AUSTRALIAN INQUIRIES CONTINUE REVIEW OF LONG-TERM ABUSES IN INSTITUTIONAL FOSTER CARE

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  • Barnardos orphans emigrate 1956

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he Hon. Justice Peter McClellan sounded as if he’d had his fill of the child savers during his opening remarks at the first hearing of the Royal Commission to investigate Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, held on April 3, 2013.

“Australians of recent generations have lived through a period of rapid change across many aspects of society. Many changes can be identified. One which is important for the work of this Royal Commission is our preparedness to challenge authority and the actions of those in power in areas where this would not previously have been contemplated,” said Justice McClellan.

“These changes have brought with them a need and capacity to reflect on the functioning of institutions and the behaviour of individuals within those institutions. We have seen both Royal Commissions and Inquiries directed to that end.” Justice McClellan summarized the course that some prior Commissions and Inquiries had taken, saying:

Many Inquiries have been conducted by Senate Committees. Inquiries have looked at diverse issues including institutional and out of home care, foster care, child migration, the various child protection systems in the States and Territories, the stolen generations, Aboriginal deaths in custody, child sexual abuse in indigenous communities and forced adoptions.

“There have been many other Inquiries,” he added.

A closer look

There have indeed been many other Inquiries, and there is no shortage of damning reports. “Inquiries into management practices and abuse occurring in children’s homes and institutions are not just a recent occurrence,” explained a Senate Committee in its 2004 report Forgotten Australians. The Senate Community Affairs References Committee explained:

For over a century, many inquiries have condemned children’s institutions in Australia. The New South Wales Royal Commission into Public Charities of 1874 attacked the Randwick Asylum for destitute children for many reasons, including its factory-like style, isolation from the community and lack of after care supervision. A 1945 inquiry into Sydney’s Parramatta Girls’ Industrial School was scathing, finding its staff, buildings and equipment to be inadequate and noting that problems at Parramatta could be matched at institutions throughout the Commonwealth.

A major British Government investigation, the 1956 Ross Report, criticised many facets of Australian children’s institutions including their lack of homely style, isolation from the community, lack of trained staff and poor educational and employment opportunities. In 1961 the Schwarten Inquiry into the Queensland correctional centre for boys, Westbrook, drew attention to many issues including the poor standard of food, inadequate hygiene and excessive drill. However, the Inquiry focused particularly on the institution’s punishment regime noting that the strap was used excessively and too often, punishment for disciplinary breaches was unduly harsh and excessive and inmates were physically assaulted by certain members of staff in a vicious and brutal way.

The Senate Committee, in commenting on these reports, noted that: “The above reports share stark similarities in their findings about harm to children who were removed from their families and placed in some form of institutional care. A common theme has centred on various governments’ failure to protect children in their care.”

With regard to child migration, it was noted that “the British, Australian and Australian State governments and relevant agencies had failed in their duty of care towards former child migrants,” the Committee explained, and, as a result they endured instances of humiliation, degradation, profound emotional abuse and criminal assault.”

Similarly, the Forde Inquiry concluded that the department had failed to protect children in residential care from abuse, saying that “the abuses went far beyond the prevailing acceptable limits, while the child migrant inquiry found that some children had clearly suffered physical and sexual abuse, similarly beyond anything that could conceivably be argued as normal for the time.”

A review conducted by the Tasmanian Ombudsman reveals stark details of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse endured by State wards in both government-run and sectarian homes. The report explains:

Numerous accounts were given of children who were severely beaten using some form of weapon or instrument deliberately intended to inflict pain, bruising and bleeding. Many referred to the fact that they had been unable to attend school because of the beatings they had received. Several referred to the fact that teachers at the school saw the results of the beatings but did nothing. Often the children were too frightened to say anything, even to Police who sometimes attended following particularly savage attacks. Some males showed the interviewers scars or medical records of injuries detected in later years that could have been ascribed to the abuse they described to the consulting doctor as having suffered while in State care. If even half of what has been reported is true, the inevitable conclusion must be drawn that institutional life attracted some adults who took pleasure in victimisation and abuse of vulnerable, powerless children.

