Clare Short has done an enormous service to those thousands of women who still carry the scars of similar experiences, simply by going public. But there is more she could do. Her position as both birth mother and MP means she is uniquely placed to challenge proposals in the draft Adoption Bill which is due to be introduced in the coming session. Unless it has been substantially amended in the interim, it will take us way beyond the bad old days.
Proposals in the draft Bill allow children to be placed for adoption without parental consent even when they are not considered "at risk" if, in the opinion of professionals, it is "in the best interests of the child". What those interests might be is not defined.
The process of recovering a child once such a placement order has been made would be extremely difficult. The mandatory time lag between a birth parent consenting to placement and signing final adoption papers is removed. It is difficult to believe that pressure will not be put on women to give consent to both placement and adoption at the same time, allowing no opportunity for reflection.
Counselling will be mandatory but provided by involved professionals or agencies: it would be disingenuous to believe it can be independent and disinterested. And agencies will be allowed to move children from placement to placement without a return to court and, by implication, the consent of birth parents.
The subtext is clear to me - and I suspect to every 1950s and 1960s birth mother. Once again, social circumstances will dictate who is judged fit to parent. Once again, women will be put under pressure to give up their babies to "proper" parents at a time when they are at their most vulnerable. But this time, the force of law will be added to the psychological pressure I remember all too well.
I know that when I gave up my daughter, I made the only responsible decision I could have made at the time. But that has not spared me years of guilt and shame and bitter regret. Clare Short will recognise these feelings. I hope she will do all she can to try and spare women in the future such pain.
Isleworth, MiddlesexReuse content