Skip to main content

CVAA response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights Inquiry report: The Violation of Family Life: Adoption of Children of Unmarried Women 1949–1976

On Friday 15 July the Joint Committee on Human Rights published its report ‘The Violation of Family Life: Adoption of Children of Unmarried Women 1949–1976’, available here. As the membership organisation for voluntary adoption agencies, we wish to make the following response to the report.

Our hearts go out to all the mothers and adopted people who have suffered such pain and hurt from these terrible adoption practices of the past. It is undoubtedly the case that these mothers would have been wonderful loving parents, had they been given the opportunity, which thankfully most single, pregnant young women do get today.

What happened to these mothers was wrong, and although we can not put right these historic wrongs, we can recognise that mothers should not in any way bear the blame for the actions of a society which failed to support young women in their choices, and had had such judgmental attitudes to illegitimacy and single mothers.

Today, voluntary adoption agencies (VAAs) across the UK are actively recruiting single people to provide loving homes for children who cannot remain with their birth families. This is of little comfort to those affected by the events described in this harrowing report, but it is a measure of how far the adoption system, and wider society, has changed.

We are so sorry that the birth mothers and adopted adults affected by these terrible practices have not had access to the support, therapy and care required to help them manage the lasting impact of this trauma on their lives and we wholeheartedly support the Committee’s recommendations on improving access to therapeutic support for both birth mothers and adopted people of all ages. Support for birth families and adult adoptees is still an under resourced service across much of the UK and is a vital part of creating a fair and humane adoption system which recognises the lifelong trauma of early loss.

The mothers and adopted people who have shared their stories with the inquiry have shown immense courage and dignity in being willing to make themselves vulnerable, to right a historic wrong. The experience of birth families and adopted people is now given much greater respect in the adoption system. All VAAs involve birth families and adopted people in their preparation courses for adopters and in the development of their services, acknowledging that loss is, sadly, an unavoidable part of adoption.

Greater investment is also needed to enable social services and adoption agencies to respond in a caring and efficient way to those seeking information about their own adoption or that of a close relative. We recognise the many difficulties which surround this, but the poignancy of mothers seeking information on whether their child is still alive must drive change to enable all those affected by adoption to have easier access to the information which is part of their life history. This is not simply an administrative process, it is a social work service, requiring professional support to help people make sense of the information they receive and its potential emotional impact.

Thankfully the total severance of ties between adopted children and their birth families is now very rare, although far more needs to be done to support the maintenance of early relationships which are important to children and their development of a strong sense of identity and belonging. It is heartbreaking to think of so many adopted children growing up thinking their birth mothers “gave them away”, when nothing was further from the truth. VAAs are calling on the governments of the UK to establish a national service to support birth and adoptive families in sustaining relationships in the best interest of the child. Such a service could also be a repository for the health and other important information adopted people may need as they grow up and ensure that never again would a birth mother have to worry about whether the child she bore was still alive.

Finally, we endorse and support the Committee’s call for a Government apology. This cannot take away decades of hurt but it can and should acknowledge on behalf of all of us that a great wrong was done and as a nation we deeply regret that.