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Forced adoption mothers 'still hurting'

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 24/05/2017

For three decades women across New Zealand forced to give up their babies for adoption were told they could forget and move on with their lives, but they say that was the biggest lie of all.

Forced adoption was prevalent across the country between the 1960s and 1980s according to women like Maggie Wilkinson who is petitioning Parliament for an inquiry into the practice.

"People are still hurting from this. It doesn't go away," she told NZ Newswire after a select committee hearing in Wellington where representatives from the Ministry for Vulnerable Children gave what she called a rundown on adoption legislation and nothing more.

The Social Services committee had requested to hear from the ministry on the practice and prevalence of forced adoption, but Green MP Jan Logie also expressed concern about the lack of information that was provided.

Ministry deputy chief executive Allan Boreham told the committee that adoption law in the 1950s was influenced by "complete break theory", the idea that if adoption was kept secret from a child it could "overcome hereditary".

He and policy advisor Wendy Illingworth downplayed the role of the state in forced adoption, saying the state's adoption social workers had "little to no contact with the birth mother".

But those comments drew scoffs from the gallery where many women forced to give up their children, and some of those children, were watching.

Maria Hayward said she distinctly remembers meeting with a government social worker before she was forced to give up her son and says that was not the case.

"[They were saying] things like 'it's for the best', 'it's for the best for the baby'," she told NZ Newswire afterwards.

"Now what mother doesn't want the best for the baby and we caved in at that point."

Mrs Wilkinson also rejected the ministry's claim that adoption consents were obtained by independent lawyers, saying the lawyer in her case was a trustee of the mothers home where she was sent.

On the prevalence, Mr Boreham said annual adoption figures are kept - for example 3888 in 1969 - but it could only be speculated as to how many were coerced.

Ms Logie said that's why there needs to be an inquiry.

"We don't know the extent in terms of the legality and illegality of some of the interventions and who was involved and how that played out," she said.

"And while there's been system change in response to an acknowledgement of a problem [for] these women and their children there is no functional redress in our system at the moment, is there."

Mrs Wilkinson, whose petition led to the committee investigation, rejected a statement made by National MP Jono Naylor during the committee hearing.

He said it was one thing for people to say they were pressured and another thing to prove something illegal took place, and questioned "hearsay versus proof" in an inquiry.

Mrs Wilkinson said she didn't think the membership of the 23 adoption support groups that existed across the country could be dismissed as hearsay.

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