Chapter 8 - services required by former child migrants
There is too much
discussion about what happened in the past and not enough focus on what needs
to happen now...help is needed in the present.
This chapter deals with term of
reference (c) (iii) that raises the issue of the effectiveness of measures by
Australian governments and the receiving agencies to provide counselling or any
other services that are designed to reduce or limit trauma caused by the
removal of child migrants from their country of birth.
In addition to access to
records and travel, which are discussed in the previous chapters, a number of
other services required by former child migrants were discussed with the
Committee. They were counselling, accommodation and aged care, social security entitlements
and remedial education.
The need for counselling for
former child migrants was discussed extensively during the inquiry. In
particular specialist counselling was required to deal with the trauma of past
experiences, to deal with the acute difficulties in forming and maintaining
relationships, and social difficulties as part of the process of information
disclosure when personal records are released, and pre and post family reunion.
For many former child migrants,
living with both the displacement caused by child migration and the traumas of
institutional life have resulted in long-term problems. As noted previously,
these problems have included family breakdowns, clinical depression, post
traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism. Broken Rites pointed to the long-term
needs: they ‘have had psychiatric problems and substance abuse problems all of
their lives, and their low income status has meant that for periods of 10 to 20
years they have never been able to get treatment. They have just accepted that
that was what life was like...Understand that most of this has only broken in the
last 10 years and so they have only had access to these things for, say, a
The Catholic Church’s Joint
Liaison Group on Child Migration (Joint Liaison Group) stressed that
‘counselling and more intense forms of therapy are often needed to assist
former child migrants to address the various personal ramifications of their
earlier life, including institutional care, child migration and the transition
from an institution to society’.
Former child migrants provided
the Committee with harrowing accounts of their distress including flashbacks of
their time in institutional care. They talked of the difficulties they have
with their families and every day life.
I have suffered from depression all my life and it’s also a
legacy from my childhood. My own children had to live with my rage and anger at
times, I love them so dearly but when you have a black hole inside of you with
so much pain in it, no one else is able to totally reach you or understand, how
could they, that black hole is still with me today.
I have never had a successful personal relationship, nor have I
been able to give and receive love or show compassion to other people.
I have talked about fear, but many of us, and me in particular,
continue to suffer the horrors of memory. That is, seeing young boys-my
mates-being flogged, punched and abused in manners that decent human beings
would find offensive even to read about.
I have been working on this document since 18 September and have
had nightmares every night, waking bathed in sweat and feeling nauseous. I have
put my wife as well as myself through hell to make this submission and hope
something positive comes out of it.
Even when I had to come before this committee to give evidence,
every now and again they chase me around the bedroom in my dreams. I get belted
all the time and I wake up and I think, ‘Oh my god, I’m still here.’ So when I
get under pressure it comes back to me quite a bit.
Evidence was also received
about the process of the release of personal information. Agencies indicated
that the records contained comments which would not be used today, and which
could be ‘either paltry; surprising; written in offensive language; and in
other ways impact negatively on the recipient’. Counselling at this time was seen as
necessary to help in coming to terms with this information. The importance of
this process was recognised by most agencies, which either provide counselling
through their own staff or seek help from suitably qualified professionals.
Barnardos stated that when a file is provided, counselling is undertaken by
Barnardos as the file is read or Barnardos arranges for a reputable person in
the local area to deliver the file and to provide counselling. The Fairbridge Foundation,
Fairbridge London and NCH indicated that they directed recipients of
information to counselling services.
However, the Child Migrants
Trust (the Trust) stated that some agencies still take little account of the
potentially damaging impact of providing information without counselling
facilities. The Trust described how one former child migrant discovered that
she had been adopted before migration to Australia. No counselling was provided
and the former child migrant was devastated by the disclosure.
The discovery of information
about identity can also have traumatic effects upon the child migrant’s family.
This can be particularly so for mothers who believed that their child had been
adopted into a good family and was living in Britain and for siblings who are
told late in life that they have full or half brothers or sisters living on the
other side of the world.
The affect on my mother when she learned of my fate was
devastating. She was overcome by guilt and self-blame.
The Child Migrants Trust supported my mother with regular visits
while she gradually came to terms with the pain and guilt of knowing that her
son was never adopted and did not grow up in a loving family.
The process of reunion with
families is an integral part of the ‘healing process’ for former child
migrants. However, reunions are highly emotional and traumatic times for both
the reunion family and the child migrant. The Trust noted that ‘separation from
family and feelings of rejection and abandonment are strong and powerful. These
feelings can hardly be separated from the family reunion experience’.
