First National Conference on Mental Health Aspects of
People Affected by Family Separation
Held at Liverpool Hospital Liverpool NSW
PLEASE SAVE ME! -SORRY YOU’RE
ADOPTED by Melissa McClean
Based upon my own personal experience, I will be discussing
a number of issues faced during my own childhood as a consequence of being adopted, and the lifelong impact this has had all
my mental health.
issues I will be discussing are as follows:
1. The need for equal protection for both adopted
and foster children, when all I being the adopted child was left behind to further endure abuse and neglect, after my foster
sister was removed.
2. The need for fairer assessments to be carried out on the well-being,
of the person wishing to be deemed suitable for adoptive or foster parents, of children placed in the care of the Department
of Community Services
3. And finally in addition, I will be discussing
the impact on my mental health, which, in my quest to gain control of my life, it has been necessary for me to engage in twice
weekly therapy for the past two years and is still ongoing.
PLEASE SAVE ME! SORRY YOU’RE ADOPTED
In my presentation I’ll be discussing the following issues.
- The need for equal protection for adopted and foster
- The need for thorough assessments of people seeking
to adopt and/or foster children
- The impact of my experiences on my mental health.
When I was 6 weeks of age I was adopted. My family up until then was a group of nurses in the hospital
where I was born. My birth mother did not name me.
When I learnt of this, I struggled with more self worth and confidence issues. However in recent
months, after receiving my prescribed information on my adoption and then further applying for my birth records at the hospital
I was born in, I have since discovered that a nurse named me Elizabeth, so even though my adoption and birth papers have me
down as unnamed baby so and so, unofficially I was given a name, knowing this has boosted my sense of self enormously.
My adoptive family consisted of an adoptive mother, an adoptive father, their natural son, an adopted
brother and myself, the adopted daughter. One and a half years after I was placed into the family, a nine month old ward or
should I say foster sister, came to live with us. We all grew up as brothers and sisters.
My earliest memories of life in this family are of my adoptive father working for himself six and
seven days a week, and my adoptive mother being asleep and sick a lot while we kids were fending for ourselves. As we lived
directly across the road from a golf course, we searched the bush and creek for golf balls and sold them to golfers in order
to buy lunch.
When I was aged seven years my adoptive mother’s alcoholism had reached such disastrous levels
that my dysfunctional family disintegrated. She took all of us children to live with her in a run down terrace house on the
We were subjected to appalling conditions for approximately two years. We had little, and, at times,
no food to eat or anybody capable of preparing meals for us. My foster sister’s and my bedroom window had no glass in
We slept together in urine soaked beds to keep each other warm. My brother had to go out and work
on the fishing trawlers to earn an income. My adoptive brother and I would spend many a night sitting up on the kitchen bench
trying to scrounge and cook up something that resembled food.
Our clothes would sit in the washing machine water for weeks on end and the stench was unbearable.
The next door neighbour enticed my foster sister and I over by offering us food. It was then that he sexually abused me so
much, that I thought being a girl was hideous.
We spent long hours home alone and many hours in the car parks of every hotel in our local area.
We had regular visits from the Department of Community Services, known in this state as DOCS, to our home and a caseworker
would often take my foster sister and I, on outings.
After some considerable time living in these appalling conditions, my foster sister was removed.
I was so traumatised by this I slept in my bedroom cupboard at night. My already chaotic world was thrown into more confusion
and distrust, and I struggled immensely with trying to make sense of it all.
My brothers and I were left behind to further endure these horrific conditions. Why didn’t
I get saved? I knew I was bad, but, why wouldn’t they help me too? How come God hates me? I pondered. And today at 35
years of age I still struggle trying to make sense of it all. I was a small defenceless child,
I might have been adopted, but I was a child the same as my foster sister, how come I wasn’t
offered the same protection as my sister? Approximately 12 months after my foster sister was removed, my adoptive father was
awarded custody of my adoptive brother and I. My adoptive mother was admitted to a Psychiatric Hospital and that was the last
time that I saw her.
My adoptive father was living in a defacto relationship with a woman who had four children of her
own. We all moved in together. This woman was very abusive and inflicted horrific physical and verbal abuse on me and some
of the other children in the household.
Had I been a ward this woman would have undergone an assessment for suitability, but because I
was adopted no such assessment was ever done. My adoptive father was also abusive.
Being adopted was used as a weapon by my perpetrators. I was told that my real mother took one
look at me and saw how bad I was so she got rid of me. I was constantly told that I should have been the one taken away, not
my foster sister.