But there is far more evidence of the abject failure of the child savers to be found in Australian history, as the Forgotten Australians report explains:

Other groups with influence over government child welfare policies, such as the New South Wales 1873-1874 Public Charities Commission, were scathing of institutional life for children, basing their criticisms on the appalling conditions they gleaned on their visits to State children’s homes. The Commission noted the violence meted out to girls at the Biloela Asylum, many of whom had black eyes, bruises and bloody noses. The Randwick Destitute Children’s Asylum, set up in the 1850s, also came under the Commission’s critical eye, for many reasons including because it was said to be a barracks-like environment which bred barrack children. Other groups such as leading child saving experts also opposed institutional life for children.

Other inquiries followed. On March 31, 2008, Hon. E.P. Mullighan QC presented the final report of the Children in State Care Commission of Inquiry to the Governor of South Australia. The report was entitled Allegations of Sexual Abuse and Death from Criminal Conduct, although it is more commonly referenced as the “Mullighan Report.” He prefaced his report with anguished words:

Nothing prepared me for the foul undercurrent of society revealed in the evidence to the Inquiry; not my life in the community or my work in the law as a practitioner and a judge. I had no understanding of the widespread prevalence of the sexual abuse of children in South Australia and its frequent devastating and often lifelong consequences for many of them.

Such is the nature of the historical backdrop with which the current Inquiry led by Justice McClellan takes the stage.

The coerced adoptions

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At the time that Justice McClellan was making his opening remarks, barely three weeks had passed since Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard delivered her historic apology to an estimated 250,000 mothers for the coerced adoptions they had endured at the hands of social workers, hospitals, and the clergy.

“Friends, as the time for birth came, these babies would be snatched away before they had even held them in their arms,” Prime Minister Gillard said during her apology.

“Sometimes, consent was achieved by forgery or fraud. Sometimes women signed adoption papers whilst under the influence of medication.

“Most common of all was the bullying arrogance of a society that presumed to know what was best.

“The hurt did not simply last for a few days or weeks. This was a wound that would not heal.”

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Veteran journalist Dan Rather conducted an extensive investigation into coerced adoptions, finding them to be a phenomenon with global reach. In a recent article on the subject, Rather explains: “From Australia to Spain, Ireland to America, and as recent as 1987, young mothers say they were ‘coerced’, ‘manipulated’, and ‘duped’ into handing over their babies for adoption. These women say sometimes their parents forged consent documents, but more often they say these forced adoptions were coordinated by the people their families trusted most… priests, nuns, social workers, nurses or doctors.”

With respect to coerced adoptions in the United States, Rather explains: “We have interviewed numerous women in the U.S. who told us that they were sent to maternity homes, denied contact with their families and friends, forced to endure labor with purposely painful procedures and return home without their babies. Single, American mothers were also denied financial support and told that their children would be better off without them.” According to some estimates, Rather explains, approximately 1.5 million women in the United States may have been pressured or coerced into relinquishing their babies shortly after birth.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s apology followed the recommendations of a Committee established to investigate the Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices. The Committee’s report provided a stunning indictment of practices that were frequently engaged in by social workers, maternity homes, hospitals, and religious institutions. These practices had gone largely unchallenged for decades.

The Committee noted that while there may have been a difference of opinions between professionals regarding the issue, at least one prominent professional had a specific view. In 1959, Dr D. F. Lawson of the Royal Women’s Hospital gave the R.D. Fetherston Memorial Lecture. In his address, the Committee notes that he “made some startling remarks that carry particular significance when viewed through the lens of the experience of the women who gave evidence” to the inquiry:

The prospect of the unmarried girl or of her family adequately caring for a child and giving it a normal environment and upbringing is so small that I believe for practical purposes it can be ignored. I believe that in all such cases the obstetrician should urge that the child be adopted… The last thing that the obstetrician might concern himself with is the law in regard to adoption.

From the Committee’s standpoint, “Dr Lawson’s comments are notable because they imply there was an opposing view. Dr Lawson was clearly conscious of these different views, some of them enshrined in law. His call to other professionals not only to disregard the natural mothers, but to disregard the law and pursue adoption for their babies, is an indictment of his professional conduct.”

“There were many different ways in which forced adoption occurred,” the report explained. “These accounts ranged from experiences of being physically shackled to beds, to social workers failing to advise mothers of government payments that may have been available to support them to keep their child. Some people who were adopted as a result of forced adoption, and who gave evidence to this inquiry, reported painful childhoods living with their adopted families, sometimes including experiences of abuse.