The Trust went on to state, ‘it
is not desirable for families who have been separated for more than forty years
to be reunited without the option of support from skilled professionals
experienced in this delicate and specialised field of work’. The need for counselling to ensure a
positive outcome for all parties was also supported by the Australian Child
Migrant Foundation (ACMF):
In our experience, an important element in the process is that
of locating parents, usually the mother, seeking a reunion, which usually
entails travel to the United Kingdom or to Malta, and, importantly, providing
pre- and post- reunion counselling. Our experience suggests that in the absence
of such counselling-and in particular in the absence of assent on the part of
the parents to the reunion-the outcomes can leave former child migrants even
more scarred than before the attempted reunion.
The Foundation also stated that
counselling pre-and post-reunion was of such significance that it should be a
condition of any person being funded for reunion purposes. It was noted that
‘parents also had rights and they needed counselling in the sense to be able to
come to a position of accepting that they were going to meet’.
One child migrant told the
Committee, ‘I was counselled before I went on the trip in 1997. It did help,
but when I came back, that is when I fell to pieces-after the trip and when I met
family I did not know I had. That is when I needed counselling but I had
nowhere to go’. Another child
migrant acknowledged the assistance provided by the Trust in post reunion
Mrs Humphreys has continued counsel in the post-reunion phase of
this very exciting time of my life in which there has been emotional
turbulence: elation at finding family; grieving at the loss of family life;
anger at the scheme that separated me; the beginning of acceptance of what has
The Christian Brothers’
Ex-Residents & Students Services (C-BERS) strongly supported the importance
of post-reunion counselling and stated that it had found that the period of
euphoria following a successful first meeting with family could quickly give
way to depression over the small prospect of future visits and meetings. As a
result, post-reunion counselling was a major feature of C-BERS Services. Barnardos also indicated that there
was an unmet need for counselling and indicated that it was looking at
providing a more in-depth counselling service for former child migrants.
C-BERS noted that the need for
counselling had not diminished over time. The ‘treatment’ can be long-term and
involve a ‘family counselling model’ as the effects tend to impact on the
person’s subsequent family unit. One former child migrant stated that he had
been receiving counselling for six years and ‘I can see no light at the end of
the tunnel...It could be that this deep anger and the nightmares and the utter
frustration of not being able to be in control might well stay with me for the
rest of my life’.
C-BERS also noted that, given
the Canadian experience, the children of former child migrants ‘commonly seek
connection with the family of origin of their fathers and also often present
with second generation problems which have as their source, the traumatic
experiences endured by their parent’.
Specialised counselling services
Many former child migrants
argued that specialist services were required. One explained:
Some people say it is worth it if you can get it. I have taken
up being counselled by C-BERS. I have been counselled about once a month, on
average, for nearly six years. My question is: where are the experts in this
counselling? When does it stop? I go there and it is gut-wrenching to tell your
story, you have a hell of a hangover from it, and I feel that you need real
experts to do this counselling for child migrants. I think myself you have to
go through it, you have to be a child migrant to understand what we went
through. It is just hopeless.
The South Australian Department
of Human Services stated that the lack of specialist counselling services
exacerbated the problems faced by child migrants, ‘further adding to their
despair and sense of powerlessness’.
Child migrants complained that when they went to general counselling services
they were required to retell their stories and provide historical information.
As a result:
some of the
people described going to counsellors who, having heard the story for the first
time, were very shocked and personally moved, and the person going to receive
the counselling felt that they did not have the opportunity to receive proper
counselling because the counsellor himself or herself was dealing with his or
her reaction to the story.
The South Australian Department
also acknowledged that individuals have diverse needs. The numbers of former
child migrants in South Australia are only small, and having a generic service
which was expected to meet the needs of all of them was not as important for
the Department as ensuring that each individual referral was made to a service
best able to meet individual needs. The Department concluded that ‘rather than
some specific service for child migrants, it is important that there be a small
range of people who have a good, solid knowledge of the history and the context
and that every single referral that we make is made on an individual and
personal basis, according to the needs of the person’.
The JLG likewise commented that
generic counselling services were not as effective as access to counsellors
with some specialist knowledge and experience. The JLG noted that the take up
rate of generic counselling offered by the Western Australian Department for
Family and Children’s Services was poor and that:
Former child migrants emphasise that the only people who can
really understand what they have gone through are other migrants. For this
reason, it often takes time for a counsellor to build rapport and to establish
credibility with a former child migrant client. An understanding of the
particular issues that arises from the child migration experience is important.
The International Association
of Former Child Migrants and Their Families (the International Association)
also indicated that counselling had to be done by a service experienced in
dealing with former child migrants: ‘preparing to meet your family after 50
years should not be done by letter or by sending reports to a State Government
social worker who knows nothing about us or our families’.
