Little evidence children forcibly taken from mothers, commission finds

Published On February 18, 2021 | By Children Screaming To Be Heard |
The report describes how Ireland was late in introducing formal legal adoption (Stock image)
The report describes how Ireland was late in introducing formal legal adoption (Stock image)
The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes has found “very little evidence” that children were forcibly taken from their mothers but accepts that mothers did not have much choice.

In its report it states that while former residents and lobby groups have suggested that ‘adoption’ should be renamed ‘forced adoption’, it does not agree.

“Mothers did have time after the initial placement for adoption to reassess the situation.”

As part of its analysis, the commission concentrated on evidence relating to consent and on foreign adoptions.

It states the main reason why adoption became so popular after it was formally introduced in 1953 was a lack of family and community support for mothers who wished to keep their child and that its availability also meant that women did not have to stay as long in the institutions.

The report describes how Ireland was late in introducing formal legal adoption and that once it came into effect, it became the “most significant exit pathway for children” in mother-and bab- homes.

According to its study, the rights of the mother were recognised but greater emphasis was generally placed on the needs of the adoptive parents.

“An adoption order could not be made without the consent of the child’s mother or guardian, or any person having charge of or control over the child.”

In the early days there were many more adopting parents than there were babies to be adopted

The commission’s findings reveal evidence from some mothers who signed forms consenting to adoption because they had no alternative, because of family circumstances and/or insufficient means to support a baby.

“Some of this cohort of women are of the opinion that their consent was not full, free and informed.”

However, with the exception of a small number of legal cases, it summises that there is no evidence that this was their view at the time of the adoption.

One social worker with Cúnamh told the commission that options were discussed with mothers during the 1970s but that there were very few. “In the early days there were many more adopting parents than there were babies to be adopted.”

Reflecting on the Adoption Board’s role the Commission says it’s clear that for at least the first ten to 15 years of its operations, it did not have adequate resources to properly supervise adoption agencies or examine the consent given.

However from the 1970s/1980s onwards it believes that there were adequate procedures in place for ensuring that a mother’s consent was full, free and informed.

Two social workers who had been working with the Adoption Board in the 1980s and 1990s gave the following evidence to the commission: “As far as the Adoption Board social workers were concerned, the adoption societies fully counselled the mother on the consent process.

“They told the commission that it was the adoption society’s task to deal with the background history, the medical history, the relationship with the child’s birth father, how the society assessed the prospective adopters, ascertaining if the mother wished to be involved in the process and finding out if she wished any follow-up information about her child post-adoption, discussions in relation to alternatives to adoption and supports that might be available to her if she decided to keep her child”.

When adoption became widespread in the 1960s the average length of stay fell significantly and continued to fall in the 1970s according to this report.

“By the 1970s, mother and baby homes were conscious that a growing number of women were travelling to Britain for abortions, so they were under pressure to make life in a mother and baby home less onerous, including a shorter stay.”

In the years after 1970, it notes adoption was the most common outcome for the children who were in Pelletstown, Dunboyne or Bessborough.

The report states that this is consistent with the information on the women’s admission pathways; most were referred to these homes by an adoption society which suggests that there was an expectation of adoption before the baby was born.

Foreign Adoptions

1,638 children who were resident in the mother and baby homes and county homes under investigation were placed for foreign adoption.

The vast majority, 1,427 were placed for adoption in the United States and most foreign adoptions took place between 1945-1969

Impossible to prove and impossible to disprove

The Adoption Act 1952 did not regulate foreign adoptions and there was no statutory regulation of them.

“The only informal supervision was in relation to the issuing of passports for the children to travel to the USA.” according to the Commission.

In its report, it names Archbishop McQuaid and Fr Cecil Barrett as two members of society who “had no right to be involved at all but they were actively involved” in trying to control foreign adoptions and did manage to have some standards applied.

Regarding allegations that large sums of money were given to the institutions and agencies in Ireland that arranged foreign adoptions, the commission states these claims are both “impossible to prove and impossible to disprove”.

It considers the view however that a number of mothers thought that, by agreeing to the child going to the USA in particular, they were giving that child opportunities not available in Ireland.

“Some mothers, having traced their child, told the Commission that they were disappointed their child had not been adopted to the USA.”

It goes on to say that the general attitude taken by government and many of those involved in the process seems to have been that children, who could not or would not be taken care of by their mothers or extended families in Ireland, would be better off going to adoptive homes, particularly in the US, rather than being placed in orphanages and industrial schools in Ireland.

However the ‘adoption experiences’ of some witnesses ranging from the mid-1940s until the mid 1960’s are contained in the Commission’s report and show some of their personal trauma over what happened to their birth mothers.

There is no piece of paper saying that my mother relinquished her rights. I definitely believe that I was sold

One witness said she was giving evidence primarily to ensure that what had happened to her birthmother around the

issue of her adoption ‘was never going to happen again to other women and children. ‘My mother was put out on the street with a broken heart, left to pick up her life. She never recovered’. She said: ‘My parents told me they had sent the nuns a lot of money. There is no piece of paper saying that my mother relinquished her rights. I definitely believe that I was sold’.

The ‘morass of lies and deceit is very unsettling,’ another witness told the Committee. She said that her adoptive parents were given ‘incorrect information’ about her;

Health Board social workers who were based in Pelletstown in the 1970s and 1980s and who were mainly dealing with mothers who were placing their children for adoption also gave evidence to the Commission.

They told the commission there was a culture of adoption which was “systemic in Pelletstown” but no there was “no explicit pressure” put on the women. Rather in their view there was a belief system that adoption was the better option.

According to the commission’s report they were adamant they never saw women having their babies taken without their explicit consent. “All options had been discussed with them including the right to withdraw consent up until the final order.”

Foreign adoption became the exit pathway for a significant number of children in Pelletstown from 1950. There had been small numbers before that. In 1950, there were 31 placements for foreign adoption.

Irregularities and illegal activities

The report also focuses on cases where some births were not registered and also the activities pursued by both mother and baby homes and couples abroad trying to adopt Irish children.

One example refers to a garda report from 1954 stating that eight children were born to mothers who came to St Rita’s private nursing home in Ranelagh.

“Shortly after the birth of the children, the nursing home owner, Mrs Keating, handed them over to the wives of American servicemen.”

The report stated that the certificates of surrender were attached but they were not in the file seen by the commission with it stating it is “seriously doubtful” if such certificates of surrender had any legal validity.

There were no prosecutions and the commission has not seen any evidence that the issue was taken up by the Department of Health or the local authority responsible for registering maternity homes,

The Commission considers that the actions of State authorities in this case fell far short of what should have been expected from those charged with implementing the maternity home regulations.

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