Calls for Adoption Inquiry in Canada

Journalist Kathryn Blaze Carlson of Canada’s National Post has provided extensive coverage of the issue of forced adoptions. Since the first accounts were reported on March 10, 2012, “at least 100 mothers have contacted the newspaper saying they were coerced or forced by social workers, medical professionals and maternity-home staff into handing over their illegitimate babies at a time when abortion was illegal, birth control was difficult to access, and single mothers were deemed unfit to parent,” she explains in an article published barely a month later.

The archives of the United Church of Canada had been identified as “ground zero” in the search for records. The Salvation Army and the Presbyterian Church in Canada were also reported as reviewing their archival records for information concerning their own roles in coerced adoptions.

That the Salvation Army and other sectarian organizations would figure so prominently should come as no surprise. Australia’s Forde Inquiry noted that in the period 1947 to 1967, “between 7,000 and 10,000 ‘orphaned’ children were sent from the United Kingdom to Australia. In fact, very few of these unaccompanied child migrants were orphans.”

Large numbers of these allegedly “unwanted” children were placed in State care in Australia for fostering and adoption, the report explains, noting that many of these migrant children “were transported to Australia without the permission of their natural parents.” While a relatively small proportion of these children were disbursed to Queensland, only two institutions in the State actually received child migrants—-the Salvation Army Training Home for Boys at Riverview, and St Joseph’s Orphanage, which was operated by the Roman Catholic Sisters of Mercy.

The Salvation Army figures quite prominently in the Forde report. Indeed, the report explains: “From the late nineteenth century the Salvation Army, and to a lesser extent other religious denominations, played a dominant role in the establishment and operation of industrial schools for boys and girls.”

Education took a back seat to hard labor at the Salvation Army’s facilities, as the Forde Report explains, “a number of school-age boys did not attend school during 1974 because the Salvation Army was using them for construction of a proposed residential development. One of the boys complained of having to cart stones out of a paddock all day.” The Forde report was highly critical of the prominent role played by the Salvation Army, noting that:

From its earliest establishment as a farm there were requests from the Salvation Army Home at Riverview for more “boys suited to farm work” to be transferred from Westbrook. Clearly the question arises as to whether the boys were needed more for the operation of the institution than the Home was needed to care for them. Evidence suggests that the labour was arduous, with the boys being subjected to a fairly regimented work program. For example, in the 1960s some boys were rising as early as 4.45 am to work in the dairy.

One feature that serves to set both the Anglican Church and the Salvation Army apart from some other sectarian organizations was their apparent willingness to accept Indigneous children into their facilities. The Forde report explains that just as was the case with the child migrants, “Many of these children were not orphans but had been forcibly removed from their mothers.” The report notes that for at least two decades Aboriginal children “were committed to, and freely transferred between, a number of institutions catering mainly to non-indigenous children.” These included St Vincent’s Orphanage, the Salvation Army’s institutions at Yeronga and Breakfast Creek, the Anglican-administered St Mary’s Home at Taringa and the Tufnell Home at Nundah, and the State-administered Townsville Orphanage and Westbrook Reformatory.

Regarding the role of the Anglican Church in Australia generally, St George’s Orphanage was licensed as long ago as 1917, while the Anglican-operated Children’s Home was opened and licensed in 1982-83. Anglican-run Tufnell Residential and Community Care was established and funded as recently as 1990.

Other Anglican Church holdings included Tufnell Toddler’s Home, which opened in 1947; The Friary, opened in 1966; Home of the Good Shepherd, opened in 1893 as a girl’s training school; as well as two industrial schools. The Enoggera Boys’ Home and St Mary’s Home were also operated by the Anglican Church under what the Forde Inquiry described as “longstanding licensing arrangements.”

To be sure, the Salvation Army and the Anglican Church were far from being the only substitute care services providers. In 1929, the Congregational Church established the Marsden Home for Boys. The Methodists opened the Queen Alexandra Home at Coorparoo in 1911 and the Margaret Marr Memorial Home for Boys at Wynnum in 1924. The Presbyterian Church inaugurated the Blackheath Home for Children at Oxley in 1926–27 and the W R Black Home in 1928, the report explains.