Barnardos and C-BERS highlighted
the problem of providing services to former child migrants in regional areas.
C-BERS indicated that about a third of its clients live in regional areas or
other States and that there was limited choice for people wishing to access
specialised counselling services such as those it provides. In order to provide
services to its clients, C-BERS offers telephone counselling and conducts a
number of counselling sessions across Australia. It also contracts private
providers if required and liaises with organisations such as Centacare.
Former child migrants
emphasised to the Committee the importance of an independent counselling
service and especially a service that they could trust. Some former child migrants are
unwilling or strongly resist the opportunity to take up the offer of help from
certain services as there was either a perception that they were not
independent of the receiving agencies or that there was such a strong
resentment at their treatment while in institutional care, they could not bear
to be in contact again. One former child migrant stated ‘I would never go back
to the church for help, because that would be psychologically like going back
to get another serve’.
Other witnesses indicated that
there was a need for choice of services. Some former child migrants have sought
assistance from receiving agencies and felt comfortable doing so.
The Joint Liaison Group
responded to the issue of the need for independent counselling services:
It must be recognised that this view of what constitutes
‘independent advice and counselling services’ creates a dilemma for those
organisations that originally were receiving agencies for child migrants in
Australia. On the one hand, if advice and counselling services are made
available by Church organisations, they can be condemned as not ‘independent’.
If such services are not provided, then the same organisations may be condemned
for being indifferent to the needs of the former child migrants!
Past experience indicates it is quite possible to offer highly
professional services funded by the religious orders and other organisations
involved in child migration, particularly counselling, yet which remain
functionally independent and maintain a high degree of professional integrity
and service delivery.
One former child migrant
commented in relation to C-BERS:
I found the service all right, but it took me a while to get to
trust. I am dealing with an organisation that I had to know was impartial. I
could never directly get involved with the Christian Brothers. In talking to
some of the counsellors I am convinced that they are impartial. I have found
the service reasonable but nowhere near as good for family searches as the
Child Migrants Trust.
The Child Migrant Friendship
Society (CMFS) put the view that the Commonwealth should ensure the
availability of counselling services but it believed that the receiving
agencies should share the responsibility with government for the funding of
such services. The International
Association went further and stated that while governments and the church and
charitable organisations should be responsible for funding the services, it did
not want the agencies to provide the services, ‘as this would give them another
opportunity to continue their control’.
C-BERS also pointed to the need
for further funding and stated that ‘we see the child migration as an area that
is inherently and constitutionally part of the Australian Government ambit and
would like to see funding made available at that level’.
Counselling services provided to
former child migrants
Counselling services are
currently provided to former child migrants from a number of sources both
non-government and government.
The Child Migrants Trust
provides specialised counselling services in Perth and Melbourne. Instead of
offices, the Trust has leased houses in order to provide a more conducive
atmosphere for its work. For those living in other areas, the Trust may be
contacted by telephone. For more intense counselling the child migrant is
required to travel to either Perth or Melbourne, although the Trust also
provides ad hoc counselling by having a staff member visit other locations. In
response to the needs of South Australian former child migrants for the Trust’s
specialist services, the South Australian Government has announced that funding
will be provided for a Trust counsellor to visit South Australia three or four
times a year.
C-BERS advised that at June
2000 it had 393 clients on its books, of which 114 were ‘active’ with 25 per
cent of active clients being ‘re-presenters’, that is, clients who came back
after an interval. During the March-June quarter 2000, C-BERS staff conducted
81 interviews for counselling for reunion travel, had 96 general counselling
contacts and conducted 129 telephone counselling sessions. C-BERS described
this as their normal workload.
In addition to providing
counselling services to ex-residents of Christian Brothers’ institutions,
C-BERS is now providing services to female former child migrants who were in
institutions run by the Sisters of Mercy.
The JLG indicated that about $1
million has been spent by Catholic religious orders on counselling and related
services. Such services are offered through functionally independent agencies
(e.g. C-BERS), occasionally though the Church’s Centacare network or via a
referral to another counsellor acceptable to the former child migrant. In the UK, the Catholic Child
Welfare Council also provides support and counselling services such as
preparing and counselling family members in the UK before a family reunion.
Barnardos, through its After
Care program, provides counselling and guidance services. Support for family
reunion is provided through Barnardos UK. The Fairbridge Foundation does not
employ counsellors but has a policy of providing counselling if an Old
Fairbridgian requires it or before releasing files if the material to be
released is distressing.
Fairbridge London does not have counsellors but uses a qualified organisation
such as the Child Migrant Trust.
Similarly, NCH stated that when a former child migrant sought information from
records, they were asked to make contact with a social work or counselling
agency local to them, so that the information could be conveyed through a
suitably qualified person. In the UK, counselling is provided by the NCH’s
Child Migrants Adviser.
