A parliamentary committee is to examine the issue of forced adoptions after women spoke about their experiences.
The committee will also hear evidence from children who were put up for adoption, as well as the government.
However, not all children were put up for adoption. I was born in 1958 and my mother was unmarried which means very little nowadays but back then women were often stigmatised and rejected by their families. Sometimes they were sent miles away to give birth in secret, coerced and in some instances forced to give up their babies.
At six weeks old I was taken from my mother who had been staying in a mother and baby home in Ealing and put into a residential nursery in Barratts Green Road, Harlesden. This was to be the beginning of a journey that took me to various foster homes, children’s homes, spells with family and too many schools for one small child to cope with. The only reason I was in care was because society had decided that if a woman became preganant and was unmarried, she was deemed unfit to be a parent. If the immediate family refused to help, which was often the case, the baby would be put up for adoption. And even though help was available, financial help, as well as housing, this was very rarely offered, due to the adoption market that was predominant back then.
When I was taken into care, ‘bad blood’, was bandied about because my mother suffered from depression, possibly bipolar, although in those days the psychiatrists weren’t as knowledgeable as they are now. If the parent of a child had any history of mental illness, a baby would not be put up for adoption but put into care.
Back in 2012, I made contact with Phil Frampton, whose story was very similar to mine. His mother was also unmarried and Phil was placed in a children’s home. But the reason he wasn’t adopted was not because his mother had a mental illness but because ‘his father was a black African from Nigeria’. I found Phil through a website that listed children in care who had made a success of their lives.
At around the same time as meeting Phil, I met Josie O Pearse at an event hosted by Lemn Sissay, another successful child of the state. Josie had been in care as a very young child and was then adopted. Phil, Josie and I started a Facebook group Umbrella Movement for an Adoption Apology. We were campaigners, activists, supporters of direct action. Back then the mother’s group, the Movement for an Adoption Apology did not seem to include children who had been in care and as we felt our voices weren’t being heard, we set up our own organisation. We met in Parliament and sat in a room with other mothers and children who had been affected by the social policies and stigma of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Our aim was to get the government to apologise to the women and children who suffered and who continue to suffer from the impact of the forced child adoption practices in the UK during the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
Phil and John Leech MP for Manchester Withington, created an early day motion EDM92 Forced Child Adoption for debate in the House of Commons. However, very few EDMs are actually debated. What EDMs can do is create publicity around the motion so that more MPs will sign and become involved.
There was a lot of publicity about the apology made by the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to people affected by Australia’s forced adoption policy between the 1950s and 1970s. Tens of thousands of babies of unmarried mothers, were thought to have been taken by the state and given to childless married couples. Speaking in front of hundreds of the victims, Ms Gillard said the “shameful” policy had created “a legacy of pain”.
An UMAA supporter got Lord Greaves to “ask Her Majesty’s Government what response they have made to the government of Australia regarding its apology for the past practices of forced adoptions of children of unmarried mothers; and whether they plan to issue a similar apology on behalf of past United Kingdom governments.”
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools, at the time (Lord Nash): “The United Kingdom Government have not made any formal response to the apology issued by the Australian Government. The Government have no plans to issue a similar apology.”
Shows like ‘Long Lost Family’ in 2012 were relatively new. There were also two films that were being shown around this time. The first was ‘Philomena’. After falling pregnant as a teenager in Ireland in 1952, Philomena Lee was sent to the convent of Roscrea to be looked after as a “fallen woman”. When her baby was only a toddler, he was whisked away by the nuns to America for adoption. Philomena spent the next fifty years searching for him in vain. The film starred Steve Coogan and Judi Dench. A protest demonstration for an adoption apology was held at the ‘Philomena’ premiere October, 2013.
Also in October that year, Ann Fessler, author of The Girls Who Went Away and director of the film ‘A Girl Like Her’ – about mothers in the US who lost children to adoption in the 1950s, 60s and early 70s – was held at the Foundling Museum (what a perfect setting).
I attended both the premiere, where I stood outside the cinema in Leiscester Square with my head held high and in the appropriate colours like a true Sufferagette! And a week later at the screening of ‘A Girl Like Her’, at the Foundling Museum.
And now nine years later it seems that finally there is to be a Joint Committee on Human Rights who will hear from mothers who say they were forced into giving up their babies at birth because they were unmarried. It follows BBC reports on the issue which, it is believed, affected around 250,000 women in the 50s, 60s and 70s.
“Lawyers examining the birth mothers’ cases have focused on the period between 1945 and 1975 – before a change in adoption law – when around 500,000 babies were adopted in Britain, mostly from mothers who were under 24 and unmarried. Their research suggests about half of those women faced sustained pressure to give up their babies from professionals, including doctors, midwives, workers in mother and baby homes and adoption staff in religious and council-run homes.”
Labour MP Harriet Harman says her committee is calling for birth mothers, birth fathers and their children to come forward with a view to giving evidence, either written or in person. She says this is a matter that affects the human rights of thousands of women and that the committee wants to hear as wide a range of evidence as possible.
If you were one of the mothers or the children affected, you can write to Harriet Harman the Chair of the Select Committee at Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by post: Harriet Harman MP, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA.
To find out more you can watch Duncan Kennedy’s BBC programme, If You Love Your Baby on the BBC News Channel this Saturday 29th May at 1.30pm.
 Frampton, F. (2012) The Rosemundy House of Shame. Phil Frampton, 2012
 Kennedy, D. (2021) Forced adoptions to be investigated by Parliament. BBC News, 2021.