by Lynelle Long, Vietnamese ex-adoptee raised in Australia, Founder of ICAV
I can officially now say, “I WAS adopted” as in, it is of the past. Now, my identity changes once again and I am no longer legally plenary adopted. I am my own person having made a clear and cognitive adult age decision that I want to be legally free of the people who looked after me since 5 months old. Mostly, I wanted to be legally recognised as my biological mother’s child and for the truth to be on my birth certificate and flowing into all my identity documents for the future. This also impacts my children and their future generations to ensure they do not have to live the lie of adoption either, but are entitled to their genetic truth of whom they are born to, multi generationally.
The biggest lie of plenary adoption is that we are “as if born to our adoptive parents”. My Australian birth certificate reflects this lie. I grew tired of the untruths of adoption so I decided to take matters into my own hands and empower myself. Nine months later, on 13 December 2022, I was officially discharged from my adoption order which had been made when I was 17 years old. Previous to this, I had been flown into Australia by my adoptive father at the age of 5 months old in December 1973 and the family kept me with them for 17 years without legally completing my adoption. So technically, I was legally under the care of the Lutheran Victorian adoption agency and Immigration Minister’s care as my guardians until my adoption got completed in April 1990. These institutions however didn’t seem to followup on me nor did they create a State Ward file on me. It is still a mystery to this day how I was barely followed up on, given they knew quite clearly that my adoption had not been finalised.
My case is very unusual in that most adoptive parents want to quickly complete the adoption so they can be officially regarded as the child’s “legal guardians”. I have no idea why my adoptive parents took so long and what baffles me is how they managed to pass as my “parents” at schools, hospitals, or any places where there should be a question around “who is this child’s parents” when they had nothing formal on paper to prove their “parenthood”. It’s quite obvious I can’t be their “born to” child when I am Asian and they are white caucasians. We look nothing alike and they raised me in rural areas where I was often the only non-white, non-Aboriginal looking person.
So as this year closes, I can celebrate that my year of 2022 has been a year of empowerment in so many ways. On November 2022, I was also recognised for my years of suffering by being offered the maximum compensation, counselling and a direct personal response under the Royal Commission for Institutional Sexual Abuse Redress Scheme by the two entities responsible for me – the Lutheran Church (the Victorian adoption agency) and the Department of Home Affairs (Australian Immigration). The past 5 years I’ve spent talking to countless lawyers, trying to find a way to hold institutions accountable for my placement with a family who should never have received any vulnerable child. Finally, in some small way, I am able to hold these institutions somewhat accountable and be granted a face to face meeting as a direct personal response via the Redress Scheme. What I want them to recognise is the significant responsibility they hold to keep children safe. It is still hard to fathom how any country can allow children in with parents who look nothing like them, clearly having no biological connections, no paperwork, yet not take all precautions to ensure these children are not being trafficked. I am yet to finish with that larger issue of being highly suspicious that my adoption was an illegal one, if not highly illicit. Our governments need to be on higher alert, looking out for all signs of trafficking in children and ensuring that these children are followed up on and that they have indeed been relinquished by their parents before being allowed into another country with people who are nothing alike.
My case in the Redress Scheme also highlights the many failings of the child protection system that is supposed to protect vulnerable children like me. If I’d been adopted by the family as they should have done, I would never have been allowed this compensation or acknowledgement through the Redress Scheme. It is a significant failing of the system that those who are deemed legally “adopted” are not considered to be under “institutional care” when these very institutions are the ones who place us and deem our adoptive families eligible to care for us. I wrote about this some years ago when I was frustrated that I hadn’t been able to participate in the Royal Commission for Institutional Sexual Abuse. Thankfully, a kind lawyer and fellow sufferer as a former foster child, Peter Kelso was the one who gave me free legal advice and indicated the way through the Royal Commission labyrinth. He helped me understand my true legal status as “not adopted” at the time of my sexual abuse and it is this truth that helped my case for redress via the free legal services of Knowmore. So it’s a bitter sweet outcome for me as I know of too many fellow adoptees who have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of their adoptive families. Most will never receive any sense of recognition for their suffering and the pathway to hold individuals criminally accountable is also tough if not impossible, depending on the country and laws. In most other countries except Australia, the statute of limitations prevents most victims of sexual abuse from seeking justice. I know from personal experience that it can take survivors 40 plus years to get to the stage of being strong enough to take this route of fighting for justice. More so for an adoptee who lives their life being expected to be “grateful” for adoption and being afraid of further abandonment and rejection should they speak their truth. For some, they never ever talk about their truth as the trauma is just too great and they are busy just surviving. I know of others where the abuse played a major role in their decision to suicide.