The British Government’s Child
Migrant Support Fund also provides for up to three hours counselling per
eligible client in addition to the travel and the subsistence allowance.
Counselling services are also
provided by State Governments. In Queensland, the Aftercare Resource Centre
provides counselling and support to former residents of homes. It will fund
counselling services for those former residents who live in rural areas and
former Queensland residents living in other States. The Centre also offers
general support to enable former residents to identify what their needs are so
that they can be referred to the most appropriate service.
In Western Australia,
counselling is offered through the Department for Family and Children’s
Services, but as has been noted, the take up has been small.
On 20 December 2000, the New
South Wales Government approved funding of $60,000 for one year to provide
counselling and family-tracing services to former child migrants. These services
will be provided though International Social Service (ISS).
The Victorian Department of
Human Services, through its Adoption Information Services Branch, provides
support to all Victorian former child migrants including short term counselling
on grief and separation issues, assistance in understanding the information in
retrieved historical records, and pre and post reunion counselling.
In South Australia, counselling
is provided through the Department of Human Services although, as already
noted, funding is now being provided to the Child Migrant Trust to visit South
Australia for specialist counselling.
The Commonwealth funds specific
counselling services through the Child Migrants Trust. In evidence, the
Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) referred to the
casework undertaken by the Trust:
The current grant continues to fund some casework, while at the
same time encouraging the Trust to develop strategies to improve former child
migrants’ access to mainstream services as well as to improve the capacity of
mainstream service providers to respond appropriately to the needs of former
child migrants. If the Trust is successful in such a program, more former child
migrants will be assisted throughout Australia because mainstream services will
be better equipped to assist them.
This approach of improving the
responsiveness of mainstream service providers, is similar to that adopted with
other organisations receiving CSSS grants. The objective is to focus limited
resources on working with mainstream service providers to help them respond
more effectively to needs of diverse clientele.
The Committee received evidence
of the life-long impact on former child migrants that has arisen from their
migration experiences: they felt rejection, abandonment, despair and
loneliness. Many had been placed in homes where, at best, there was little
attention to their emotional needs, and at worst, there were deeds of emotional
cruelty, physical and sexual abuse and criminal assault. As a result some have
suffered profound psychological, physical and social problems.
Many former child migrants have
accessed information about their histories and families. This information may
contain new and, at times, distressing details. Former child migrants have
eagerly sought family reunions. However, such events impose significant
emotional challenges not only for the former child migrant but also for the
family being visited.
The Committee considers that
there is a significant need for on-going counselling services to former child
migrants. Of primary importance is the need for appropriate services. The
traumas suffered are often complex, long-term and do not relate to just one
event. As a consequence, in many cases services need to be delivered by specialist
providers with an indepth knowledge of child migrant issues. The Committee also
notes that groups such as the Child Migrants Trust and C-BERS have built up
extensive knowledge and expertise of issues facing former child migrants and
the connections and backgrounds of the institutions they attended. This should
not be lost.
The Committee strongly believes
that there needs to be choice of specialist services provided for former child
migrants and family members and descendants detrimentally affected. Evidence
was received that some former child migrants would never seek help from a
service in any way connected with the agency responsible for their traumas,
while others indicated that they were quite content to do so and were satisfied
with the support provided. The most important point is that former child
migrants need to know that specialised counselling is available, and from where
and by whom.
The Committee, while
acknowledging that the number of former child migrants in some States is small
and that all former child migrants do not live in metropolitan areas, supports
the provision of specialist counselling services. The effective provision of
appropriate services to these former child migrants may be difficult and
expensive, but they are necessary. The Committee’s recommendation concerning
funding for the Child Migrants Trust is in chapter 5.
Recommendation 23: That, to ensure that choice in counselling
services remains available to former child migrants, the Commonwealth
Government urge agencies and other State Welfare Departments providing
counselling services to maintain those services
and expand them where necessary.
Accommodation and aged care - now and in the future
The issue of suitable
accommodation and aged care services for former child migrants was also raised
with the Committee. Some
submissions indicated that a major problem faced by many former child migrants
was that their poor literacy skills had restricted their access to anything
other than low paid employment. This factor in turn has contributed to their
poor housing status-with some homeless or highly marginalised and others in
either high cost private rental accommodation or in the public housing sector.
Broken Rites stated that, for
some former child migrants who are now in their 50s and 60s, housing is going
to emerge as a ‘major issue’. This is particularly the case for some who, often
as a result of trauma preventing relationship development, have either
never married or who have been living alone for a considerable time - as health
problems begin to emerge these individuals often drop out of their usual social
networks and some increasingly rely on rooming house-type accommodation.
