Researcher contributes expert evidence to ‘painful’ chapter in history of adoption

Baby's fingers curing round an adult's fingers
Photography by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash

A Lancaster University sociologist is set to give expert evidence into an inquiry looking into the experiences of unmarried women who had their babies forcibly removed by the state.

Dr Michael Lambert, a Fellow in Social Inequalities in the Sociology Department, will contribute oral evidence to the opening session today (December 15 2021).

He will form part of a panel with other academics outlining the social, political and psychological background to the issues at stake to the inquiry. Running into 2022, it will centre on the testimonies and experiences of hundreds of mothers and their children who were forcibly removed and adopted with other families by the British welfare state.

His invitation follows an extensive written submission to the inquiry about social policies, the role and responsibilities of the welfare state to families, and the organisation of statutory and voluntary social work for women and children. This submission was based on research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council while Michael was a doctoral student in history at Lancaster University from 2013 to 2017.

Dr Lambert said: “This inquiry is important in publicly recognising the injustice perpetrated by the British welfare state for more than a quarter of a century. It has hidden in plain sight for a long time, and it is crucial that the voices of those affected are central to any process of redress.

“The fact that these events took place within living memory is striking in what can appear as harsh and moralising tones by those involved.

“It is crucial that we seize this opportunity presented by the Joint Committee on Human Rights to understand that many of the same dynamics of power and authority persist through to the present and represent an enduring form of inequality.

“My interest in the issue of the forcible adoption of children of unmarried mothers came from reading social work case files for my doctoral thesis. Whilst each contained a moving family history, together they raised questions about how the welfare state operated. This, particularly at a time when we often think that Britain never had it so good. The background to the inquiry and my own research shows that many did not.”

The Joint Committee on Human Rights launched this new inquiry to examine whether adoption processes respected the human rights - as we understand them now - of mothers and children, as well as understanding the lasting consequences on their lives.

The inquiry will cover a range of practices that led to the children of unmarried mothers being adopted. The scope of the inquiry will specifically cover issues arising from cases which took place during the time period between the Adoption of Children Act 1949 and the Adoption Act 1976.

Launching the inquiry, Committee Chair Harriet Harman QC MP said: "Everyone has the right to family life. The Joint Committee on Human Rights will look at whether the right to family life of young unmarried mothers and their children was respected in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. We have launched this inquiry to understand the realities of what the adoption process was like at that time and hear the experiences of those who went through it.

“The adoptions took place decades ago, but the pain and suffering remain today.”

The inquiry will be broadcast on Parliament Live TV

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