Royal Commission: The Forgotten Australians

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

The Hon. Justice Peter McClellan AM, Chair of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, launched the Long-term Outcome of Forgotten Australians Study (LOFA) research project at the University of New South Wales

Wednesday 18 February

The Hon Justice Peter McClellan AM
Chair, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

Keynote address and launch

Today is an important day for the people who we have come to know as the Forgotten Australians. With the commencement of the Long Term Outcomes of Forgotten Australians Study comes another step in understanding the needs of a large group of Australians who for various reasons have been disadvantaged and many of whom have endured great suffering.

This research comes at a time when the Australian community has come to engage more than previously with a largely unknown part of our national history.

Although various inquiries and reports have examined issues related to the experiences of children in institutions – including institutional care, foster care, child migration, and the child protection system in some of the states and territories – there has remained a relatively limited public knowledge of the nature of these experiences and the life-long consequences for those who spent some or part of their childhoods in out-of-home care settings.

Early in my time as Chair of the Royal Commission I acknowledged publicly that it was not until I began my work with the Commission that I came to adequately appreciate the devastating and long-lasting impacts which the sexual abuse of children can have. I am sure that my lack of an adequate understanding was shared by many in the community.

By ‘bearing witness’ to the personal stories of survivors through the Royal Commission’s public hearings and reports, we are contributing to a greater community understanding. The primary research project which I am pleased to launch today will add to the understanding of these issues and help to ensure that the mistakes made in the past are not repeated. Importantly, it will help to identify the response which the community must make.

The Long Term Outcomes of Forgotten Australians Study is designed to increase our understanding of the experience of the many children who were hidden in institutions and forgotten by society. For many children who have spent time in institutions, their experiences were characterised by neglect, maltreatment, deprivation and loss of identity, making the transition into adulthood especially challenging. These children were again forgotten when it came time for them to leave the institution. They were left to fend for themselves having had no preparation for life in the ‘outside world’. For some the trauma of their experience may never go away.  
This study directly addresses the need for the community to gather a store of knowledge that can be drawn upon; knowledge which can be used to shape the care experience in a way that enriches the good outcomes and reduces the negative outcomes.
Unlike the Royal Commission, where we have terms of reference which limit our focus to child sexual abuse, this research will examine the complete experience of children who spent time in care during the period of 1930-1989, both positive and negative. This is a significant opportunity to learn about the experience and life outcome of many of the people we recognise as Forgotten Australians. 

Both the Royal Commission and the LOFA study have a common interest in the experiences of children in care institutions and out of home care. Of the around 3000 private sessions the Commissioners have now held, many survivors have reported physical and psychological abuse as well as sexual abuse.

In the 22 public hearings we have held we have examined many residential institutions. These have included Salvation Army boys homes, Christian Brothers residences in Western Australia, Parramatta Girls Home, the Retta Dixon Home in Darwin and Bethcar Children’s Home at Brewarrina.

We have examined allegations of abuse which happened some time ago as well as recent abuse.

We believe that it is necessary that the history of children’s homes in Australia is fully explored. The community should understand the suffering of many Australian children who went through residential and out of home care.

It is not only necessary for the Royal Commission to look at these issues in order to fulfil our terms of reference but it is a story that needs to be told for the Australian people. As has been the case in Ireland, until recently the community had little idea of the extent of abuse, physical, psychological and sexual, many children experienced in children’s homes for much of the 20th century.

Children’s homes were one of the significant means of care from the 1920s up until the 1970s. In Australia, half a million children were placed in care during this time, a period when there was relatively little support for families in need.

By the 1960s the notion of child protection re-emerged as a social concern in Australia and in other western countries which triggered responses through the 1970s to the 1990s.

Out-of-home care moved from institutions and was increasingly provided by foster parents and smaller group care.

By the 1990s greater emphasis was placed on the prevention of problems. The definition of child abuse was expanded. Neglect was included in mandatory reporting provisions.

As I understand the LOFA research it will seek to apply its learnings to contemporary settings. The Royal Commission must also look at these issues, in particular out of home care.

In March we will be holding a public hearing that will be focused on preventing and responding to allegations of child sexual abuse in out of home care. This will be the first public hearing of the Royal Commission which has policy issues as the primary focus.

The hearing will look at the incidence of child sexual abuse in contemporary out-of-home care settings. In addition, it will examine how Australian government and NGO service providers recruit and train carers and look at the system and policies in place for reporting and responding to allegations of abuse.

The hearing will be held here in Sydney but we will be examining the work of providers from every State and Territory.

We have already commenced our work in this area. In 2013 we released an issues paper on preventing sexual abuse of children in out of home care. In April 2014 our first roundtable focused on the same issue. It is the hope of the Commissioners that after these and other consultations, this hearing will help progress the debate about best practice in prevention of abuse and responding effectively to allegations.

The Long Term Outcomes of Forgotten Australians Study will help identify the current un-met needs of care leavers and to determine the best ways to support them.

This research complements the Royal Commission’s work in this area and we expect that its findings will help to inform our final recommendations.

You can read more of this address by Hon. Justice Peter McClellan AM, Chair of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse here.

Royal Commissio
n into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse


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