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Support available for ‘care leavers’ in residential care

No-one likes the idea of losing their independence, but for Forgotten Australians the prospect of being re-institutionalised is terrifying, writes Boris Kaspiev.

If you work in an aged care service, have you ever asked a new resident whether they grew up in an orphanage?

The people who identify as Forgotten Australians are mostly more than 50 years old. They may also be known as care leavers, homies, wardies, Former Child Migrants, or members of the Stolen Generations. Some don’t identify in this way at all.

They are the survivors of the approximately 500,000 children who found themselves in institutional or other out-of-home ‘care’ last century.

Forgotten Australians suffered from deep feelings of abandonment. Many lost their families. They suffered brutality and neglect; many were exploited as cheap labour, and grew up in harsh conditions without love and physical or emotional warmth. The treatment they experienced as children mean that many are in poor health and may age prematurely.

No-one likes the idea of losing their independence, but for Forgotten Australians the prospect of being re-institutionalised is terrifying. They know what it’s like and they don’t want to relive it.

Many Forgotten Australians find traumatic childhood memories and fears returning when they think about their aged care needs. Those anxieties may spring from childhood experiences when they were harmed by those who had been entrusted with their care. Some find the prospect of aged care delivered outside familiar places as truly frightening.

Working with these individuals requires a sympathetic understanding of the mistreatment and loss they experienced during childhood. They are burdened with memories of trauma which create fear and anxiety.

However, if aged care workers can recognise and understand their concerns, their time in aged care can become more positive and engaging.

Some may not want to talk about their childhood experiences. They may never have spoken to their families about their past. But there are things you can look for and things you can do to make them feel safe and welcomed.

Forgotten Australians may not want to be touched, or want their possessions touched. They may react strongly to authority figures and people in uniform. They may avoid the kinds of food they were served in orphanages, such as white sauce, or they may hoard their food, because they were always hungry.

Some can’t sleep with a door closed; others will avoid communal spaces. Celebrations such as birthdays or Christmas may trigger memories of abandonment and aloneness, and some will not have families with whom to share such events.

There is an excellent resource which explains the history of Forgotten Australians and helps you understand how you may best support them. It’s the Caring for Forgotten Australians, Former Child Migrants and Stolen Generations information package for aged care services.

You can also contact the national network of Find & Connect Support Services on 1800 16 11 09 (freecall), which can:

  • provide support and counselling;
  • obtain the personal records of Forgotten Australians, trace their history and understand why they were placed into care;
  • connect people with other services and support networks; and
  • where possible, reconnect with family.

The Alliance for Forgotten Australians (AFA) is a national organisation which promotes the interests of Forgotten Australians, advocates for policies and services to meet their needs, and encourages their inclusion in service planning and delivery. AFA does not itself deliver services. It may be contacted on 0419 854 980 or admin@forgottenaustralians.org.au.

Victorian agencies wanting to know more about Forgotten Australians can contact the Community Education Team at Open Place in Victoria on 1800 161 109 .

Boris Kaspiev is executive officer at the Alliance for Forgotten Australians.

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