My grandfather also sexually abused me until I was 15 years old. After my foster sister was taken
away, he threatened me that if I told anybody what he was doing to me that my adoptive brother would be taken away just like
my sister was and that I would never see him again. My adoptive father’s defacto wife and her children always called
me a bastard, because I was adopted.
At age 15 years of age, I presented myself to the local police with a severe iron burn which my
adoptive father’s defacto wife had deliberately inflicted on me. After being interviewed for several hours and having
photographs taken of my injuries by forensic staff, I was escorted back home to face the music.
Refused entry back into the family home, I was escorted to a refuge and left without any money,
very little clothing, no counselling, no medical treatment for my injuries, no way of getting to school, and I was told that
there was no point in applying for state wardship because by the time the paper work went through I would have turned 16 years
and DOCS were no longer responsible for me.
After several days at the refuge, I returned back to my very abusive family, so that I could finish
my education. Only to be thrown out of home again a short while later.
I was not eligible for any financial support from DOCS, Department of Education, Social Security
or anywhere else, as my adoptive father was still legally my guardian even though he had surrendered responsibility for my
care to DOCS.
If I had been a ward I would have been immediately removed from this situation, placed in foster
care and supported emotionally, physically and financially. Instead, I was forced to take responsibility for my own schooling
I managed this by attaining part-time employment, paying board on caravan accommodation and funding
my own schooling to H.S.C level, isolated and unsupported. Why? Because I was an adopted child.
At this point I would like to highlight my concern about the selection process for people wishing
to foster and/or adopt. My own adoptive mother was on Valium and evidence suggests she was already an alcoholic prior to my
placement into the family.
She too had been sexually abused by my grandfather when she was a child. My adoptive father lacked
parenting in his own childhood as he was orphaned at age 12 years and was never placed in care. Instead he was raised by older
siblings who did their best. Commonsense would suggest that psychologically and emotionally challenged people would find parenting
challenging and difficult.
I can’t help but wonder had thorough background checks been carried out on my adoptive parents,
if they would have been deemed suitable and how differently my life could have turned out, if I had been placed with well
functioning and caring parents.
Most people carry issues from their childhood into parenthood. When someone has serious issues
like childhood abuse and neglect they should be encouraged to have therapeutic counselling for their own traumas before taking
on children who have been traumatised as well.
Every parent would fare better if they dealt with such issues before having children. I feel it
is absolutely imperative that all people applying for the right to care for foster and/or adoptive children, undergo tougher
assessments on their mental and physical health to lesson the risk of the sought of tragedy that I had to endure.
I will now discuss the impact that being adopted has had on my mental health. It is extremely hard
for me separate my issues on being adopted from those that result from being abused and neglected. However I know that had
a more stringent assessment process on my adoptive parents been done, the childhoods of my siblings and I would have certainly
It is to my understanding that all they had to do was prove they were financially capable of rearing
a child. My experiences of abandonment and the failure of protection from the police system, DOCS, Department of Education
and Social Security as well as the adults in my childhood had destroyed all sense of trust.
This has made it near impossible for me to trust in a therapeutic relationship. Although I have
progressed well with my psychologist the trust issue heavily impedes my progress.
After suffering a severe depression in the year 2000 I have been having intensive twice weekly
therapy in order to gain control over my life. For 35 years I have lived with heightened arousal and vigilance which has made
it hard for me to enjoy life.
I have fumbled my way through life in a non feeling state in order to cope. I have adapted by avoiding
places and situations, it is extremely difficult for me to be in crowds let alone standing and talking in front of them. I
have had difficulty with shopping and joining community groups and organisations.
My sex life has been very difficult to maintain and still is. There have been difficulties in parenting
my own children because of my issues, and I felt it necessary to do a parenting course to help with my anxieties.
The thing that really saddens me is the impact that my depression and anxiety, post traumatic stress
disorder, life long inadequacy, low self esteem, and trust and fear issues, have had on my children and husband.
I have learnt to accept the impact this has all had on my own life, but when it starts to affect
the ones I hold very close to my heart, I am left to feel extreme quilt for something that is totally out of my control and
most of all is not my fault.
My plea as a child was, “Please save me.” The reply, “Sorry you’re adopted”
left me to endure extreme abuse and neglect over many years. No agency listened to my cries for help. I think every child
should have the right to be protected, regardless of his or her gender, title, race, or colour of their skin.