Chapter 11 - Recognition of care leavers

Chapter 11 - Recognition of care leavers

The Government needs to take responsibility for what happened to me so I can have closure to a part of my life I wish I never had...I need the Government to help validate and acknowledge me.[740]

11.1 This chapter discusses the need to recognise the role of care leavers and the part they have played in Australia's history and to ensure that their experiences are recorded for future generations.

11.2 In addition to the need for a formal acknowledgment of care leavers, evidence to the inquiry emphasised the need for other tangible forms of recognition whether they be in the form of memorials; the holding of reunions; and the recording of their history - both personal histories and the history of the institutions - and the proper recording of the place of institutional care in Australia's social history.

11.3 Evidence indicated that these measures of acknowledgment and recognition would provide testimony to the part care leavers have played in Australia's history and ensure that the experiences of care leavers are recorded for future generations. This is especially important given the estimates that upwards of 500 000 Australians experienced childhood care in institutions and that consequently millions of Australians now have links to these adults who were in care as children.


11.4 Some submissions suggested that a suitable memorial or memorials should be erected to the memory of care leaves. CLAN argued that there should be a tangible acknowledgment of the history of care leavers in every State capital city with the construction of a memorial to all children who grew up in care - 'here is an opportunity to acknowledge the alternative history of care - as seen through the eyes of the children who suffered it'. CLAN noted that memorials are important as many of the homes and institutions have disappeared or have been demolished, along with the histories of their inmates.[741]

11.5 Other memorials suggested included plaques on the sites of former institutions or the construction of memorial gardens in each State.[742] Many Homes that remain standing today have changed purposes over the years and it is important that their heritage is recorded in a visible way. MacKillop Family Services have had plaques placed at the site of former homes run by several religious Orders. The wording on each plaque briefly describes the history of each site and records the number of former residents at each site. MacKillop stated that many former residents attending reunions commented on the significance of the wording on the plaques and the positive effect this has had on them - 'they feel that they are now remembered and acknowledged'.[743] As many care leavers believe they were wrongly incarcerated such an acknowledgment can reflect a sense of righting the wrong.

11.6 One ex-resident from Goodwood Orphanage suggested the construction of a public art mural, possibly in the grounds of the former orphanage, as a form of memorial to former ex residents. The care leaver expressed the hope that this artistic expression 'will provide hope and inspirational tools to alleviate human suffering to those seeking reconciliation, recognition and transformation'.[744] Others have suggested that medals of recognition be awarded to care leavers for having survived their tragic childhoods.

11.7 Other submissions argued that memorial gardens should be constructed. One submission noted that these gardens could contain the names of care leavers on a memorial plaque and could be a place 'where all "homies" and their families could meet for friendly picnics'.[745] Other submissions suggested a series of television documentaries or films as a form of commemoration.[746] The co-producer of Unholy Orders, a documentary film about life in orphanages in Scotland, told the Committee of the positive experiences that the contributors to that film experienced - the feeling that at last they were being heard and acknowledged - '[it] is not just being listened to, it is about being believed...and then it is being put on the public record that this occurred'.[747]

11.8 Submissions also suggested that there should be permanent or special exhibits relating to the history of care leavers in museums. CLAN argued that as a contribution to placing this history on the public record, the Museum of Australia in Canberra should have a permanent exhibition dedicated to the history of care leavers so as to document the experiences of so many thousands of Australian citizens over a century:

Get the dinosaurs out of the Australian museum, for once, and dedicate it to orphanages and children. Let our histories be visible. I want my children to be as conversant with this story as they are with the stolen generations and the child migrants.[748]

11.9 The Committee notes that CLAN is organising an art exhibition to be held in Parliament House, Sydney in April 2005 as a means of highlighting the history of care leavers. One care leaver noted that 'we do have a culture, we do have a past, the art exhibition is about ex residents of institutions. We have been silent for too long and now have an opportunity to tell our stories through the art exhibition'.[749]


11.10 Evidence to the Committee commented on the importance of holding reunions of ex-residents. A number of reunions in several States have been organised gathering together former residents of both State and Church-run orphanages. These reunions provide another form of acknowledging care leavers' past and aiding in the 'healing process'.

11.11 A number of reunions have been organised under the various Churches' auspices.[750] MacKillop Family Services has organised a number of gatherings of former residents of institutions. Barnardos noted that one of the ways they maintain contact with former residents is through reunions and functions.[751] UnitingCare Burnside also arranges annual reunions so that ex residents can come back 'should they wish to do that in some sort of formal and somewhat celebratory sense'.[752]

11.12 Some care leavers stated that reunions were of great value in meeting up with past residents and as a way of acknowledging, and in some cases confronting, their past.

