Care Leavers

 

Background

"It is highly likely that every Australian either was, is related to, works with or knows someone who experienced childhood in an institution or out-of-home care environment." (Senate Inquiry Report 2004).

The term Care Leavers is used in this context to refer to both Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants, in the understanding that this terminology is disputed.  Care Leavers, refers to children who were placed in institutional and other forms of out-of-home care (care) through the last century (up until the end of 1989), including:

  • Forgotten Australians – people who spent a period of time as children in children's homes, orphanages and other forms of out-of-home care in the last century (up until the end of 1989); and
  • Former Child Migrants – children who arrived in Australia through historical child migration schemes (up until 1970) and who were subsequently placed in homes and orphanages.

Children were placed in care for a myriad of reasons including being orphaned; being born to a single mother; family dislocation from domestic violence, divorce or separation; family poverty and parents' inability to cope with their children often as a result of some form of crisis or hardship.

Experiences common to the Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants include abandonment and loss, grief through separation from their parents and siblings, and loss of identity. Former Child Migrants also lost their connection to their country and culture.

In addition, many children suffered from neglect, exploitation, mistreatment and physical and sexual assault at the hands of their caregivers.

Adequate health care and education was also lacking, as a result of which many care leavers have suffered lifelong health problems and reduced opportunity in employment and finances.

These experiences were documented in three separate Senate Community Affairs References Committee inquiries: Lost Innocents - Righting the Record (2001), Forgotten Australians: A Report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children (2004) and the recent Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians Revisited (2009).

The impact of abuse and neglect as children on adults

The three Senate Inquiries unanimously illustrated the consequences of the deprivation for children abandoned by or removed from their families and placed into institutional care.  Not only were children impacted by poverty in their families, their placements in out-of-home care compounded the continued cycle of emotional and physical deprivation and shocking levels of neglect and abuse on children. Children lost family connections and, without those connections, lost their identity, culture and in the case of the Former Child Migrants, their country and the hope and possibility of being reconnected with relatives.

The harm inflicted on children endures. Many Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants continue to experience mental health problems, incarceration, family breakdown and drug and alcohol issues. The Senate Inquiries reports highlight the struggle these children face as adults to cope and live a life filled with equal opportunities, as other Australians do.

Further information about the key findings of each inquiry is included below.

Senate Inquiries

Sunday 30 August 2009 marked the anniversaries of the landmark tabling of the Senate Community Affairs Committee's Lost Innocents – Righting the Record (2001) and the Forgotten Australians: A report on Australians who experienced institutional or out of home care as children (2004) reports. This followed the Senate Community Affairs Committee’s tabling of the report on the implementation of the recommendations made in those two reports, titled Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians Revisited on 25 June 2009, which said that more needed to be done.

The Inquiry into child migration, 2001.

The 2001 report Lost Innocents: Righting the Record reported on the Senate Committee's Inquiry into the history and treatment of unaccompanied children, generally under the age of 16 years, who were brought to Australia from the United Kingdom, Ireland and Malta under approved child migrant schemes in which the British and Australian Governments entered into agreements for the migration of children to Australia.

Between 1922 and 1967, about 150,000 children, on average aged around nine years old, were sent from the United Kingdom to Canada, Rhodesia, New Zealand and Australia.

It is estimated that around 7,000 children were sent to Australia from the UK and Malta through child migration schemes in the last century and were placed in various care arrangements in Australia. About 6,700 of these were from United Kingdom.

The Australian Government was the legislated guardian of the children but then transferred responsibility for their care to state governments. In turn, the state governments transferred responsibility to receiving agencies.

Some Former Child Migrants have made positive comments about their time in institutional care. Others can only recall that under the custodianship of receiving agencies, there was a complete disregard for the needs, safety and wellbeing of many children.

The Inquiry's report noted an overwhelming emphasis on the dark and negative impacts of child migration—the brutality of life in some institutions where the most appalling abuse and assault, both physical and sexual, was a daily occurrence, where hardship, hard work and indifference were the norm and where childhoods were lived in loneliness.

