About Forgotten Australians
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Who are the Forgotten Australians?
The people who identify as Forgotten Australians are generally now aged from around 40 up. They are the survivors of the roughly 500,000 children who found themselves in institutional or other out-of-home care in the last Century.
What did they experience?
Abandonment and Loss of Family
All these children suffered from deep and lasting feelings of abandonment. The loss of family, including usually separation from siblings, caused grief, feelings of isolation, guilt, self-blame and confusion about their identity.
Neglect and Exploitation
The Senate report also revealed a history of neglect and cruelty by institutional staff and management, of abandonment and exploitation that have left at least half a million Australians, as well as many child migrants, physically and psychologically scarred.
Physical deprivation was common. Children were cold and hungry. Hard physical work was part of their daily lives. Particularly demeaning and very difficult tasks were given as punishments.
Punishments for very small offences or perceived disobedience could be harsh and cruel – severe physical attacks and beatings are reported by many. Alternatively, children were locked in a cupboard or a cell in solitary confinement or made to stand for many hours in one position.
Bed-wetting was punished with beatings, cold showers and humiliations, e.g. parading naked past others.
Large numbers of these children experienced sexual abuse and assault. This came most commonly from the “carers” themselves, but also from visitors to the orphanage and from other children.
Poor Health Care
The Senate Inquiry heard many stories “of minimal medical attention…and often lack of or late treatment of injury or illness for which many care leavers have suffered long term complications. Dental health was also poor”. (Forgotten Australians, p.111)
Children in institutions generally did not receive a good, or even adequate, education. Children commonly did the domestic work involved in running the orphanage, cleaning and cooking for long hours. As well, many children were put to work earning income for the institution. Children as young as 8 were often put to work on farms or laundries run by the institution or simply cleaning and cooking for long hours. At 15, most children had left school. Additionally, children who are abused or neglected, who have untreated health problems or who are subjected to constant accusations of stupidity and worthlessness find it difficult to concentrate in a learning environment.
Loss of Identity
Children’s names were often changed to suit the institution, and personal records are generally sparse. Many children were told their parents were dead (often untrue) or had abandoned them (when parents had been refused visiting rights). Children were told they were bad, worthless and in need of reshaping. It was easier to change behaviour and suppress their own personalities than to risk the punishments that came to “bad” children.
The Senate Inquiry
The Inquiry of the Senate Community Affairs References Committee in 2004 allowed many people who had been children in the Australian institutional care system to tell their stories – often for the first time. This brought their experiences back to them and caused great pain for them and their families. The report is titled, Forgotten Australians: A report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children. The Senate Committee reported that they had "received hundreds of graphic and disturbing accounts about the treatment and care experienced by children in out-of-home care…. Their stories outlined a litany of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and often criminal physical and sexual assault….neglect, humiliation and deprivation of food, education and healthcare." (Forgotten Australians, xv)
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