My daughter never wanted to acknowledge it [my past] over the years, and I never pushed it in her face, but she came to the [Parramatta] reunion and it was the best thing for her to see.[753]

Last year when I went to the reunion at Lynwood Hall - that was the first one I had attended - I was hoping and praying that Mrs Davies would be there because I wanted to confront her. Maybe momentarily I would have felt good if I could have placed her in isolation.[754]

I have recently been to the reunion of the Parramatta Girls Home and Lynwood Hall and just watching these women tell their stories of abuse is heart wrenching and it makes me so sad that anyone could live with such shocking memories. Someone must be made accountable. It must be recorded and known that nobody needs to be treated in such a dreadful manner. I believe your childhood is what makes the adult and I know that life is harder for me with my memories. (Sub 271)

About 4 years ago a reunion was held...for those who were the children of the Presbyterian Home, Byford...Because it was such an enjoyable reunion it was decided that we should try and organise a twelve months excess of about 50 people attended the reunion. Some people bought their children and even their grandchildren. This was 57 years since I had left the home...There were 8 women and 4 men who were children at the home during my period - it was as though we had never been apart. (Sub 319)

I read about...the reunion at Goulburn. I met 2 old boys there walking through St John's and that bought back some bad memories. My wife was with me, she asked me how I could remember where everything was, very easy I said "The memory of this bloody place will always be imbedded in my head". (Sub 297)

11.13 MacKillop Family Services commented on the very positive feedback received from ex-residents who attended gatherings that they had organised. The participants expressed the view that the reunions had 'acknowledged their past' and contributed to the 'healing process'.[755]

11.14 The Committee was told that some institutions have not organised reunions of former residents.[756] Some care leavers expressed the view that there would be value in organising such gatherings, especially as they provided an opportunity to meet up with former residents. One care leaver noted that:

At least you could find out how they are they getting on. Maybe it would be a help for all of us.[757]

11.15 Some care leavers, however, report that reunions are of little benefit. One care leaver, who was placed in several institutions, noted 'I do not go back to reunions of any of the Homes, because it brings back bad memories to me'.[758] Another stated that:

Whenever I am asked to go up to a reunion, they can go to hell. I will not go. Why would I go up for a reunion? can still hear the kids screaming in your mind from what went on there.[759]

Reunions and open days bring back a flood of memories. The following is a vivid description of returning to Lynwood Hall.

The add in the paper - it asked anyone connected with Lynwood Hall to contact the person printed in the add. It could be either staff or girls who had been sent to this girl’s home in Guildford. Memories came flooding back;...Last Sunday was open day and my granddaughter volunteered to drive me down. We were asked to take a plate, so off we went with 2 plates of sandwiches and a map book to find our way to Byron Street Guildford. The house had been a beautiful very big home, built in 1891. It was huge with lots of separate additions, a long drive led back on the block, the gardens had been neglected but the remains of a pond and fountain sat in the front of the house, and a rotunda of sorts over to the left. All I could remember was the long drive.

Why was I left here, in a home for girls, knowing no one and not one word said to me about where I was being dumped? My granddaughter asked how I felt at the age of 13 yrs - numb was all I could think of, I must have been terrified, I remember meeting the boss of the establishment and remember the bed I slept in with a row of similar beds on both sides of this large dormitory I can still hear the crying of most of the girls, including me at night. I walked around the rooms, I recognised the kitchen, one of quite a few, this brought back memories of picking out the weevils from the custard. We walked around the huge hall, which had been the dining room, silence was the order of the day, and if you talked at the table punishment would follow. This could be scrubbing or polishing the floor of this huge hall. I must have done something because I can remember lining up with about 4 other girls and scrubbing that floor...

We found the solitary cells, outside the main building near the laundry, the window was larger than I remember, but it had wire on the outside...later I managed to get a peek into the cell. A room about 10 ft x 5ft, a mattress on the floor. I took a photo of this room, but had been told to close the door and check the back of it. The door had been lined with some metal and bruising of this metal showed up the dints inflicted by the girls in their terror of being locked up, on their own, away from the rest of us. Can you imagine the affect it would have on young girls?