By the 1950s, three institutions emerged to assume the role of accommodating “incorrigible” and “immoral” girls: the Industrial School for Girls administered by the Sisters of Mercy, the Home of the Good Shepherd run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, and the Industrial School for Girls, run by the Salvation Army.

In December 2010, the General of the Salvation Army, General Shaw Clifton, delivered a formal apology to former residents of its homes in Australia.

The lat­est fig­ures show that ap­pli­ca­tions to take chil­dren from their par­ents into care con­tinue to break all records.

Returning to the subject of forced adoptions, accounts of forced or coerced adoptions similar in nature to those identified in Australia, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, and the United States have also surfaced in England. On March 23, 2013, Christopher Booker of The Telegraph wrote a column bearing the headline Australia’s scandal of forced adoption is happening here in Britain.

Booker explained: “The latest figures show that applications to take children from their parents into care continue to break all records – nearly 1,000 a month in England and Wales alone – and far too many of these child-snatchings have no more rational or humane justification than those for which Ms Gillard was belatedly apologising.”

The United Kingdom’s Boston Herald reported in April of 2013 the story of one woman who “is battling what she believes is the forced adoption of her two sons,” having taken her appeal to the Royal Courts of Justice. She is set to “contest the process which has led to her children being removed from her care,” the paper reports, adding that she “has been battling the process at every stage” of the proceedings.

A report issued by England’s Select Committee on Adoption Legislation on March 6, 2013, pays scant attention to the issue of forced or coerced adoptions, saying that the government “wishes to increase the number of children being adopted; we agree that there is the potential for more children to benefit from adoption which is in many ways unique in its benefits.”

The report mentions natural parents only in passing in its introduction, saying: “We also believe that early intensive work with birth parents where there is capacity to change has the potential to enable children to live safely within their birth families and to reduce the number of children in care. We urge the Government not to undermine the potential benefit of preventative programmes by focusing on adoption at the expense of early intervention.”

Significantly, the reports explains that during the peak years of adoption, the ultimate peak being that of nearly 25,000 adoptions in 1968, 51% of all adoptions were of babies, and 92% of adoptions were of “illegitimate” children. By stark contrast, as of the years 2011-12, only 70 babies were adopted over that span of time. According to the report, 67,050 children were in care in England on March 31, 2012. Of them, 50,260 — seventy-five percent — were in conventional foster care placements. Only 2,680 children — 4% of the total — were in placements awaiting adoption.

Ireland’s apology

Prime Minister Gillard’s apology followed only a few weeks behind that of Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s apology for the Magdalene Laundries scandal on February 19, 2013.

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“Enda Kenny broke into tears as he concluded a historic State apology to the victims of the Magdalene Laundries in the Dáil this evening,” The Journal notes in a short writeup of his speech.

In his emotional speech, Kenny said the government and the citizens of Ireland “deeply regret and apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt that was done to them.”

He said that those who crafted the report on the Magdalene Laundries “have helped provide Ireland with a document of truth.” The Magdalene laundries “have cast a long shadow over Irish life over our sense of who we are.” He apologized on behalf of his nation, saying:

We now know that the State itself was directly involved in over a quarter of all admissions to the Magdalene Laundries.

Be it through the social services reformatories psychiatric institutions county homes the prison and probation service and industrial schools.

Over the course of 90 years, over 10,000 young women found themselves consigned to these asylums that had been described as tantamount to the workhouses of the Victorian era. According to the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalene Laundries, released in early 2013, 26.5% of the women in the laundries had been placed there by direct state involvement.

Among the primary points of entry with state involvement were the courts, police, and departments of social services. The report notes that “the large majority of cases involving women referred to the Magdalen Laundries from the criminal justice system were for minor or petty crime.” As for the role of police, they “brought women to the Magdalen Laundries on a more ad hoc or informal basis.” With regard to departments of social services:

as the Magdalene Homes became more of a refuge for the battered, the abused, the rejected and the dispossessed than a home for “fallen women”, social workers from the health authorities began a very close working relationship with them.

Ireland’s Inquiries

HIA Poster 2013

On May 31, 2012, Northern Ireland announced the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse. The latest piece of news with respect to the inquiry arrived in the form of a press release, dated May 31, 2013. It reads, in part: “A major statutory inquiry into historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland is today launching an international appeal for victims and survivors to come forward.