I am 2 years into the midst of criminal proceedings against my adoptive family. Next year begins the court contested hearings and who knows what the outcome of that will be nor how long it will go for. I talk about this only to encourage other victims to empower themselves, fight for that inner child who had no-one to protect them! For me, this is what it is all about. I spent years in therapy talking about how none of the adults in my life protected me and even after I exposed the abuse, none of those in professions where child protection is part of their training and industry standard, offered to help me report the perpetrators or take any action to hold them accountable. I finally realised the only one who would ever stand up for myself, was myself. Yes, it has meant I end the relationship with that family, but what type of relationship was it anyway? They were more interested in keeping things quiet and protecting themselves then protecting or creating a safe space for me. I eventually realised I could no longer continue to live the multiple lies both adoption and sexual abuse within that family required. Eventually, I had to chose to live my truth which ultimately meant holding them responsible for the life they’d chosen and created for themselves and me.
I hope one day to also hold institutions accountable for the illegal and illicit aspects of my adoption and once I’m done with that, then I’ll feel like I’ve truly liberated myself from adoption.
Until then, I continue to fight with the rest of my community for this last truth of mine. So many of us should never have been separated from our people, country, culture, language. We lose so much and there is absolutely no guarantee we get placed with families who love, nurture, and uphold us and our original identities.
The legal concept of plenary adoption is truly an outdated mode of care for a vulnerable child and its premise and legal concept needs to be heavily scrutinised in an era of human and child’s rights awareness. I agree there will always be the need to care for vulnerable children, children who can’t be with their families, but it is time we walk into future learning from the harms of the past and making it better for the children in the future. My lifelong goal is always for this because adoptees are the ones who spend so many of our years having no voice, having no independent people checking up on us. Adopted children are so vulnerable! Too often the assumption is made that adoption is a great benefit for us and this oversight impedes a serious deep dive into the risks to our well being and safety. In my case and too many others, it isn’t until we are well into our 40s and onwards that we find our critical thinking voices and allow ourselves to say what we truly know without fear of rejection and abandonment. Plenary adoption needs to be outlawed and simple adoption should only be a temporary solution for a temporary problem. Any form of adoption should always be the choice of the adoptee to have their adoption undone and allowed to return to be legally connected to their original families, if that is what they want.
May we continue to bring awareness and much needed change to our world so that vulnerable children will be given a better chance in the future and to empower our community of adoptee survivors!
I wish for all in my community that 2023 will be a year of empowerment, truth and justice!
Discharge / Annulment / Undoing your Adoption
In Australia, each State and Territory has its own process to discharge:
VIC, QLD, NSW, WA, SA
This process includes costs that vary between States. All Australian intercountry adoptees can seek the Bursary amount of $500 from our ICAFSS Small Grants and Bursaries to contribute to the costs of their discharge. Domestic adoptees might also access Small Grants and Bursaries via their local equivalent Relationships Australia program too.
Australian domestic adoptee, Katrina Kelly has a FB group Adoption Reversal for adoptees needing help with their adoption discharge
Australian domestic adoptee, Darryl Nelson has a book about annulling his adoption in QLD: A timeline of the injustice of adoption law. He also participated in an SBS Insight program with this article: How I rediscovered my birth family and annulled my adoption
Australian domestic adoptee, William Hammersley’s Last Wish: Give me back my true identity, says adopted man
Denmark intercountry adoptee Netra Sommer: Cancelling My Adoption
Denmark and Netherlands: 3 Ethiopian Adoptions Annulled – a wake up call
UK adoptee activist Paul Rabz’s FB group for Adoption Annulment Group for Adoptee Activists (note, in the UK it’s legally not possible yet to annul your adoption as an adoptee)
Adoptee Rights and Adoption Annulment by Gregory Luce
Can you Reverse an Adoption? Reversing an Adoption: Adopted child returned to birth parents (historically, legislation in countries to discharge / reverse an adoption was included to allow adoptive parents the right to undo the adoption if they felt it wasn’t working out)
HCCH – Hague Intercountry Adoption Convention : information collected from Central Authorities to summarise countries that allow annulment and revocation of adoption
Plenary and Simple Adoption
Sexual Abuse in Adoption
Lifelong impacts of Abuse in Adoption (Chamila)
The Legacy and Impacts of Abuse in Adoption (3 part series)
Research: Child Sexual Abuse by Caretakers
Sexual Abuse Support
Professional Support: Relationships Australia – Child Sexual Abuse Counselling
Peer Support: Me Too Survivor Healing
Sexual Abuse Lawsuits
USA: Sexual Abuse Lawsuits – Your Legal Questions Answered (parts 1 – 3, podcast)