There is little data on the
accommodation needs of former child migrants. One study that has examined this
issue was an accommodation needs survey of former residents of Christian
Brothers’ institutions in Western Australia commissioned by the Christian
Brothers in 1998. While the survey referred to former residents who were not exclusively
child migrants, the majority of the men whose needs were being considered were
former child migrants.
The study found that the
provision of housing was not perceived to be a major problem for a large
majority of ex-residents who are coping well or well enough in the community,
currently employed and are able to access mainstream services available to the
The group identified as most at
risk was those former residents now in their 50s and early 60s who have lived
transient lifestyles, experienced long-term relationship difficulties and who
have significant health problems, often related to chronic alcohol abuse. This
group was characterised as highly marginalised and prematurely aged. It was not
estimated to be large in number - probably no more than 20 in the Perth area,
although the figure is likely to be an underestimate because of the transience
and ‘invisibility’ of this group.
These men now live in private boarding and lodging houses in the inner city of
Perth, or in accommodation provided through the Supported Accommodation
Assistance Program (SAAP) or Homeswest.
The study found that the needs
of this highly marginalised group of former ex-residents ‘will continue to grow
as they age’ and they will have less and less capacity to care for themselves
into old age. The demand for services is therefore likely to increase for the
next five-to-ten years.
The study remarked that the
absence of a caring network is of particular significance to this group. The
study also noted that the Maltese migrants who arrived in the 1950s and 1960s
appear to have greater access to such a network because of the reunification of
many boys with their families. As a result ‘it is less likely’ that this group
will require services specifically designed for this particular group of men.
The study noted that at present
there is an ‘adequate provision’ of accommodation services for marginalised,
prematurely aged men in Western Australia. Both short and long-term options are
available, with SAAP agencies able to provide crisis and interim accommodation
and both private and public sector services able to meet the needs of this
population group. However, the report noted that there is growing concern about
the continued supply of this type of accommodation due to government funding
priorities which have reduced the amount of funding available to non-government
agencies working in the area. 
The report stated that this marginalised group
of men is generally below the target age group for hostel and nursing home care
and are also unlikely to find ‘retirement village’ style care acceptable. Many
are fearful of ‘institutional’ care of any sort because of their previous
experiences, and professionals in the area argue for the development of
small-scale units providing care for groups of four-to-six men with
arrangements for similar small-scale hospice care when home care is no longer a
There are a range of schemes in
Western Australia which make such arrangements feasible, for example, special housing
programs available through Homeswest. However, the study noted that the lack of
funds for staff, particularly outreach workers, pose significant difficulties
in either accessing potential clients or servicing these semi-independent
living options. The Child Migrant Friendship Society (CMFS) also noted that
Homeswest was approached to supply a house so that former child migrants who
were ‘in the gutter’ were assisted to ‘get on their feet’, but that this
request was rejected because they did not meet the eligibility criteria. Broken Rites argued that child
migrants now in their 50s and 60s should have access to hostel-type
accommodation and at an appropriate time be able to move to a ‘situation of
greater and then full care’.
In relation to the situation of
former child migrants already in public housing, Broken Rites raised the issue
of the provision of their future housing needs through the structuring of
compensation payments. They argued that it is important that where a person
pursues a claim for financial compensation against an organisation, that the
compensation should be constructed in such a way that a proportion of it can be
used to assist the person to purchase their property. Broken Rites added that:
The cases that we have pursued... are where so many former child
migrants we find have been living in publicly provided housing, but they do
have an option to purchase the property. In this era of state governments
getting out of building and constructing housing estates and putting in public
tenants, they offer existing tenants the option to purchase the property. We
believe that is the way to go.
Broken Rites also argued that
where individuals have sought compensation payments, their housing needs have
seldom been recognised by the charity or religious organisation in question.
The sums of money paid to claimants ‘has rarely been sufficient to meet this
need for housing’.
The Committee believes that
both the short-and long-term accommodation needs of former child migrants
should be addressed. While there is little information on the overall housing
situation and accommodation needs of this group, the limited evidence available
to the Committee indicates a possible need for boarding house and supported
accommodation options for many of the more socially and economically
marginalised former child migrants especially those now aged in their fifties
and early sixties.
Recommendation 24: That the Commonwealth and State Governments
in providing funding for boarding house and supported accommodation programs
recognise the housing needs and requirements of former child migrants.
Future aged care needs
Evidence to the Committee
emphasised that it was important to recognise the needs of former child
migrants in the area of aged care, especially as they represent an ageing
group. For example, the average age of former child migrants sent to Catholic
institutions is now 60 years.
