Date: 3 June 2021

Last Saturday's documentary If you love your baby...the story of forced adoptions told the heart-breaking stories of the women who were forced to give up their babies. As I watched the documentary I was appalled at what I saw. Both the Church of England and the Catholic Church in England, who ran many of the mother and baby homes at the time, have already apologised for their part. 

“Wouldn’t it be great if this (the recent call for an apology for the forced adoption in the 50s, 60s and 70s) opened up a wider debate about the structural reasons (such as poverty and lack of support services) that families find themselves involved with safeguarding services?” said my colleague Hetty to me yesterday. And this made me think that yes, that is what we need. 

The state failed in its protection of these women – from the pressures placed on them by society and sometimes their families and a lack of support (minimal welfare support and no childcare provision) – to enable any real and meaningful choice. They deserve an apology. And we support their call for one and are pleased that the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights is investigating this issue.

But a real apology for the mistakes of the past must include action to make sure that the situation has really changed. This includes ensuring that a teenager won’t have to hide a pregnancy from her family or community for fear of being ostracised or subject to honour-based violence, that a pregnancy won’t get classed as ‘unwanted’ because a family has reached the two-child limit for universal credit, that the mother is trapped in an abusive relationship or has mental health needs that she can’t access help for.

The proportions of adoptions driven by welfare concerns and those driven by society pressure have clearly changed since the 50s, and adoptions driven by safeguarding and welfare concerns of the child is the main reason for adoption today, including the need for timely decisions that suit the child’s timescales. But not all children adopted in the 50s, 60s and 70s were forcibly removed from their mothers; they came to adoption because they had to be removed from abusive parents, or the adoption was an informed choice made by families who were not in a position to care for another child, or for a child with a disability, or by women who simply weren’t ready for a child. And not all children adopted today are removed from their families because of abuse or neglect. There are still babies being relinquished for adoption today because of cultural or family pressures in particular communities, or because the parents don’t have the resources to care for another child or because the parents have unmet needs for support.

So, yes, we should talk about why babies are removed or given up and why some families find themselves involved with child protection services. And we need to address these underlying issues so we don’t go on re-creating these traumas. That way we can avoid the heartbreak so evident and so eloquently expressed in the documentary and avoid the future needs for apologies.