I met some of these girls, not from the 1943 time, they were mainly those who had been there in the l960’s, they were hoping to have met the “boss” of their days but she had died a few months ago. How they would have liked to take her down to the cells and give her a piece of her own treatment. They were laughing about the times of punishment after running away, it is funny looking back, but behind the laughter was a terrible sadness. Their childhood had been stolen from them, the girls had spirit, which still showed, they had been state wards, nothing really bad, but treating people as numbers without feelings just is not the way to go.

(Submission 270)

Other forms of recognition

11.16 A number of Churches and religious Orders have also established or are in the process of establishing heritage centres on the sites of former institutions to preserve the memories of the past and inform visitors about that past. Displays usually record the history of the institution and experiences of individual past residents.[760] UnitingCare Burnside stated that it has an established heritage program including a museum that records the experience of ex residents, and includes historical displays and historical archives.[761]

Oral histories

11.17 Another area of activity commented on during the inquiry was the importance of collecting oral histories. Oral histories are important in ensuring that the experiences of care leavers are not lost to the current, and, to future generations. CLAN noted that:

People start to even doubt their own experience...when no-one wants to know their stories. Sometimes their family does not want to know because it is too confronting. That is the great benefit of telling your story - putting it out there, making it visible. Then other people hear it and believe it.[762]

11.18 Some oral history projects have been undertaken. MacKillop Family Services has completed two oral history projects - one focused on capturing the stories of elderly religious and the other on recording the experiences of former residents of former Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of St Joseph and Christian Brothers-run orphanages in Melbourne. Over 80 former residents and staff were interviewed as part of these projects.[763]

11.19 A study by Mr McIntosh into Catholic orphanages used the oral history approach to describe, from personal experiences of recollected childhood, what it was like to live in orphanages in the 1950s and 1960s in Victoria. He noted that this approach is important because there is very little available in the literature in this area of social history and policy.

There is certainly nothing which illuminates the personal response to institutional life in Victoria as seen by the adult, looking back. The personal experiences are engrossing and worth telling in their own right. They give insights into a nexus between educational life chances and home background. Such an approach can inform policy made today in relation to children in need.[764]

11.20 Mr McIntosh noted that the participants in his project felt that their experiences should not be allowed to 'dissipate through time' and all expressed a strong need to 'set down on record their childhood experiences'. Some also expressed a hope that the project would go some way towards 'providing some enlightenment on the issues and perspectives to which were subjected without any choice'.[765] These sentiments were also expressed by many care leavers in evidence to this inquiry.

11.21 A number of care leavers have written books outlining their childhood experiences in various institutions. These recollections are particularly valuable not only in a therapeutic sense for the writers themselves but they also add considerable insights into an aspect of Australian social history that has been sadly neglected over the years.

11.22 While these individual projects are of value, the Committee believes that there is a need for the National Library of Australia to collect oral histories in a systematic and more wide-ranging manner from former children in institutions and from around Australia so that their experiences are not lost to history and the histories are readily accessible.

11.23 The National Library currently records and collects a diverse range of oral history interviews. In the context of modern library collections, the National Library noted that oral history is understood to mean the use of sound recording technology to record interviews and, where resources permit, preparing transcripts of the interviews in print or electronic form. In recent years the Library's collection has become more diverse - in addition to biographical interviews with Australians of national standing, oral history projects have been initiated which aim to record particular aspects of Australian social history or the experiences of particular groups. These projects are undertaken to ensure that recordings are made with individuals and groups who are not likely to leave written records and who may therefore be marginalised in Australian history.[766]

11.24 The National Library has no dedicated project in place to collect oral histories of former children in institutions. It has however collected the oral histories of indigenous people arising out of the Bringing them home report and also has a small project to collect the oral histories of former child migrants. The Committee believes that in relation to the recording of oral histories, the written submissions and transcripts of evidence to this inquiry will prove invaluable as future source material.

11.25 The establishment of oral history projects and their collection could also be facilitated by the Oral History Association of Australia, which promotes the practice and methods of oral history, educates in the use of oral history methods and fosters the preservation of oral history records.

Research into institutional care and its consequences

11.26 The inquiry highlighted the paucity of historical research into institutional care and the lack of substantial research into the broader question of the social and economic consequences of that form of care in the Australian context.