The Child Migrant Friendship
Society (CMFS) stated that:
Aged Care is a priority for many. The question is “who is going
to care for us?”. They wish nothing more than anyone else...Many have no home to
sell, are alone and unable to care for themselves prior to the need for “high
Submissions pointed to the need
to have access to hostels and nursing homes, including priority access to these
facilities. The CMFS stated that:
It is possibly a matter of priority...because they are a former
child migrant when the need arises for aged care...perhaps they [should] be a
priority in whatever is available with regard to state government facilities. I
do not believe that they are asking for added funding...but perhaps a priority
Access to residential aged care
facilities is based on an assessment of a person’s care needs by Aged Care
Assessment Teams and payment of fees takes into account a person’s financial
position. While all residents in these facilities have to contribute towards
the costs of their care, how much they pay depends on their means.
‘Concessional residents’ are those residents with limited financial means and as
such pay a ‘concessional’ level of fees.
For example, full pensioners pay 85 per cent of their pension to the
care facility to help cover the cost of their daily care needs and do not have
to pay an accommodation payment if their assets are below a certain level. The
Commonwealth pays an additional subsidy for concessional residents, and
providers are required to set aside a certain number of places for them.
Many former child migrants with low incomes would probably qualify as
concessional residents thus it would be difficult to give ‘priority’ access to
this group in particular, over and above other groups who may also be socially
and economically disadvantaged.
Evidence to the inquiry
indicated that there needs to be a careful assessment of the type of
residential aged care facility provided as many former child migrants are
suspicious of ‘institutional-type’ facilities. One submission noted that ‘the
thought of being in a hostel with very little of their pension left is
horrifying. Independence and empowerment are taken from them once again’. Barnardos also emphasised that it
was important to consult with former child migrants on the most suitable form
of aged care facility. The organisation noted that it was imperative to
determine what particular system would enable former child migrants to have a
One suggestion put to the
Committee to assist with the retirement needs of former child migrants was the
construction of retirement villages.
Dr Coldrey and Mr Gill both suggested that a retirement village could be
constructed in Western Australia funded by governments and agencies with its
management charter arranged to favour priority residence by former child
migrants. Dr Coldrey added:
At the time I first made the suggestion or at least discussed it
with a number of people...the Christian Brothers owned a very considerable amount
of land between Aquinas College and the old Clontarf Orphanage. The idea was
that a section of that land...could have been set aside for that. The idea was
that the retirement village have in it a social centre, research centre and
The Christian Brothers advised
the Committee that the idea of a retirement village is not under active
consideration by the Order. The Christian Brothers noted a number of concerns
with the option - ‘would all former child migrants want to live in such a
setting with exclusively other former child migrants? Would this be a healthy
and constructive way to go?’.
C-BERS also argued that ‘our
inclination at the present time - and it is what we have said to the [Christian
Brothers] province - is, rather than establishing obviously a little enclave of
older former child migrants, that if they were going to do anything it would be
to fund some sort of community housing cooperative in conjunction with one of
the providing agencies in Western Australia’.
The Christian Brothers argued
that there were various resources in the general community relevant to the
accommodation needs of older persons with limited economic means. The Brothers
argued that a more realistic way to proceed would be for C-BERS to adopt the
role of a referral and information agency that would assist men with needs in
this area to access accommodation resources in the wider community. To this end
C-BERS has undertaken to formulate a proposal along these lines with regard to
The Committee considers that
given the increasing age of former child migrants and, in many cases, their
disadvantaged socio-economic situation there needs to be an assessment
undertaken of the future needs of this group in relation to aged care services.
The Committee further believes that any assessment should take into account any
special requirements of former child migrants including possible alternatives
to traditional residential care arrangements.
Recommendation 25: That the Department of Health and Aged Care
commission a study into the aged care needs of former child migrants; and that
Commonwealth funding be directed into areas of need identified in that study.
Social security entitlements
During the inquiry, a number of
issues were raised in relation to the social security entitlements of former
child migrants, especially in regard to those who have returned or wish to
return to the United Kingdom.
The International Association
argued that the Australian Government’s decision not to pay pensions after
February 2001 to former child migrants now permanently living in the UK to be
with their families should be reviewed. The Association argued that this
measure is ‘grossly unfair’ given that these people have spent their entire
working lives paying taxes in Australia.
One submission also noted that ‘if I leave Australia before I am of pension age
I will lose my rights to an age pension even though I have worked and lived
here for 50 years...I feel the Government should establish a concession for
Former Child Migrants to be able to claim an age pension from England if they
wish to permanently return home’.  Another submission argued that the Australian
and United Kingdom Governments should work together to ensure that former child
migrants are not penalised in relation to their pension entitlements if they
decide to return to the UK.
