Public History Talk – Adoption: From severance and secrecy to connection and openness, 28 August 2023

Monday 28 August 2023, 6pm to 7:30pm

Taiwhanga Kauhau — Auditorium, (lower ground) National Library Wellington. Entrance on Aitken Street or on Zoom.

In this public history talk, the authors of two recently published books, including PHANZA member Anne Else, discuss the profound impact of closed stranger adoption and the drive for change in New Zealand. The conversation will be led by Bill Atkin, recently retired from Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington Law School.

Adoption law in Aotearoa New Zealand

Closed stranger adoption under the 1955 Adoption Act, still in force today, has deeply affected thousands of New Zealanders. Drawing on their recent work covering personal experiences and historical analyses, the authors of two recently published books about adoption will talk about the profound impact of the severance and secrecy involved, why this began to shift, and how the law may change.

Conversations about adoption

In their recent book Adopted: Loss, love, family and reunion (Massey University Press, 2022), Jo Willis and and Brigs (Brigitta) Baker share the complexity of their reunion journeys, the emotional challenges they faced, and the ongoing impacts of their adoptions, with candour and courage. The stories of their birthparents, partners and children and the physical and emotional toll of adoption on them are also heard.

Anne Else and Maria Haenga-Collins’s comprehensive new eBook is A Question of Adoption: Closed Stranger Adoption in New Zealand 1944–1974 and Adoption, State Care, Donor Conception and Surrogacy 1975–2022 (Bridget Williams Books, 2023). It combines Anne’s original 1991 post-war adoption history with seven new chapters giving up-to-date accounts of state care, donor conception and surrogacy, alongside the ongoing story of adoption.

The panel of authors will be chaired by Bill Atkin, former Professor of Law at Te Herenga Waka, Victoria University of Wellington.

About the speakers

Bill Atkin (Chair) is Professor of Law, recently retired, at Te Herenga Waka, Victoria University of Wellington. His fields of teaching and research include family law, torts, health law, and social welfare law. He has written extensively on all areas of family law including status, adoption and assisted human reproduction. He chaired the Adoption Practices Review Committee, which the late Sir Michael Cullen appointed in 1990 when he was Minister of Social Welfare.

Jo Willis is an adopted person and a specialist in the field of adoption counselling, coaching and education. As an adolescent, she lobbied local and national politicians for amendments to be made to the 1955 Adoption Act. In 1984 at the age of 21 she was reunited with her birth family, and then helped to implement the Adult Adoption Information Act, leading to a 24-year career as a social worker, senior practitioner and supervisor. A registered social worker, Jo has worked in all facets of adoption and adult adoption information social work practice in New Zealand. She is also an experienced leadership development coach. Based in Napier, Jo currently draws on her personal and professional experience to support adopted adults to understand, process and integrate their adoption experience.

Brigs (Brigitta) Baker was adopted during the closed adoption era and has been in reunion with her birth family since 2008. Her professional experience ranges from advisory roles in the public sector through to senior private sector positions within human resource management, leadership development, communication skills training, and organisational development. A qualified coach and experienced workshop facilitator, Brigs has recently moved to Christchurch, where she is studying towards a Master of Counselling with the aim of working more deeply with adoptees and those affected by early developmental trauma.

Anne Else was adopted at birth in Auckland in 1945, and found her birth mother in 1984. She is the author, co-author or commissioning editor of many publications on the history of women and society in Aotearoa New Zealand, including a substantial number dealing with adoption and assisted reproductive technology. In 2021–22 she presented analyses to both the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care and the teams undertaking major reviews of adoption and surrogacy law. She lives in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Wellington.

Maria Haenga-Collins (Ngāti Porou, Te Aitanga a Māhaki, Ngāi Tahu and Pākehā) was, as a young child, first fostered and then adopted into a Pākehā family. She has interviewed numerous people associated with whāngai and the adoption of Māori children. Her 2011 MA thesis, Belonging and Whakapapa: The Closed Stranger Adoption of Māori Children into Pākehā Families, was followed in 2017 by her doctoral dissertation, Closed Stranger Adoption, Māori and Race Relations in Aotearoa New Zealand, 1955–85. Maria currently lives in Tāmaki Makaurau and is a lecturer and researcher at Auckland University of Technology (AUT).

More information can be found here