“The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry was set up earlier this year by the Northern Ireland Executive. It has a remit to investigate child abuse which occurred in residential institutions in Northern Ireland over a 74-year period up to 1995.”

Prior to this announcement, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was established in 2000, and it produced a five volume report released on May 20, 2009.

The shortest summary would be to say that living conditions in a variety of settings were generally found to be “poor,” “inadequate,” and “overcrowded.” As a general proposition, children “were underfed and badly clothed and received poor education and training.”

One institution was described as operating “a harsh and severe regime.” The level of corporal punishment tolerated “depended on the attitude of management at the time.” Some Resident Managers were found to be more severe than others. The report contains some highly detailed accounts of investigations into allegations of sexual abuse against members of the clergy, who operated the facilities.

A Confidential Committee heard evidence in private, and no potential witness was excluded from the hearings. What is striking is the number of people who came to testify, whether in a public hearing or in a private one. Also striking is the consistency among the reports. As the Committee explains:

The Confidential Committee heard evidence from 1090 men and women who reported being abused as children in Irish institutions. Abuse was reported to the Committee in relation to 216 school and residential settings including Industrial and Reformatory Schools, Children’s Homes, hospitals, national and secondary schools, day and residential special needs schools, foster care and a small number of other residential institutions, including laundries and hostels. 791 witnesses reported abuse to Industrial and Reformatory Schools and 259 witnesses reported abuse in the range of other institutions.

Native and Aboriginal Inquiries

The ef­fects of forcible re­moval and in­sti­tu­tion­al­i­sa­tion per­sist into adult­hood, ap­pear­ing in­deed to be life long.

In 1997, the Australian Human Rights Commission released the Bringing them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families. The Inquiry found that forced removals constituted nothing short of genocide, and that the effects of forced removal had life-long and profoundly disabling consequences. Dr Ian Anderson of the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service pointed out that while all adolescents indulge in risk-taking, the institutionalised children will do so “to a much greater extent … because they have not been able to develop a sense of self-worth” The truth of this, he suggested, is borne out in the death rates of young Aboriginal men, leaving the Inquiry to conclude that: “The effects of forcible removal and institutionalisation persist into adulthood, appearing indeed to be life long,”

The disproportionality was astounding, as the Inquiry noted: “The use of institutions for Indigenous children varied somewhat across Australia. Yet even where foster care was preferred, Indigenous children often spent time in institutions before being fostered. In Western Australia 85% of the 438 clients surveyed by the Aborignal Legal Service had spent at least part of their childhood in a mission following removal. Seventy-five (15.5%) had spent time in a government institution. Only 2.8% had been in foster care and only 3.5% had been adopted.”

With respect to what thereafter came to be known as the Stolen Generations, the Commission currently explains on its web site

the effects of removal do not stop with the children taken. Generations of Indigenous families continue to bear the brunt of government policies and practices which attempted to wipe out their rights and their culture. The unresolved grief and trauma of being taken from your family as a child is inherited by future generations.

A similar inquiry was held in Canada. In an opening word from the Commissioners of Canada’s Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the findings are thus summarized: “We held 178 days of public hearings, visited 96 communities, consulted dozens of experts, commissioned scores of research studies, reviewed numerous past inquiries and reports. Our central conclusion can be summarized simply: The main policy direction, pursued for more than 150 years, first by colonial then by Canadian governments, has been wrong.” The Commission continued on to explain:

The source of social dysfunction we heard most about in public testimony was residential schooling, but inappropriate child welfare policies have also been a persistent and destructive force. The effect of these policies, as applied to Aboriginal children, was to tear more holes in the family web and detach more Aboriginal people from their roots.

On Wednesday, June 11, 2008, the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, made a Statement of Apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools on behalf of the Government of Canada. Among his candid admissions:

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“One hundred and thirty-two federally-supported schools were located in every province and territory, except Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Most schools were operated as ‘joint ventures’ with Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian or United Churches. The Government of Canada built an educational system in which very young children were often forcibly removed from their homes, often taken far from their communities. Many were inadequately fed, clothed and housed. All were deprived of the care and nurturing of their parents, grandparents and communities. First Nations, Inuit and Metis languages and cultural practices were prohibited in these schools. Tragically, some of these children died while attending residential schools and others never returned home.”

