Vulnerable Forgotten Australians need your care and assistance. If you work at Centrelink, the police, for an employment services provider, deliver health care, work in a hospital or an aged care facility it’s essential you understand that some Forgotten Australians have a history of abuse and neglect, which continues to impact on their lives and current needs.
Who are the Forgotten Australians?
The term Forgotten Australians was first used by the Australian Senate in its 2003–2004 report, Inquiry into Children in Institutional Care. This dismal label described a group of 500,000 children who were institutionalised between 1920 and 1970. These children grew up in State, church and charity run orphanages and homes where many of them were neglected, exploited and brutalised. The term now also refers to those who were in out-of-home care until the end of 1989. As many of these people have had families, it is highly likely that every Australian either was, or is related to, works with or knows someone who is a Forgotten Australian.
The Forgotten Australians are not a homogenous group and not all Forgotten Australians require the same level of assistance. Some were placed in care arrangements where they were nurtured and well looked after, others, however, experienced horrendous events where they were abused repeatedly throughout their childhood. Many Forgotten Australians have raised families, completed education, had successful careers, volunteered in the community, and own homes. However, others remain some of our most vulnerable citizens, struggling with physical and mental health conditions and challenged to maintain accommodation, relationships and employment.
It is the vulnerable and traumatised group of Forgotten Australians that require compassionate care and support when accessing services.
How would you recognise a Forgotten Australian?
A Forgotten Australian may choose to tell you that they grew up or spent time in an orphanage, an out-of-home facility or foster home. If you are a service provider you may see that information documented in their file. They may disclose that they are a Forgotten Australian or pass you the pictured Forgotten Australian card. This card is aimed at facilitating easier access to health and other support services, but it only works if the recipient knows what it means. Forgotten Australians are not formally recognised as a group requiring specalised care but many need it. Not all Forgotten Australians have one of these cards and not all Forgotten Australians need to use these cards.
There is no National Health and Aged Care Scheme for Forgotten Australians, but there should be and you can support the petition for A Health Card for Medical and Dental Care for all Forgotten Australians.
Centrelink, Police, Employment Services Providers, and Forgotten Australians
As children, many of the most vulnerable Forgotten Australians were abused by those in the powerful institutions that were responsible for their care. These Forgotten Australians relied on their perpetrators for survival, for their shelter, food, and education. Their terror-filled childhood had negative social, psychological and biological impacts.
The most vulnerable Forgotten Australians are likely to require the services of Centrelink. Once again, they may need to rely on a powerful and authoritarian institution for their survival.
How can you help?
- Stop, look up from the screen and see the person in front of you. Smile. See them, they have been invisible for too long.
- Use their name. As children, some Forgotten Australians did not have a name, were called by different names depending on where they lived and others were called by a number. Don’t make them feel like a number or nameless again.
- Recognise that talking to you may be a difficult conversation for a Forgotten Australian. You represent power and authority, like the perpetrators of their abuse, and they may feel terrified or angry. Their fight, flight or freeze response may be easily triggered by the situation. Be kind, gentle and patient. Manage your own emotions and remain calm.
- Ease the pressure. Some Forgotten Australians will become panicky and confused when pressed for a quick response to inquiries. Your appointment times may need to be longer than for other clients or it may take multiple appointments to get the information.
- Slow down. Take time to explain. Check their understanding. Ask if they need assistance with filling out forms or obtaining the information you need.
Believe their Story
- Recognise that telling a story of trauma, repeatedly to strangers, can feel like a further violation and be psychologically damaging. Respect their privacy, you don’t need to know the details.
If your institution requires them to “prove” the consequences of their horrific experience, assist them to have documents completed by medical practitioners. Go out of your way to help them.
Ms Forgotten Australian had to prove the atrocities of her childhood repeatedly to Centrelink. She attended numerous one-off face to face appointments and provided copious medical documents. Centrelink held a massive pile of medical records which identified her physical and mental health conditions, yet still, she had to continue proving the trauma had impacted on her ability to work. This occurred even after numerous government inquiries had identified that St Joseph’s Orphanage, Neerkol was a hell hole and no child would have been left unscathed. In her 50’s she was finally able to access the Disability Support Pension. She had worked all her life but was no longer able to sustain full-time employment. If the evidence you need is already in the file then dig it out. Believe the Forgotten Australian. Work hard on their behalf.
- Recognise that there is a possibility that the person in front of you may have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety, depression or other mental health problems even if they have not been documented. Mental health disorders are a consequence of their nightmarish experiences, created by the evil of others. They may also have physical disorders as a result of their abuse. Be kind, be gentle, be patient. Go slowly if they need you to.
- Ask if there is anything else that you can do to help them and, if possible, do what they ask.
Hospitals, Health Care and Forgotten Australians
In addition to the above there are further considerations when Forgotten Australians access hospitals and health care:
- The most vulnerable Forgotten Australians may have been tied to beds and locked in small places as children. They may have been left to sleep in urine and feces. They were forced to eat cold, grey unappetising food. The smells, sounds and rows of hospital beds are likely to trigger flashbacks to childhood memories. Recognise the terror they may experience and ask what they need to feel safe. It might be as simple as providing extra blankets so they feel warmer or asking permission each time you need to touch them. Meet their requests.
- The most vulnerable Forgotten Australians may have been sadistically molested and physically overpowered by those in authority. Imagine being confined to a dental chair or staying still while an MRI is completed when this is your history. Ask them what they need to feel safe. Be compassionate.
Aged Care and Forgotten Australians.
Those first described as Forgotten Australians would now be in their mid 50’s to 80’s. The youngest Forgotten Australians would be 29. As the older group of most vulnerable Forgotten Australians age, the deprivation of their childhood means they are likely to have greater and more complex social, psychological, physical and aged care needs than their Australian peers.
Many Forgotten Australians fear being re-institutionalised in aged care facilities. Forgotten Australians have told me that they would rather suicide than allow themselves to live in an institution again. If you are caring for a Forgotten Australian read the Caring for Forgotten Australians, Former Child Migrants and Stolen Generations Booklet and watch the video, Caring for Forgotten Australians, Former Child Migrants and Stolen Generations. Both are part of the Australian Government, Department of Health, Aged Care and Ageing Resource.
Warning!! The caution that the video may cause disturbance and distress should be taken seriously.
If you work at Centrelink, for an employment services provider, the police, deliver health care, work in a hospital or an aged care facility the video will help you to better understand the needs of Forgotten Australians. If you require further information contact the Alliance for Forgotten Australians.
Forgotten Australians may have given evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and may be applying for Redress, both processes require them to retell their trauma to strangers.
Offer warm and supportive assistance to Forgotten Australians. Ensure that they are listened to, respected, and no longer forgotten.
Thanks to Shayne Emmitt, a Forgotten Australian who inspired this post, provided valuable input into its creation and who directed me to most of the relevant information. Thanks to Ms Forgotten Australia, who continues to share her difficult experiences with me. Thanks also to the other Forgotten Australians who gave feedback on the draft of this post.
I’d like to hear from you, either in the comments below or on the Notforgotten facebook page.
Follow me on this furiously frustrating journey by registering your email address or liking the Notforgotten.tv facebook page, not just the post. Sharing this post on social media is like sending me a hug… Thank you.