11.27 Evidence pointed to the fact that care leavers and their experiences in care have been largely 'written out' of the historical records. CLAN noted that:

There is a book called Australian Childhood - it is a history of Australian childhood. We are not in there; we are not in there at all. It is a recent book - it came out a couple of years ago. There is a book called the Country of Lost Children by Pierce; we are not in there either. If ever there were lost children, it is us. We are not in histories; we are not in accounts of childhood.[767]

11.28 CLAN noted that 'there is a lot of isolated research that is not collected [together]...Most of the records of the child welfare department, apart from the state ward files, have gone - the records of the homes have gone'.[768] Where academic studies have been published there is no central point where the publications are listed and where they can be easily accessed.

11.29 Evidence also pointed to the paucity of research within universities into matters related to child protection and related issues. One academic noted that 'I am the lone voice banging on about child protection issues and legal responsibility...from an academic point of view, I am on my own in the department of criminology. There is no-one else'.[769]

11.30 Evidence indicates that even when research is conducted it is not used to inform policy in the area. One witness, who conducted a study into Catholic orphanages in Victoria, told the Committee that he was never contacted by the relevant State authorities over any follow-up in relation to his research - 'It just disappeared until this hearing. There may be a copy somewhere in the education faculty at Monash...Apart from that, I think it has been a lost document until now'.[770]

11.31 Comprehensive social research and analysis is needed into the complex subject of child welfare/child protection and its interaction with other areas such as welfare dependency, social problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, family relationship breakdowns, and criminology. Broken Rights suggested that a research body such as the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) could undertake this type of research.[771]

11.32 The AIFS presently conducts and coordinates research into factors that affect the well being of Australian families. It operates a number of research programs on issues related to 'children and parenting' and 'family and society' as well as specialist units such as the National Child Protection Clearinghouse. The Clearinghouse, which is funded by the Department of Family and Community Services, has provided analyses of trends in out of home care provision for a range of government and non-government organisations, including the Forde Commission. The Clearinghouse has produced a number of papers designed to inform the development of child abuse prevention and child protection policies. These have included analyses of the extent and impact of child abuse, the changing nature of child protection practice over time, and the adequacy of current approaches to protecting children and/or preventing child abuse and neglect. In 1998, the Institute undertook a joint project with the South Australian Office of Families and Children assessing the fiscal and economic costs of child maltreatment in that State.

11.33 The Clearinghouse also compiles a comprehensive collection of the latest research and practice resources concerned with child protection and child abuse prevention - currently it holds over 6000 records in its catalogue database related to child abuse/neglect, including both Australian and international material. However, its holdings of historical material relating to institutional care are limited.[772]

11.34 Witnesses commented on attempts to encourage more research in the area of child welfare and related areas. One witness noted that the Child and Family Welfare Association of Australia has been attempting to proactively engage researchers and 'we have a linkage that is bearing fruit in trying to come up with a collective way of doing research on child welfare issues, trying to engage a number of academics across a number of universities who have an interest in this area, working with agencies and trying to encourage departments to become involved in that too'.[773]

11.35 The Association of Childrens Welfare Agencies (ACWA) stated that obtaining government funding for research into out of home care was difficult - many welfare organisations fund their own research or engage in partnerships with universities in an attempt to get ARC grants - 'but that is a complex process and the money does not flow terribly readily'. The ACWA has recently received a grant from the Ian Potter Foundation to undertake an audit of currently available research in out-of-home care. The ACWA stated 'we are getting to the point where we should have a comprehensive audit and listing of all available research in Australia on out-of-home care. That would show us what was not being researched and we hope that would give us ammunition to support research projects where we could demonstrate that those areas were not being adequately researched'.[774]

11.36 The Committee notes the recent Commonwealth Government initiative to establish a new Chair in Child Protection based at the University of South Australia with the aim to provide a special focus on research into child protection issues. It is envisaged that the position will focus national research on the origins, impacts and prevention of child abuse and assist researchers working to combat child abuse across the disciplines of early childhood and family studies, psychology, education and literacy, conflict management, service delivery and social policy.[775] The Committee welcomes the establishment of this important new Chair and encourages further initiatives in this area.