The findings in Canada mirrored those found by the Inquiry conducted in Australia with respect to the Stolen Generations. And so, too, did Australia’s Prime Minister come to apologize for that.

Prime Minister Rudd Offers Three Apologies
The Stolen Generations
The Forgotten Australians and Child Migrants

Australia’s National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families recounted the history of forced assimilation into boarding schools, followed by the child protection polices that thereafter accounted for the continued separation of aboriginal children from their families and cultures. The forcible removal of Aboriginal children from their parents was “an act of genocide” for which the victims should be paid reparations.

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On February 13, 2008, the Australian Government made an Apology to Australia’s Indigenous People, delivered by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who said: “On behalf of the Parliament of Australia, I am sorry. And I offer you this apology without qualification. We apologise for the hurt, the pain and suffering we, the parliament, have caused you by the laws that previous parliaments have enacted. We apologise for the indignity, the degradation and the humiliation these laws embodied. We offer this apology to the mothers, the fathers, the brothers, the sisters, the families and the communities whose lives were ripped apart by the actions of successive governments under successive parliaments.”

On November 16, 2009, Kevin Rudd apologized to two distinct groups. The first part of his apology was to Forgotten Australians, who had been needlessly separated from their families, and placed into foster or institutional care where they were subsequently abused, in some cases physically, in other cases sexually, and in some other cases emotionally. Over half a million children experienced institutional care during the 20th century, Rudd emphasized. His apology most eloquently stated:

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“We look back with shame that many these little ones who were entrusted to institutions and foster homes instead, were abused physically, humiliated cruelly, violated sexually. And we look back with shame at how those with power were allowed to abuse those who had none. And how then, as if this was not injury enough, you were left ill-prepared for life outside – left to fend for yourselves; often unable to read or write; to struggle alone with no friends and no family. For these failures to offer proper care to the powerless, the voiceless and the most vulnerable, we say sorry.

“We reflect too today on the families who were ripped apart simply because they had fallen on hard times. Hard times brought about by illness, by death and by poverty. Some simply left destitute when fathers damaged by war could no longer cope. Again, we say sorry for the extended families you never knew.”

The second part of Prime Minister Rudd’s apology was directed toward surviving child migrants, who had been separated from their families and relocated to Australia where they were put to work performing hard labor. Under the child migration scheme, more than 100,000 children were sent to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa from the United Kingdom. To the surviving child migrants in his nation, now all adults, Rudd said:

We acknowledge the particular pain of children shipped to Australia as child migrants – robbed of your families, robbed of your homeland, regarded not as innocent children but regarded instead as a source of child labour. To those of you who were told you were orphans, brought here without your parents’ knowledge or consent, we acknowledge the lies you were told, the lies told to your mothers and fathers, and the pain these lies have caused for a lifetime. To those of you separated on the dockside from your brothers and sisters; taken alone and unprotected to the most remote parts of a foreign land – we acknowledge today that the laws of our nation failed you. And for this we are deeply sorry.

Some critics suggest that his apology to both groups was overdue. The extensive report Lost Innocents: Righting the Record was published by the Australian Senate in August of 2001. The prologue to the report explains:

This report describes a very sorry chapter in Australia’s history. It is a story which has to be told and in so doing, exposes the role of both the British and Australian Governments in bringing child migrants to this country. The British and Australian Governments entered into agreements for the migration of children to Australia. The Australian Government was the legislated guardian of the children but then transferred responsibility for their care to State Governments. In turn, the State Governments transferred responsibility to receiving agencies.

The responsibility was transferred, but in many cases the duty of care and protection was not. While some child migrants have made positive comments about their time in institutional care, many others can only recall childhoods of loneliness, great hardship and privations. While under the custodianship of receiving agencies, there was a complete disregard for the needs, the safety and wellbeing of many child migrants.

The report continues on to explain that: “The evidence received by the Committee overwhelmingly emphasised the dark, negative side of child migration – the brutality of life in some institutions where abuse and assault, both physical and sexual, was a daily occurrence and where hardship, hard work and indifferent care was the norm. Living such negative experiences led some child migrants into a life of family and relationship breakdown and domestic violence, of crime and violence, and of substance abuse.”