Evidence indicated that some parents had only consented for their children to migrate because of assurances that they would be better off in Australia. Many children were sent without parental consent, with evidence indicating that parents were lied to about their children's fate.

The report noted that many children were incorrectly told that they were orphans and correspondence was often not passed on. Without those connections, children lost their personal identity and were unable to connect with their culture, country or extended birth families.

The Committee made 33 recommendations including that the Commonwealth and state governments supplement the travel funding of the Child Migrant Family Restoration Support Fund. Extensive recommendations were made to assist Former Child Migrants with access to services, including access to their records through the development of uniform protocols for accessing records. The report also recommended that the Commonwealth Government issue a formal statement of acknowledgement and regret for the harm brought about by the child migration schemes.

The Inquiry into Children in Institutional Care, 2004.

The people who may identify as Forgotten Australians are survivors of the Australian institutional care system, which was the standard form of out-of-home care in Australia in the last century. At least 500,000 children grew up, or spent long periods, in this environment.

The Inquiry's 2004 report: Forgotten Australians: A report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children noted:

"hundreds of graphic and disturbing accounts about the treatment and care experienced by children in out-of-home care…. Their stories outlined a litany of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and often criminal physical and sexual assault…neglect, humiliation and deprivation of food, education and healthcare."

The Inquiry noted accounts of abandonment and loss, grief through separation, loss of identity, as well as neglect, exploitation, brutality, mistreatment and physical and sexual abuse and assault. Such neglect, abuse and assault was widespread across institutions, across States and across care providers.

The Committee heard that health and dental care was often lacking, as was access to education, leaving many Forgotten Australians to suffer lifelong social, economic and physical consequences.

But the overwhelming response to the treatment in care, even among those that made positive comments, was the complete lack of love, affection and nurturing that was never given to young children at critical times during their emotional development.

Children were placed in care for many reasons – including being orphaned; born to a single mother; family dislocation from domestic violence, divorce or separation; family poverty and parents' inability to cope with their children, often because of some form of crisis or hardship. Many children were made wards of the state after being charged with being uncontrollable, neglected or in moral danger, not because they had done anything wrong, but because of the circumstances in which they found themselves. Irrespective of how children were placed in care, it was not their fault.

The report made 39 recommendations, including that governments, churches and other agencies should issue formal statements acknowledging their role in institutional care policies and practices. Other recommendations include: improvements to internal church processes for dealing with abuse allegations and addressing past grievances; a range of measures related to personal records; providing services to address care leavers needs; and the need for specialised counselling services.

Senate Committee reports and Government responses are available to the public by contacting Parliament House.

Inquiry into the Implementation of the Recommendations of the Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians Reports, 2009.

In June 2009, the Senate Community released its Report on the progress with the implementation of the recommendations of the Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians Reports, which said that more needed to be done.

The report recommended that the Commonwealth issue a formal acknowledgement and expression of regret to Former Child Migrants in accordance with Recommendation 30 of the Lost Innocents report; and that this statement be issued in conjunction with, or as a part of, a broader Commonwealth apology to people who experienced abuse and/or neglect in institutional or out-of-home care as children.

The report also recommended that the Commonwealth Government issue a formal statement of acknowledgement and apology to children who suffered hurt and distress, or abuse and assault, in institutional care, in accordance with Recommendation 1 of the Forgotten Australians report.

Australian Government Action

A National Apology

The three Senate Inquiries unanimously called for a national apology as a critical step in the healing process for those who suffered, and continue to suffer.

The Australian Government formally apologised to the Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants at a special remembrance event at Parliament House in Canberra on 16 November 2009.

In the spirit of the bipartisan nature of the Inquiries, the Government worked with the Opposition and other parties to develop the remembrance event.

A formal and moving ceremony was held in the Great Hall in Parliament House where the then Prime Minister, the Hon Kevin Rudd, apologised on behalf of the nation, to more than 500,000 Australians - many of whom suffered abuse and neglect while in out-of-home care throughout the last century.

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