5M The First 1000 Days


Anne Webster,
Zoe Support Australia
Friday 23 November 23 2018

Time: 9:35am – 9:55am

Room: Kuranda Ballroom

5M The First 1000 Days

The Legacy, Legality and Legitimacy of Adopting Out


I will present the findings of my empirical research which investigates the disconnect between the lived experience of birth mothers who adopted out their child recently and the views of members of the public including adoptive parents and adult adoptees. I consider the perceptions of adoption in contemporary Australia from a sociological perspective focusing on the influences and circumstances in which a birth mother might choose to adopt out her newborn. Following Barbara Misztal’s conceptualisations of modern vulnerability, I argue that being pregnant and not wishing to parent is a micro level experience paralleling a disaster such as a tsunami or war. It renders a woman vulnerable as she experiences something she cannot change, which has unknown repercussions, while enforcing reliance on others to survive. My data from focus groups and in depth interviews with birth mothers was collected between 2012 and 2013, and illustrates the complexity of influences that impact on birth mothers and public perceptions of adoption in line with the vulnerability framework. My thesis demonstrates that while adopting out is legal in every state and territory in Australia, it has a legacy from the past coercive practices which negatively influences public perception of its legitimacy today. The problematic history of adoption practice has resulted in an unsuccessful struggle to separate coercion from choice (Higgins, 2010). The predicament of a pregnant woman who does not aspire to parent is primarily a site of vulnerability in which the ability to execute choice is challenged by unpredictability, irreversibility and dependence. Misztal’s framework provides mitigation strategies for the vulnerability experienced by a birth mother who makes the choice to adopt out, and presents a basis on which current policies could be addressed to remedy the legacy of past practices and increase interdependency, reconciliation and hope in adoption choice.


Anne established Zoe Support Australia, an organisation which supports young mothers on their parenting journey and reengagement into education in Mildura. The wraparound, holistic, place based service has been operating with exceptional outcomes for over 6 years, and was developed on her evidence-based research. She is a Social Worker (Hons), a Sociologist and researcher, and is currently completing her PhD on Australian adoption at the Australian National University. This presentation is the culmination of her PhD research.