by DANIEL EMERSON, The West Australian
March 5, 2010, 2:15 am
WA is poised to be the first State to publicly acknowledge the aggressive adoption practices which resulted in thousands of mothers being unlawfully separated from their babies after giving birth out of wedlock.
Health Minister Kim Hames has revealed he is personally overseeing the creation of a memorial to the families affected by State hospital and welfare practices during the 1940s to the early 1980s.
Dr Hames is also likely to read an apology on behalf of the State Government either in Parliament or at a dedication ceremony opening the memorial at a yet to be determined location. Dr Hames said many women and families had been emotionally damaged and he wanted to help them heal.
"You look back on those attitudes of the day and wonder how we could be so harsh," he said.
"Things like taking children away from their mothers as soon as they were born and not letting them see or touch them. We are apologising in the same way as with the Stolen Generation, recognising that those practices . . . were ones that today wouldn't be acceptable and that they caused considerable hurt and harm."
Experts say tens of thousands of WA babies were taken illegally when their unmarried mothers were prevented from seeing, touching, naming or bonding with their children immediately after birth.
The practice, which has been linked to post traumatic stress, was illegal under the Adoption of Children Acts but widespread at public hospitals throughout Australia.
Also common but illegal was asking women to sign adoption papers earlier than five days after the birth.
Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital apologised for their "ill treatment" of unmarried mothers in May last year.
Christine Cole, convenor of the NSW-based Apology Alliance which lobbies on the issue, said a memorial dedicated by a State health minister would be the most significant acknowledgment by authorities "probably anywhere in the world".
"These adoptions happened for two key reasons," she said. "First, it saved the State money because if a child was adopted they didn't have to pay for foster care or mothers' benefits.
"The second was this eugenics-based notion that young women who gave birth out of wedlock were feeble minded and unfit mothers."
Australian Medical Association WA president Gary Geelhoed said the memorial would be symbolic but "very, very important".