The Committee notes that the
arguments stated above are based on a misunderstanding concerning the nature of
the former Social Security Agreement with the United Kingdom and the specific
features underlying the Australian social security system, where pension
eligibility is based on certain residency requirements.
All payments made under the
former Agreement, either in Australia or in the United Kingdom, will not be
affected by the termination of the Agreement as transitional provisions in the
Agreement protect the rights of current pensioners. Australian pensioners in
receipt of indefinitely portable pensions, such as the age pension and
disability support pension, who migrate to the United Kingdom; and Australian
pensioners who are there temporarily will continue to receive indexed pensions
under Australian social security law.
The Department of Family and Community Services (FaCS) also noted that
permanent residents of the United Kingdom, including new migrants, are also
able to apply for means-tested income support payments under UK domestic
legislation for those in financial hardship. In the United Kingdom, these
payments are, unlike the national insurance system, non-contributory, but
require a person to meet a residency test.
The Agreement with the United Kingdom provided
that the country where a person permanently
resides takes responsibility for providing social security payments for
that person. The Agreement with the United Kingdom therefore did not include
provisions for former Australians residing in the United Kingdom to claim
Australian benefits. The Department noted that permanent residents of the
United Kingdom are not able to claim new Australian pensions, regardless of
whether they had previously lived in Australia or not. The Department added
The Australian social security system is based on residence and
only allows the grant of pensions to people who reside in Australia or in
countries with which Australia has a social security agreement that allows for
this. The Agreement with the UK was a “host country” agreement and did not
allow for the grant of Australian pensions to people residing permanently
there. This has not changed with the termination of the Agreement.
The Agreement with the United
Kingdom was terminated because the UK Government refused to index its pensions
paid in Australia. The Department stated that the United Kingdom Government
consistently declined to include such a clause in its Agreement with Australia
and its pensions paid into Australia were therefore ‘frozen’. This meant that
UK pensioners in Australia increasingly relied on Australian income support to
‘top-up’ their pensions at a cost to Australia of approximately $100 million
per year. The Australian Government was effectively
subsidising the UK national insurance system as a result of the action of the
United Kingdom Government. This was the reason why the Australian Government
terminated the Agreement with the United Kingdom. The Department stated
that ‘the Australian Government has
signalled its preparedness to enter into a new agreement, provided this issue
Termination of the Agreement
will affect a certain number of former Australian residents living in the
United Kingdom. It will affect former Australian residents who have never made
any contribution to the UK national insurance system, by preventing them from
using periods of Australian residence deemed under the Agreement to be
contributions that allow access to the non-means tested contributory retirement
It will also affect Australian
residents who have contributed at least the minimum amount of contributions to
gain access to a partial UK national insurance system pension. This usually
involves contributing for 11 years. It will do this by preventing them from
using periods of Australian residence to increase their contributory history
and hence qualify for an enhanced or full retirement pension.
In relation to Australian
residents migrating to the United Kingdom, the Department stated the UK
Government has announced that it will protect the pension rights of people who
have periods of Australian residence before 6 April 2001. The UK Government
will ‘top-up’ the pensions of people with periods of residence in Australia
before 6 April 2001 with an extra statutory payment if they would have
received less than the full rate of basic pension.
The issue of the payment of pensions and
allowances during temporary absences overseas was also raised with the
Committee. The International Association argued that social security
arrangements should be reviewed to ensure that former child migrants currently
receiving benefits are ‘not penalised for travelling to be reunited with their
family overseas, as if they are going on a holiday...Rents still have to be paid
and bills do not stop when we finally manage to return...to meet our families
after a lifetime apart’.
FaCS responded to these concerns advising that
all payments are portable for up to 26 weeks temporary overseas absence. Age
pension and disability support pension (for people who are severely disabled)
are payable indefinitely overseas. Disability support pension for those who are
not severely disabled is portable overseas for up to 26 weeks. Wife pension is
payable overseas for up to 26 weeks and indefinitely in the case of ‘entitled
The Department also noted that
from September 2000, for the first time, ancillary benefits such as rent
assistance and pharmaceutical allowance ‘are now portable for temporary
absences of up to 26 weeks, assisting people who travel with ongoing costs in
Some submissions raised issues
relating to enhanced pension entitlements and associated benefits. The CMFS
argued that the United Kingdom Government should provide all former child
migrants from Britain with a non-means tested pension in addition to any Australian
pension currently received.
The International Association
argued that relocation packages should be provided for former child migrants
who wish to return permanently to the UK to live with their families. One submission, commenting on their
decision to move to the United Kingdom, stated that ‘that move cost me $10,000
and the expense is a direct consequence of the child migration schemes’.