A House of Commons Report established to investigate the child migration schemes from Britain to Australia was published in 1998. The report noted that “the worst cases of criminal abuse in Australia appear to have occurred in institutions run by the agencies of the Catholic church, in particular the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy.” The committee went on to say that:

It is hard to convey the sheer weight of the testimony we have received. It is impossible to resist the conclusion that some of what was done there was of a quite exceptional depravity, so that terms like ‘sexual abuse’ are too weak to convey it. For example, those of us who heard the account of a man who as a boy was a particular favourite of some Christian Brothers at Tardun who competed as to who could rape him 100 times first, his account of being in terrible pain, bleeding and bewildered, trying to beat his own eyes so they would cease to be blue as the Brothers liked his blue eyes, or being forced to masturbate animals, or being held upside down over a well and threatened in case he ever told, will never forget it.

Regarding the Lost Australians, the report of the Commission of Inquiry into Abuse of Children in Queensland Institutions, otherwise known as the Forde Report, was released in 1999. Thereafter, the report Forgotten Australians: A report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children was published on August 30, 2004. The latter report addresses the issues with remarkable candor:

Upwards of 500,000 Australians experienced care in an orphanage or other form of out-of-home care during the last century. As many of these people have had a family, it is likely that every Australian either was, is related to, works with, or knows someone who experienced childhood in an institution or in out of home care.

Children were placed in care for a myriad of reasons including being orphaned; being born to a single mother; family dislocation from domestic violence, divorce or separation; family poverty and parents’ inability to cope with their children often as a result of some form of crisis or hardship. Many children were made wards of the state after being charged with being uncontrollable, neglected or in moral danger, not because they had done anything wrong, but because circumstances in which they found themselves resulted in them being status offenders. Others were placed in care through private arrangements usually involving payment to the Home. Irrespective of how children were placed in care, it was not their fault.

The report explained: “The Committee received hundreds of graphic and disturbing accounts about the treatment and care experienced by children in out-of-home care. Many care leavers showed immense courage in putting intensely personal life stories on the public record. Their stories outlined a litany of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and often criminal physical and sexual assault. Their stories also told of neglect, humiliation and deprivation of food, education and healthcare. Such abuse and assault was widespread across institutions, across States and across the government, religious and other care providers.”

Among the conclusions was that “the overwhelming response as to treatment in care, even among those that made positive comments was the lack of love, affection and nurturing that was never provided to young children at critical times during their emotional development.”

There came a point in Rudd’s speech that inspired a wave of tears and applause, when he acknowledged those who had been in institutional care who had ultimately taken their own lives in despair. Indeed, the report notes that: “For far too many the emotional problems and depression have resulted in contemplation of or actual suicide. Anecdotal evidence has shown an abnormally large percentage of suicides among care leavers.”

By the time of Rudd’s apology, the evidence was overwhelming clear. The survivors of institutional care would carry wounds that would last for the remainder of their lifetimes.

Recent data displays no promise of reform

Child protection

According to a report on child protection issued by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in April 2013, between 2010-11 and 2011-12, the number of children who were the subject of substantiations increased from 31,527 to 37,781. A total of 14,191 children were admitted to orders during 2011-12; about 39% of these children had previously been admitted to an order. The rate of children in out-of-home care as of June 30 increased from 7.3 per 1,000 children in 2011, to 7.7 per 1,000 in 2012.

The increase was found across most jurisdictions, and “could be influenced by a range of factors-including legislative changes, enhanced public awareness and inquiries into child protection processes, along with real increases in abuse and neglect,” the Institute explains. Regardless the cause, this has reversed the previous downward trend showing the rate of children in substantiations decrease from 6.5 per 1,000 children in 2007-08 to 6.1 in 2011-12.

Juvenile justice

In April 2013, the Institute of Health and Welfare also released Youth justice in Australia 2011-12. The Institute provides a brief summary:

On an average day in 2011-12, there were almost 7,000 young people aged 10 and older under youth justice supervision in Australia due to their involvement or alleged involvement in crime. Most (83%) were male and the majority (79%) were aged 14-17. Indigenous young people were over-represented-although less than 5% of young Australians are Indigenous, 39% of those under supervision were Indigenous.

Among all those aged 10-17 in Australia, this equates to a rate of 26 young people under supervision on an average day per 10,000 in the population, or 1 in every 385 young Australians.

