herald

Sunday 20 August 2017

Lee's story reunites hundreds of families

PHILOMENA Lee (81) has inspired over 100 mothers to successfully locate their birth children taken by forced adoptions to the US and beyond.

The Irishwoman's story, which was behind the award-winning movie Philomena, has led to the reconciliation of families around the world.

Mari Steed, the US coordinator of the Adoption Rights Alliance, said that the movie, in which Judi Dench (inset) played the Limerick woman struck a chord with many families.

Woodwork

"Philomena's story has made a huge difference and has given people the courage to come out of the woodwork," she said.

"I think more than 100 families have now been reunited and for the most part their reunions have been overwhelmingly positive."

"I know of cases where some women in their 80s have been reunited with children who were adopted out to the US," she added.

In Ms Lee's case, like thousands of others in 1950s Ireland, she was sent, aged 18, to a mother and baby home, from where her son, Anthony, was sold by nuns to an American family when he was just three.

Since the movie based on Ms Lee's life enjoyed great success, including being nominated for an Oscar, the alliance has been run off its feet.

"Things have changed and we call it the 'Philomena effect'. The great legacy of the movie and Philomena's story is that it has given a voice to tens of thousands of disenfranchised women who were made to feel they had done something wrong," Ms Steed said.

"We've been busier than ever because of the publicity from the film.

"We tend to get about two calls or emails a day to our helplines from people searching for their families. Sometimes that number can be as high as ten.

However, frustrated campaigners say it remains as challenging as ever to help those who turn to them for help because of the difficulty in gaining access to State-held adoption records.

Changes

Susan Lohan, of the Adoption Rights Alliance, has repeatedly called for legislative changes to release the records of the estimated 60,000 children in Ireland.

Last month Children's Minister Dr. James Reilly said new legislation was being prepared surrounding access to adoption records , but stressed the issue was "complex".

hnews@herald.ie

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