Background: Forgotten Australians, Stolen Generations and Former Child Migrants
Forgotten Australians were placed in ‘out-of-home care’ as children in Australia between 1920 and 1990, under government child welfare policies. ‘Out-of-home care’ incorporates institutional settings including orphanages and children’s homes, and foster care placements. The reasons children were taken into out-of-home care varied. These reasons included being orphaned, being born “out of wedlock”, domestic violence, parents divorcing or separating, poverty and the parents’ inability to cope due to hardship or crisis. Under the Child Welfare Act 1939, children could even be charged with being neglected and made a ward of state.
The Stolen Generations are the generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were forcibly removed from their families and communities by both State and Federal Governments. This took place under assimilation policies. They too, were often placed in institutions including children’s homes alongside “Forgotten Australians” and “Former Child Migrants”, religious missions, or foster homes with non-Indigenous families. Others were adopted or assigned as servants to non-Indigenous families, rather than being place in out-of-home care.
Former Child Migrants refer to people who were sent as unaccompanied children from Britain and Malta, to institutions throughout Australia, between around 1912 and the late 1960s.
Before the war, Britain wanted to remove children from their overcrowded welfare institutions and provide them with farming or domestic skills. After the war, this policy assisted ‘Empire settlement’, which aimed to increase the white Australian population with British-born citizens. Children often came from disadvantaged families and were sent to Australia without the parents’ knowledge or consent.
At least 500,000 children are believed to have been placed in out-of-home care during this time, with an estimated breakdown of well over 400 000 Forgotten Australians, 30 000 – 50 000 members of the Stolen Generations and around 7000 Child Migrants.
Common experiences of trauma
For all these children, the environments within institutions and foster homes were generally not conducive to healthy physical growth, social and personal development or educational achievement. While not all institutional or out-of-home care experiences were negative, sadly a large proportion of them were incredibly traumatic. Many of these children were not only raised in environments devoid of nurturing and affection but were subjected to extreme abuse and cruelty. They suffered horrific brutality, sexual assault, humiliation, neglect, exploitation, poor or non-existent health and dental care, poor or non-existent education, separation from family, abandonment and a loss of identity.
Through no fault of their own, these poor children were placed at the mercy of people who turned out to be, in far too many cases, inexplicably cruel and exactly the opposite of what they needed for a thriving and successful life.
Evidence provided at the Senate Inquiry in 2004 highlighted fundamental long term issues for many survivors including a lack of trust, no sense of security and poor social, parenting and life skills, stemming from the absence of love, affection and nurturing during vital development stages.
It is important to note that there were some positive stories. The Committee also heard from people who, with a great deal of love and support from partners, families and friends, are now able to better come to terms with their past and live settled and more secure adult lives.