Guest blog: Lessons from Australia

What is, is possible!

One of the things that can inspire activists in their long march through our social institutions is to know that the way things are now has not always been that way and that alternative social realities are possible. Somewhere between the despair of nothing ever changing and an ever-frustrated optimism lays a middle path of realistic and hopeful engagement with the powers that be.

Many of you struggling for your adoptee rights in the USA might look upon the current Australian scene with envy. For example, in my home state of Queensland, we have a right to access our identifying information; we can access an original birth certificate; original parents and their sons and daughters can state a contact preference, which should be acknowledged by the other party, but no penalties are in place for breaching that request. The names of putative fathers held on adoption files are also given to adoptees, and if the relevant parties are deceased, information can be requested by their children and grandchildren.

Naturally, all this can generate a lot of anxiety, so the state government funds post-adoption support services to help those affected by past and current adoption practices find their relatives and negotiate their new relationships; that is, if they want such help; it is not compulsory.

As a nation, Australians have confronted the realities of past adoption practices, acknowledging that those practices were in many case done illegally and unethically, usually without the kind of fully informed consent that we expect today. Each Australian state government and the Commonwealth parliament issued a formal apology for past forced adoption practices and the federal government allocated funds for professional education, direct service support and assistance to peer support groups. How good is that!

Of course, this didn’t all happen overnight and a lot of people have contributed over the years to achieving these changes, including our brothers and sisters in the USA. Our politicians are no more enlightened that yours are, and our bureaucrats are required to be just as bureaucratic as yours are. Of course, the journey is not yet complete. There are still to be addressed issues around discharging adoptions, providing redress for past wrongs and the future of adoption practice in providing permanency for children, given that we do not want to repeat the past.