Why forced adoption needs an apology - Dr Gary Clapton

In Westminster on 26 May with Member of Parliament for Edinburgh South West, Joanna Cherry as a primary sponsor, a motion for an ‘Apology for Forced Adoption’ was tabled. The campaign for an Adoption Apology has taken on new life with considerable media coverage, the latest being a BBC documentary broadcast (If You Love Your Baby… 29 May, available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000whlm)Also, the Scottish Parliament debated this during its final session for this term on 16 June.

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The Scottish Parliament motion led by Central Scotland’s MSP Monica Lennon, condemned ‘the historical practice of forced adoption, where up to 250,000 mothers were unfairly coerced, resulting in their new-born babies being taken away from unmarried mothers’ and called for ‘the UK and Scottish governments to follow the lead of the Australian Government in 2013’, by acknowledging responsibility for policies and practices that forced the separation of mothers from their babies. The motion called for the Scottish Government to initiate an inquiry regarding the practice in Scotland and acknowledge to the public through a formal apology that there had been wrongdoings.

The background to this campaign for an adoption apology is that for many years, until at least the early 1980s, pregnancy outside marriage was severely frowned upon, and frequently young women who found themselves in this situation were given little choice but to give in to the strong pressures which were exerted on them by the authorities to have their babies adopted. They were not given information about the welfare services, including housing and financial help, which were available at the time. There was rarely a question of these women being found to be unfit mothers; they were simply prevented from becoming mothers at all.

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This experience so hurt many of these women that they have suffered years of mental and/or physical ill health ever since. In some cases, fathers also, even when wishing to help, were denied a say in their child’s future because the child was classified as illegitimate. During the Scottish Parliament debate MSPs heard the case of Marion Macmillan. In 1967, Marion McMillan was a single teenage mother from Stranraer who was forced to hand over her baby at a Salvation Army mother and baby home. She begged to keep him, but he was given to a married couple, and Marion did not see him again for almost 40 years. Marion was quoted speaking in a Sunday Post article: “We were vulnerable young women who were bullied and told if we really loved our babies, we’d give them up so they could have a mummy and a daddy. I remember crying and telling them ‘but I’m his mummy’, and begging them not to take my son. I was told not to be silly. I’d get over it and I could always have other babies when I was married.” Incredibly, despite her lifelong trauma, Marion found the strength to reunite hundreds of mums and their children, and she gave testimony in Australia to secure an official apology there in 2013.

Dr Gary Clapton, reader in social work and programme director for BSc (Hons) in social work, Edinburgh University.

I helped during the State of Victoria’s debate in Melbourne that year and can testify to the pain that was borne witness during this and the power of the testimonies of the mothers that spoke. Victoria passed a Parliamentary Apology expressing ‘formal and sincere apology to the mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who were profoundly harmed by past adoption practices’. The apology concluded ‘We undertake to never forget what happened and to never repeat these practices’.

We can only hope and wish that governments and assemblies throughout the UK emulate these apologies and also that forced adoptions literally become a thing of the past.

More about the Adoption Apology can be read here: https://movementforanadoptionapology.org/

Dr. Gary Clapton, Reader in Social Work, The University of Edinburgh

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