There are some areas that extend beyond the scope of our work, which have a great impact on the members of our community. In those areas, Wattle Place looks for opportunities to advocate for the groups we support to ensure their perspectives are included in and inform decision-making, policy development and program and service design that impacts them.
Wattle Place welcomes opportunities to work with other organisations, services and sector representatives, where appropriate, to amplify the voices and perspectives of the groups with whom we work.
Our counsellors and caseworkers advocate strongly for the individuals they work with, but it is clear that, in many cases, changes across the whole system are required to really make a change in the lives of all those we support.
The areas we are especially interested in are those which the Wattle Place community have the most concerns about. These are:
One of the greatest concerns among many of the people who were placed in out of home care as children, or mothers who lost babies to adoption, is that they will once again be dependent on others as they age, maybe even having to go into nursing homes. Facing vulnerability and re-institutionalisation is a terrifying prospect, one that many simply cannot face.
Given that Forgotten Australians and mothers impacted by Forced Adoption are generally aged in their 50s and older, and the vulnerability of people needing care from others, aged care is top of mind. Unfortunately, the aged care system is not working well for people with the specific vulnerabilities faced by the groups we support.
Wattle Place is taking steps to influence changes to the aged care system that will benefit care leavers, survivors of child sexual abuse and mothers who lost a newborn baby to forced adoptions. Steps so far include:
Forum: Addressing the complex needs of Forgotten Australians in Aged Care
In June 2019, Wattle Place hosted a forum inviting representatives from the Aged care sector to increase awareness in the Aged care sector about the complex needs of Forgotten Australians, Stolen Generations and Former Child Migrants in aged care, to equip the sector with the knowledge and determination to provide safe, appropriate, nurturing care and to inspire action on planning for and appropriately accommodating these vulnerable groups as they age.
Promoting a National Discussion on improved models of aged and community care for Forgotten Australians and Care Leavers
Following a very successful forum on the needs of Forgotten Australians in Aged Care, held by Wattle Place in Sydney last year, a group of interested individuals and organisations, convened by the Forde Foundation in Queensland, have been meeting to discuss ways to tailor and improve Aged and Community Care models to ensure that Forgotten Australians/Care Leavers gain better access and more appropriate services as they age. The National Roundtable on Aged and Community Care for Forgotten Australians has recently made a submission to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Safety and Quality, in which a range of suggestions were put forward to promote a new approach to delivery of services and support as Forgotten Australians/Care Leavers age and their need for assistance increases. The Roundtable includes specialist service providers, mainstream aged care providers, researchers and individuals passionate in ensuring aged and community services are more individualised, responsive, tailored and of the highest possible quality. Wattle Place participates in this Roundtable. For further information please contact Anne Livingstone at the Forde Foundation.
You can view the submission by the Roundtable here.
Other areas of concern
The Health Sector
Visiting GPs, hospitals and other medical services including mental health, can be another area of great concern for the people we work with. It is widely acknowledged that the body’s stress response being regularly activated in childhood due to trauma negatively affects physical, as well as mental, health throughout life. Therefore people who have experienced childhood trauma should be more engaged with the health system, particularly as health needs continue to increase with age. However, physical touch and intrusion on someone’s personal space or privacy, can trigger flashbacks to sexual assault or other feelings of intimidation, humiliation and powerlessness. This makes medical examinations particularly difficult and will often prevent people seeking treatment early, sometimes avoiding appointments, at the expense of their health. There is a concerning lack of awareness and understanding in the health sector about the long-term impacts of trauma in these groups, which contributes to their overall poorer health. Improvements in this sector have significant potential to positively impact the lives of those affected by trauma.
For the reasons given above, many care leavers are also more likely to have physical and psychosocial disabilities, for which they are potentially eligible for the NDIS. However, applying for and navigating the NDIS is incredibly difficult. Again, providers of NDIS services are often ill-equipped to provide adequate understanding and care for people dealing with the impacts of trauma.
Government Departments, such as Centerlink and Housing
Government departments, particularly those which have control over an aspect of a person’s life, can be very difficult to deal with for people who experienced trauma at the hands of the Government in their past. People living with the impacts of trauma are more likely to have lower incomes, for a number of reasons, and therefore are more likely to have to interact with Government agencies such as Centrelink and Housing. Members of the Wattle Place community report being treated rudely or disrespectfully by government staff and those in authority, which makes them feel belittled, intimidated and reminds them of the contempt with which they were treated by authority figures in the past. It would be very advantageous for staff in these agencies to be trauma-informed, understanding someone’s responses may be driven by trauma could assist with a positive interaction and a successful outcome in the person’s engagement with the agency.
The legal system
Some people’s responses to trauma make them more likely to engage in criminal behaviour. While trauma is not an excuse, it should inform the rehabilitation process to provide the best chance of preventing recidivism. People who have suffered abuse or mistreatment are also more likely to come into contact with the legal system in pursuit of bringing their perpetrators to justice. This can be a particularly distressing and re-traumatising time, which leads some to give up. Whichever way people come into contact with the legal system, the legal profession needs to become more trauma-informed.
Digital inclusion – during and post COVID-19
Education in many of the institutions was very poor or replaced by chores and manual labour. The stress and trauma being suffered at the time also impacted the children’s ability to learn, even if there were classes. This of course impacted the literacy and numeracy levels of many Forgotten Australians and others who have experienced out-of-home care, particularly in institutions. Not only does this limit their use of written communications, but the embarrassment associated with low literacy levels can impact a person’s confidence to learn new things, and may also prevent them from seeking assistance. Of course, this is not always the case, and many Forgotten Australians successfully completed Tertiary studies, gained significant skills and qualifications and had very successful lives and careers.
With a greater, and growing, emphasis on online participation, especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Forgotten Australians are becoming even more excluded, not more included. The impacts of poor education on literacy and ability to earn an income can inhibit them from both learning the new skills required to use digital devices, and accessing the data required to make use of them. Many Government and other services have moved to online access, without taking into account or allowing for the financial and literacy barriers preventing many people from being able to access them.
If you would like to discuss any of these issues with Wattle Place, please contact us.