11.37 Another pressing area requiring research is the long term social and economic impact of institutional care and its intergenerational consequences. CBERSS commented that:

There is very little [research] in those terms...Economic and some of the social costs of those experiences are often simply not addressed at all, and there is a great paucity of literature in that area unfortunately.[776]

11.38 The AIFS also commented on the lack of research in this area:

Most of the "evidence" on the effects of maltreatment in general does not come from carefully conducted studies that can conclusively demonstrate causal links. Little longitudinal data exists on the outcomes for Australian children looked after away from home in Australia and none that tries to separate the effects of abuse before and during out-of-home care, and none that specifically focuses on institutional out-of-home care.[777]

11.39 Dr McCluskey focussed her comments on the need for research into the intergenerational issues:

The particular issues raised by the 'Australian experience' [of institutional care and its effects on children] needs addressing through properly funded research that can set the issue within the political and cultural agenda of the time as well as taking account of what we now know about the effect of emotional trauma not just on the individual but on those with whom that individual proceeds to form a relationship. The consequences of abuse, through unprocessed grief (eg. for how one's life might have been under different circumstances) may well be generational...I hope that...funds are made available for detailed research that addresses not just the social and political consequences but also the intergenerational consequences of abuse and neglect, so that we all learn from past policy and practice.[778]

11.40 CLAN, in arguing for research into the economic and social costs of institutional care, argued the costs will most probably be high in terms of the use of services such as health, including mental health, housing and family services, drug and alcohol services and income support. CLAN argued that:

...research which points up the link between childhood neglect and abuse and the cost to government through services to the adults produced through such childhoods, is essential if we are to learn from the past, and put in place in the present, interventions which will reduce the social and economic cost of family disruption and care experiences.[779]


11.41 The Committee strongly believes that Australia must recognise the existence and positive contributions that care leavers have made to the nation. The Committee believes that as part of this recognition process, governments and the Churches and agencies should fund a set of memorials to care leavers. These could take several forms including memorial gardens, which could be constructed in conjunction with local councils; the placement of plaques at the site of former institutions; and the construction of heritage centres. The Committee notes that a number of Churches and agencies have placed plaques and have established heritage centres and it believes that other Churches and agencies should also undertake such projects.

11.42 The Committee considers that reunions of former residents should be encouraged and facilitated by governments and the Churches and agencies. The Committee notes that many successful reunions have already been held.

11.43 The Committee believes that such measures would be part of a tangible acknowledgment by governments and the Churches and agencies of their roles in the placing of care leavers in institutions and the consequences of these policies.

11.44 The Committee is of the view that funding should be provided to facilitate the recording of the history of care leavers both in a personal sense, through written or oral histories, and also in the larger sense of recording their place in Australia's social history. As part of this heritage recognition the Committee, while recognising that it is not Parliament's role to make curatorial decisions for our cultural bodies, is also of the view that the National Museum of Australia should consider establishing an exhibition related to the history and experiences of children in institutional care. The Committee envisages that such an exhibition could be permanent and have the capacity to be taken around Australia as a travelling exhibition.

11.45 The Committee also considers that research is urgently needed to identify the historical, social and economic impact of institutional care with a view to identifying positive interventions which will reduce the social and economic cost of present day family breakdown and out-of-home care experiences. In addition, the Committee believes that courses of study should be established at selected universities around Australia that focus on the institutional history of care, child protection and related issues, and in particular psychology, childhood and family studies, conflict management, the impact of institutional care and social policy to address these issues. The Committee notes the recent establishment of the Chair in Child Protection at the University of South Australia and welcomes this initiative.

Recommendation 34

11.46 That the Commonwealth and State Governments, in conjunction with the Churches and agencies, provide funding for the erection of suitable memorials commemorating care leavers. Where possible, memorials could take the form of:

The Committee further recommends that the appropriate form and location of memorials should be determined after local consultation with care leavers and their support and advocacy groups.

Recommendation 35

11.47 That the National Museum of Australia be urged to consider establishing an exhibition, preferably permanent, related to the history and experiences of children in institutional care, and that such an exhibition have the capacity to tour as a travelling exhibition.

Recommendation 36

11.48 That the Commonwealth Government provide funding for the National Library of Australia to undertake an oral history project to collect the life-stories of former residents in institutional and out-of-home care.

Recommendation 37

11.49 That the Commonwealth Government fund research either though the Australian Institute of Family Studies or other relevant research body or university into the following areas:

Recommendation 38

11.50 That the Australian Institute of Family Studies National Child Protection Clearinghouse be funded by the Commonwealth Government to collect publications related to historical studies of institutional and other forms of out-of-home care and that this information be widely disseminated.

Recommendation 39

11.51 That the Commonwealth, in co-operation with State Governments, establish courses of study at selected tertiary institutions that focus on child protection and related issues, especially early childhood and family studies, psychology, conflict management, the impact of institutional care and social policy to address issues in these areas.

Senator Jan McLucas