothers. They believed they were doing the best job for children and mothers. They could see what the options were, and they had their own terrible stories, which is why, of course, child welfare remains very difficult to staff today. If you look at the period throughout the 20th century, most people went into child welfare and got out of it fairly quickly.
The Chair: We’re going to have to say goodbye to Professor Higgins. We’re almost out of our time, but we apparently are having some technical difficulties. There’s some noise in the sound system that is making it difficult for our interpreters to translate into French, and our requirements are to be able to proceed in both official languages. Apparently the background noise is creating a problem.
So I would suggest that if any member of the committee has a question they wanted to put to Professor Higgins, perhaps we could send it to him by email and perhaps get a written response back.
Would that be okay, Professor Higgins?
Mr. Higgins: That’s fine.
The Chair: Let me thank you very much for coming on to talk with us today and for giving us more of the Australian experience.
We’ll say goodbye to you, and we’ll carry on for a few more minutes with Professor Veronica Strong-Boag.
Senator Bernard: Thank you for being with us.
We heard a lot last night about the social work practices and how unfair, unjust and controlling they were. You’ve shared very similar things today. Are there suggestions you would make to us in terms of what should be happening in social work education to prepare social workers better for this type of work?
Ms. Strong-Boag: I think that’s an important part of the solution, both for folks who sacrificed hopes and dreams with children or with parents in the past, and in the present with adoption and fostering.
I think that it’s very easy to scapegoat social workers. They remain the problem, rather than the society remaining the problem. I think it’s clearly the society that underfunds child welfare today, as it did in the past. If we look at social work programs, we need to talk about programs that are much more engaged in talking about racialization, sexual identity, and the multiple identities that people bring to the table as adopters, as birth parents and as children within those families.
I’ve talked to friends in social work at UBC, and they say that often we have students who come into social work and dream of working with children, but their caseloads are so enormous that burnout is a common phenomenon. Certainly, if I look at the 20th century, I think that is seen throughout the 20th century, that people have too many children to really be conscious of what their situation is. In the face of children’s needs, I think it’s easy and somewhat understandable to see how mothers’ needs get sacrificed as social workers are preoccupied with outcomes for children. They have just too many children in their caseloads, and I think that’s the problem.
Senator Raine: Thank you very much. I really appreciate your experience and your studying of this issue over so many years.
In today’s situation, obviously we have to make an apology and fix what happened in the past, but moving forward, is there anything — because we still have adoption policies that are different from province to province and in the territories. Is there anything you could recommend or that you could send us in terms of what you think would be the ideal situation for closed and open adoptions, and what needs to be gathered at the birth, including information from both families of the parents of the adopted baby?
Do you have any thoughts on that? Is that something you would like to share?
Ms. Strong-Boag: Yes, I do. Certainly, I was continually struck by how it is often — not always — better to have full disclosure as soon as the child is old enough to understand, and the information should be given in age-specific ways. I think all governments should commit themselves to this and provide support for adoptees and children who are in the foster care system — where they often ended up as well — for the possibility of reuniting and also for birth parents.
I could see the federal government having a role to play in a truly Canadian adoption desk, because the information is often very hard to access, and to have a ready source of information for children or grown-up adoptees and foster children to find the information they need. Similarly, this communication could be sort of regularized with the territories and the provinces. That will do much to destigmatize relations, which have often been very difficult.
I have to say that there are also exceptions. We have to, I think, proceed very gingerly because there are certainly cases of incest and rape. The recovery of the past is always not only contentious, but tragic, and people need to be provided with supports to handle that tragedy, particularly around incest and rape, obviously, because those are stories that are still more hidden than adoption and surrendering of children.
The Chair: That brings us right up to 6:15, which is the end of our meeting. Let me thank you, Professor Strong-Boag, for being with us from Victoria and for your insights into this matter. Thank you very much.
Colleagues, this completes our second meeting on this subject. Our third will be tomorrow morning at 10:30. We have some people here, actually, tomorrow. This is the first time I recall us having a meeting that was totally a video conference.
(The committee adjourned.)