The University of NSW has released a report on the experiences and impacts of institutional and other out-of-home care placements on children in Australia.
Exploring life experiences of adults who have transitioned from care, the report identifies barriers faced in later life by members of the Stolen Generations and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander care leavers.
The study, consisting of two years of research, involved 700 participants from across the country who grew up in care within the period of 1930 to 1989, identified as three sub-cohorts – Forgotten Australians, Child Migrants, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members of the Stolen Generations.
The report, No Child Should Grow Up Like This, reveals widespread abuse and maltreatment of children while in care and ongoing disadvantage and poor outcomes of these children in adulthood, including in relation to education, employment, housing, parenting, and physical and mental health.
For the study’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants, racial discrimination and cultural abuse was inflicted through the systematic suppression of language and denial of contact with siblings, family, and community. The loss of cultural identity was found to have profoundly impacted the lifelong mental health of participants, and also that of subsequent generations. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants also experienced poor health, financial, and housing outcomes into adulthood.
The report identified continuing concerns for ageing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander care leavers, including the challenge of finding appropriate housing that is sensitive to the connections of cultural identity and country, family, culture, and community, and the likelihood of institutional aged care placements triggering cumulative trauma by repeating a pattern of disruption and disempowerment.
The report makes a number of recommendations to redress the experiences and impacts of the failed systems of care, including a national redress scheme and improved access to legal, education, and health services. The report also recommends additional support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-specific services, and cultural awareness and safety training for non-Indigenous service providers working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander care leavers and their families.
Significantly, the report reflects that
families today, including Aboriginal families, are often challenged by many of the same issues that faced our research participants. Too often, families experience child removal that could have been prevented”
This finding, together with the demonstrated poor outcomes for care leavers, leads recommendations for reform of current child protection and care systems, including an increased focus on early intervention and family preservation, and greater self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
The report sees Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led solutions as necessary to achieving the shared goal of redressing the ongoing over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care.