Social change and post war unmarried mothers: Topic 3

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Topic 3: Advocacy for change

Learning intention: to explore changes related to the practice of forced adoptions and those affected by it.

Focus on the role of advocacy and government in bringing about changes to perceptions and policies regarding unmarried mothers and forced adoptions.

Some ideas to build upon

During the 1970s women’s groups increasingly demanded equality. The women’s liberation movement created widespread debate in the community. It was effective in changing attitudes towards women and family life which had dominated Australian society since World War II.

Watch Reaction to women's liberation, 1970


  • What beliefs and values associated with women are expressed in this video?
  • What changes were advocated by the women’s liberation movement?
  • How have society’s views about women, and in particular single women, changed over time?

In 1973, in response to community pressure, a supporting mother’s benefit was introduced by the Whitlam Labor government. It provided financial assistance to single mothers who did not qualify for the widow’s pension. In the years following, adoption rates plummeted. One of the main arguments that had been used to coerce women was the financial difficulties of raising a child. Other government policies, such as paid maternity leave, made it easier for some single mothers to keep their children.


Use the timeline on the Forced Adoptions History website to explore changes in legislation relating to adoption practices in the students’ state or territory.

Explore the factors that influenced governments to introduce changes that promote equality for women.

Since the 1970s mothers, fathers and adopted people have taken action to demand information and strive for change. Peer support groups were established to help those affected by forced adoptions. Many of these groups evolved into advocacy organisations as their needs and goals changed. The advocacy groups helped individuals understand their experience and created places where affected people could galvanise to bring about change.

From the history timeline on the Forced Adoptions History website, research groups and organisations which support or advocate for those affected by adoption.

Debate the significance of social media as an agent for change.

The work of advocacy groups culminated in the delivery of apologies by the governments of each state and the ACT, a number of institutional apologies and in March 2013 a national apology.

Watch the National Apology introduction video from the Without Consent exhibition


  • What were ‘forced adoptions’ as described in this apology?
  • Who and what did this national apology acknowledge?
  • Do you think there is still more work needed in this area?

Complete an empathy task. Take on the role of a mother, father, adopted person or another family member who experienced or was affected by forced adoption. Imagine having just witnessed the apology by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and complete an artwork or write a diary entry. When finished, share responses to the apology in a group.


Explain ways in which community groups advocate for change in Australia’s democracy.
Identify values about mothers and families that are reflected in contemporary Australian popular culture.