Indigenous over-representation

A report entitled Indigenous young people in the juvenile justice system was released by the Institute in November 2012. The report revealed that while only about 5% of young Australians are Indigenous, 39% — nearly 2 in 5 — of those under juvenile justice supervision on an average day in 2010-11 were Indigenous. There were 2,820 Indigenous young people under supervision on an average day, and a total of 5,195 during the year. Not only did Indigenous young people first enter supervision at younger ages than non-Indigenous young people, on average, they also spent longer aounts of time under supervision throughout the year.

Conclusion

Australia’s adoption bid sparks fears of new ‘stolen generation’” reads the headline of a recent article in Hurriyet Daily News.

Politicians in northern Australia said that they were considering putting neglected Aboriginal children up for adoption, sparking fears of a new “stolen generation” after Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles, Australia’s first indigenous state or territory leader, said he was advocating the plan on a case-by-case basis to protect vulnerable children.

“Whatever we do has to be about making parents take responsibility for their kids,” said Giles.

“Absolutely horrified that an indigenous chief minister should start to have this conversation publicly in the way that he has,” Northern Territory Stolen Generations Aboriginal Corporation spokeswomen Vicki Lee Knowles told the Australian Broadcasting Service.

“I think he’s misinformed about the consequences of the impacts of removing those children,” she said, while acknowledging that something needed to be done.

What legislative reforms are currently being proposed in Australia? Enter, stage right, the permanency planning movement, which became quite fashionable during the late-1970s in the United States. Concurrent planning and streamlined adoptions — both with tighter timeframes for parents — are similarly being proposed. The legislative proposals under consideration are drawn from experiences in the United States and the United Kingdom.

And so the great debate continues, with no time out for the innocent families and children ravaged by child welfare policies. Would that the solution were as simple as providing better training for caseworkers, and for putting adoptions on the “fast track” in the name of providing children with permanency.

But the solutions are not that simple. Indeed, critics of fast-track reforms in the United States continue to point at the explosion in “legal orphans” that have come about as a result. The impact of this “reform” on minority populations is particularly troubling. Writing in Alaska Law Review, Sheri L. Hazeltine explains that “rates of termination of parental rights and adoption of children from Alaska state foster care have exploded in recent years.” The dramatic increase “resulted from new and stricter child protection laws passed by the Alaska Legislature in 1998 that make it easier to terminate Alaska Native and non-Native parental rights. The legislature passed these new child protection statutes to conform with the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.”

Hazeltine explains that while it had been crafted to solve the problem of foster care drift, the new legislation instead resulted in other consequences, among them that the number of adoptive homes for children did not appear to have kept pace with the increase in terminations of parental rights, in turn creating a “cadre of legal orphans” -– children legally severed from their natural parents without an adoptive home.

There is one other factor to be thoughtfully considered before rushing off to remove more children from their homes, and putting them on the fast-track toward adoption. Reduced to its essence, it is that no child welfare system in human history has ever succeeded in providing foster children with a foster care system that is, on the whole, humane.

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Past Adoption Experiences: National Research Study on the Service Response to Past Adoption Practices

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Adoptions Australia 2011-12

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Youth Justice in Australia 2011-12: An Overview

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Permanency planning and adoption of children in out-of-home care

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Review of Claims of Abuse from Adults in State Care as Children.

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Allegations of Sexual Abuse and Death from Criminal Conduct

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Lost Innocents: Righting the Record

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Protecting Children: An inquiry into abuse of children in foster care

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The January 2004 Crime and Misconduct Commission report was the result of a comprehensive inquiry into the foster care system in Queensland. The report contains 110 recommendations for reform,

Snapshot of consultations with Forgotten Australians

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In 2010, the department engaged RPR Consulting to consult with Forgotten Australians about their experiences with services, and to learn more about what is needed in the future.

Forgotten Australians: A report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children

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Upwards of 500,000 Australians experienced care in an orphanage, or other form of out-of-home care during the last century. As many of these people have had a family it is highly likely that every Australian either was, is related to, works with, or knows someone who experienced childhood in an institution or out of home care.

Protecting Vulnerable Vhildren: A National Challenge

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They’ve Gotta Listen: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Young People in Out of Home Care

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Our future in Our Hands

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Our future in our hands: Creating a sustainable National Representative Body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Report of the Steering Committee for the creation of a new National Representative Body.

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Securing the Truth

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NSW Government Submission to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families

Bringing them Home

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