Evidence to the inquiry suggested that some
former child migrants now residing permanently in the United Kingdom or
intending to in the future, especially those under age pension age, may be disadvantaged in
relation to access to income support payments. While the Committee did not
receive evidence on the numbers likely to be affected, it considers that the
Commonwealth Government should closely monitor this situation and urge the
United Kingdom Government to review its social security arrangements, if cases
emerge of former child migrants living in the United Kingdom being
disadvantaged in gaining access to income support payments, as a consequence of
the termination of the Social Security Agreement with the United Kingdom.
In relation to the payment of
pensions and allowances for people temporarily
overseas, the Committee considers that the current arrangements provide
adequate coverage to meet the needs of most former child migrants wishing to
make overseas visits for reunion purposes. The Committee believes that what
appears to be some confusion over entitlements could be overcome if information
on access to benefits while overseas were to be widely disseminated to welfare
services, former child migrants and child migrant organisations.
In regard to relocation
packages, while the Committee did not receive extensive evidence on the numbers
likely to be affected, it suspects that numbers would be few and believes that
the Commonwealth Government should introduce relocation packages for former
child migrants who wish to return permanently now or in the future to the
United Kingdom or Malta to be with their families.
Recommendation 26: That the Commonwealth
Government urge the British Government to ensure that former child migrants
living permanently in the United Kingdom are not disadvantaged in gaining
access to income support payments following termination of the Social Security
Agreement with the United Kingdom.
Recommendation 27: That the
Commonwealth Government provide a prospective one-off grant of $10,000 to
former child migrants wishing to return permanently to the United Kingdom or
Malta who can prove that they will permanently relocate in those countries.
Some evidence suggested that
there was a need for remedial education services to be provided to former child
migrants. As noted in chapter 4, due to the lack of education received in many
institutions, many former child migrants left the institutions with a serious
lack of literacy and numeracy skills - which have remained with them throughout
life. During the inquiry some former child migrants indicated that they would
have liked to further their education in later life - some have succeeded,
although others have indicated that they found further education too difficult
for a variety of reasons, others have succeeded by pursuing further studies at
their own expense. The International
Association argued, however, that for many former child migrants who are now in
their advanced years, it is too late-‘many cannot change...we would have
preferred this to have happened 30 years ago’.
Even so, a range of services
are currently provided. C-BERS provides adult education classes for
ex-residents who wish to improve their reading, writing and other educational
skills, such as, computer skills, although the take-up rate is not high. In the
first course, initiated three years ago, eight men started the literacy course
and six graduated. C-BERS noted that some dropped out ‘because they actually
did not want to be doing this in a group; they wanted to do it individually.
They were all at different levels’.
As a consequence of this
initial experience, C-BERS now arranges courses tailored more to an
individual’s needs -‘we are now funding, on an as-needs basis, different
literacy skills, educational skills to different individuals and it is much
more individualised’. Courses are contracted with a providing agency, usually
associated with a Technical & Further Education (TAFE) facility, though
only three or four men are currently on courses. C-BERS noted that ‘not only
have they improved their literacy and numeracy skills, but they are now quite
active on PCs and have the ability to use the Internet, and that has given them
a totally new horizon altogether of which they can take full advantage’. Fairbridge WA also manages a fund to
provide financial assistance to former
Fairbridge child migrants for educational, medical and other needs.
In Queensland, funding for
educational expenses among other things is available through the Forde
Foundation which has been established to meet the needs of individual former
residents of institutions in that State.
In South Australia, the Department of Human Services indicated that it would
organise literacy classes where this was a need identified by individual child
migrants and that information about the literacy programs for adults in South
Australia would be provided to the Child Migrants Trust.
The Committee raised the
question of who should provide these services - individual service providers,
such as C-BERS, or mainstream services. The Joint Liaison Group stated that an
advantage of courses run by groups, such as C-BERS, ‘is that people are with
other people who may have gone through the same difficulty and perhaps feel the
same inhibition or sense of shame about this area. Therefore, they may feel
more comfortable in coming to this group and working on it there’. The Liaison
Group conceded, however, that some people ‘may not want to come to such a group
and would prefer to do it in the general community’.
The Committee believes that,
while the demand for remedial education services is uncertain, literacy and
numeracy courses and associated adult education courses should be made
available to former child migrants where they feel that they would benefit from
such courses. The Committee further believes that the Commonwealth and the
States should widely publicise the availability of such courses to child
migrants and organisations associated with, or providing services to, former
Recommendation 28: That the Commonwealth and State Governments widely publicise
the availability of remedial education services and associated adult education
courses to child migrants and child migrant organisations.
The International Association of Former Child
Migrants and Their Families gives evidence at the Canberra hearing