The movement for an adoption apology for women forced to give up their babies because they were unmarried is gathering pace.

Whenever a government is asked to apologise for historical injustice, there are sceptics. It was a different era; it was a long time ago; it won’t make any difference…The comments sections of last night’s news stories are full of views like this.

But listen to the words of Judy Baker, forced to give up her baby girl after she fell pregnant at 18: ‘It would be very good if somebody said: I’m sorry. It would be so powerful, to show people that what happened to us was wrong.’

When the Australian government apologised for similar practices in 2013, it was met with a standing ovation. In January this year the Irish Prime Minister apologised for a "…dark, difficult and shameful chapter" of Irish history, in which many babies died in homes for unmarried mothers, and others were forcibly adopted.

In this situation, a government apology is, simply, the right thing to do, for the women and for the children they lost.  

Thankfully, adoption has changed radically since the 1970s. Improved birth control and changing public attitudes meant that the number of babies being placed for adoption fell rapidly. Adoption practice changed its focus to finding families for children with ‘special needs’, such as those in local authority care who had been abused, neglected or had physical or learning disabilities. In 1999 about half of the children who were adopted had suffered abuse, violence or neglect. Today it is around three-quarters. Adoption has become an intervention for some of society’s most traumatised and vulnerable children.

Until about 50 years ago, adoption was regularly used as social cleansing – to prevent children being raised by women who were perceived to have weak morals. Today, adoption is rightly a last resort. The average age of adoption in England is three years. This is because children are only placed for adoption after intensive efforts to support birth families in order to try and keep them together.

Where that fails, adoption offers children safety, stability and the chance to thrive. There is plenty of research to show that children who are adopted do better than their peers who remain in care, and much better than those left at home on the edge of care.

Adoption UK was set up in 1971, at a social turning point when the perception of women was changing. The charity was born during the shift to modern day adoption. It supports adoptive families who are raising children who could not stay with their birth families.  

Losing a birth child is a tragedy for every parent and they all deserve our sympathy. Those whose children are removed for their own safety are often repeating cycles of abuse and neglect that have afflicted that family over generations.

For the women whose children were removed just because they were unmarried, the time has come to say sorry.

Sue Armstrong Brown, AUK Chief Executive.

Follow this link for more information on The Movement for an Adoption Apology.