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Margaret Humphreys Hopes Film will Educate Public, Inspire Social Workers

Margaret Humphreys. Photo courtesy of the Guardian.

Acclaimed British social worker Margaret Humphreys and movie director Jim Loach are confident his film “Oranges and Sunshine” will educate the public about the invaluable services social workers provide, elevate the stature of the sometimes maligned profession, and motivate more social workers to become politically active.

“I hope so,” Humphreys told SocialWorkersSpeak.org after a special Oct. 17 showing of the movie at the Academy Theater at Lighthouse International that was sponsored by Cohen Media Group. “Of course the message is that social workers should be part of the political process and bring about change. I hope this film inspires that.”

“We thought social workers are always getting it in the neck,” Loach said. “We need to see social workers from their perspective.”

Margaret Humphreys and Jim Loach at the Oct. 17 special screening in New York city.

Actress Emily Watson portrays Humphreys in the film, which  played in Great Britain earlier this year and premieres in theaters across the United States beginning Oct. 21.

Humphreys in 1986 discovered Great Britain sent about 130,000 foster children to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the former Rhodesia in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. These children were sent without their parent’s permission and authorities sometimes lied to them, saying their parents did not want them or had died.

Loach, who used Humphreys’ book “Empty Cradles,” her case files and interviews to make the film, said there were various reasons the children were deported. Some are rooted in the cultural, racial and political climate of mid 20th century Great Britain, he said.

Authorities at the time believed the children would have a better life abroad because they came from poor, broken homes or had unwed mothers, he said. Australia also wanted to increase its “white stock,” and welcomed the British children, he said.

Another reason was cost, Loach said. A boat ticket to Australia was far cheaper than keeping the children in foster care in Great Britain.

The title of the movie was inspired by the lie the children would get plenty of sunshine and oranges for breakfast everyday if they went to the former British colonies. However, the reality was very grim.

Movie Poster.

Most ended up toiling as free laborers for the organizations and religious institutions that took them in. They could not be adopted because their parents still legally had custody. Some were physically and sexually abused. And all suffer trauma from losing their identity and being separated from their birth mothers and families.

The film chronicles Humphreys’ efforts to reconnect these now grown children with their families in Great Britain. The reunion scenes in the film are poignant — one mother gave her now-grown daughter a worn doll and she had kept for her for 40 years.

Humphreys also sacrificed much. Her frequent trips to Australia separated her from her husband and children for long periods, she was stalked and threatened for publicizing abuse and harming the reputations of charitable and religious organizations that housed the children, and it took her years to get the governments of Great Britain and Australia to apologize.

 And Humphreys showed signs of post traumatic stress disorder from listening to the sometimes disturbing accounts from hundreds of former child deportees.”I can’t stop,” actress Emily Watson said at one point in the film. “There is no one else.”

Despite formal government apologies to the children and two investigations in Parliament no one has been prosecuted for sending the children abroad.

Humphreys is continuing to reunite deported children with their families. Just two weeks ago she helped a man from Perth, Australia come to New York to meet his 88-year-old mother.

“I still do the day job — nothing has changed,” she said as a bittersweet smile crossed her face. “And we reunite families all the time.”

Cohen Media Group, the U.S. distributor of “Oranges and Sunshine” is offering social workers special group rates to see the film in selected cities. To learn more click here. And to learn more about how social workers are involved in international affairs and social justice issues visit the National Association of Social Workers’ Human Rights and International Affairs division by clicking here and Peace and Social Justice Website by clicking here.

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3 Comments

  1. Thank you Margaret….I don’t think I have ever been prouder to be a social worker than I am now, thank you for being what I had believed SW was all about, social justice for all.

  2. Dear Ms. Margaret Humphreys,
    I am so touched by this sad story.

    I think that I have other story and I will like to come with you in direct contact.

    Will it be, dear Ms. Thompson possible?

    Please let me know a.s.a.p.
    jolienfree@yahoo.com

    You’re truly

    * Jolien

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