Closed adoption refers to the practice of sealing an adopted child's original birth certificate and issuing a new birth certificate when the child was adopted. This new certificate included the name of the child and his or her adoptive parents. The identity of the adopted child's original parents was hidden. This practice meant that many people didn't even know they had been adopted as children. The intention was to help the child settle into the adoptive family.
Closed adoption became legally possible in Western Australia with the Adoption of Children Act Amendment Act 1921 and the Adoption of Children Act Amendment Act 1926.
The Adoption of Children Act Amendment Act 1964, which didn't come into operation until 1970, tightened the secrecy provisions further. The Hon. Dr JG Hislop, debating the amendments in the Legislative Council (Hansard, 17 November 1964), commented on these provisions, which he felt were, on the whole, good. But he was glad that the secrecy did not prevent adopting parents from speaking about the adoption: 'It would be dreadful if anyone who adopted a child should run into difficulties as a result of making it known that he or she has adopted a third child' (p.2629). Dr Hislop advocated telling the child 'soon after reaching the age of understanding' that she or he was adopted. If not, there was 'likely to be trouble' when the child, inevitably at some future point, found out. Any interesting exchange between Hon Ruby Hutchison and Dr Hislop took place during debate (pp.2629-2630), as Dr Hislop tried to explain the issue, saying to Mrs Hislop, 'I plead with parents to tell their adopted children' about the adoption. Mrs Hislop felt that it shouldn't matter. Dr Hislop agreed that being adopted shouldn't matter, but the manner of finding out was critical.
The practice of closed adoption was kept up until 1985 when laws made it somewhat easier for people who had been adopted to seek information from their birth records. It wasn't until 1994 that a new Adoption Act made it possible for the mother who had been separated from her child by adoption to apply for access to information about the identity that had been given to the child on adoption.
Sources used to compile this entry: Elphick, Ron J and Glennis Dees, The adoption jigsaw : an account of the compassionate understanding and support given to those whose lives were affected by past adoption practices and of the 20 year struggle in Western Australia to break the conspiracy of silence surrounding adoption by changing attitudes, customs, laws and practices, 1978-1998., R. Elphick, Perth, 2000; 'National Research Study on the Service Response to Past Adoption Experiences', in Australian Institute of Family Studies, Australian Institute of Family Studies, https://aifs.gov.au/publications/past-adoption-experiences; Adoption of Children Act Amendment Bill Second Reading (Hansard, pp.2625-2631).
Prepared by: Debra Rosser
Created: 25 June 2012, Last modified: 2 March 2015