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Forgotten Australians

The reports Bringing them home: The ‘Stolen Children’ report, prepared by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC), and Lost Innocents: Righting the Record—Report on child migration, prepared by the Senate Community Affairs References Committee, were the first two reports to reveal the practices of removing children from their families during the last century. The first report documented the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, while the second documented the experiences of child migrants who were sent to Australia as ‘orphans’.

A third report, Forgotten Australians: A report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children, prepared again by the Senate Community Affairs References Committee, documented the experiences of the mainly non-Indigenous Australian-born children who were placed into institutional care. This Inquiry revealed a history of neglect and cruelty, of abandonment and exploitation, that left roughly half a million Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians—as well as many child migrants—physically and psychologically scarred.

The Inquiry found that:

“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” (Senate Community Affairs Committee, 2004).

The institutions that children were sent to included orphanages, Homes, or industrial or training schools administered by the state, religious bodies or charitable organisations. The Inquiry documented details of abuse and neglect of children in institutions, much of which constituted criminal physical and sexual assault and which often came from members of the clergy.

There are long term effects stemming from past experiences of fear, intimidation, humiliation and abuse endured by the care leavers as children. Submissions to the Inquiry revealed that individuals who experienced institutional care as children could struggle with low self-esteem, lack of confidence, depression, fear and distrust, anger, shame, guilt, social anxieties, phobias, recurring nightmares, tension, migraines and speech difficulties. Other challenges for care leavers could include drug and alcohol dependence, unemployment, homelessness, imprisonment and poor health. The most common outcome reported by care leavers to the Committee was their loss of identity, stemming from lost childhoods (Senate Community Affairs Committees, 2004).

The Inquiry concluded that:

“Apart from specific acts of emotional, mental, physical, psychological and sexual abuse, institutional life itself is inherently abusive. It must be acknowledged that children formerly in institutional care are not an homogenous group, and their experiences varied considerably. Some found adults who supported and cared for them: many, unfortunately, found a lack of love and care and even extreme abuse. Their needs for support and assistance will vary considerably. To those whose experiences have scarred them indelibly, we as a nation need to respond with appropriate help, all levels of government have responsibility for the well being of Australian children” (Senate Community Affairs Committee, 2004).


  1. Senate Community Affairs Committee, Forgotten Australians: A report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children, Commonwealth of Australia, 2004

Additional resources

Forgotten Australians: Life Stories DVD
This DVD comprises first-hand stories of six Alliance for Forgotten Australians (AFA) members who spent significant parts of their childhoods in orphanages, institutions and other out-of-home care across Australia in the last century. Their descriptions of deprivation, cruelty and emotional, physical and sexual abuse, are indicative of the appalling conditions which many other people experienced as children in institutions and Homes.

The DVD can be viewed online at It has great potential in raising awareness about these issues among all sectors of the Australian community, including in education, government departments, and service providers, especially those providing assistance in aged care, child protection, counselling, health (physical and mental), substance abuse and the justice system.

Forgotten Australians: Supporting survivors of childhood institutional care in Australia
This booklet is designed to inform and assist doctors, nurses, mental health professionals, dentists, social workers, counsellors and welfare workers, and is an essential resource for service delivery organisations. It aims to give health and other professionals the background information they need to recognise, relate to and assist people who are experiencing long term trauma because of a childhood spent in orphanages or Homes—the Forgotten Australians

Forgotten Australian organisations

Alliance for Forgotten Australian’s (AFA) (
AFA is a national peak group of organisations and selected individuals from across Australia that promotes the interests of the estimated 500,000 people who experienced institutional or other out-of-home care as children in the last century, many of whom suffered physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse.

Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN) (
CLAN is a support, advocacy, research and training group for people were brought up in 'care' as state wards, foster children or Home children raised in orphanages, Children's Homes, and other institutions.

Families Australia (
Families Australia has been assisting the Forgotten Australians by providing secretariat and support services to the Alliance for Forgotten Australians. An information booklet, aimed at educating health and welfare service providers about the experiences and needs of the Forgotten Australians, is available from Families Australia.

Find and Connect Australia (
The Find and Connect Australia web resource contains historical information to help Forgotten Australians and Child Migrants understand more about their past and the historical context of child welfare. The website is funded by FaHCSIA and includes an ACT specific section detailing organisations that provided ‘care’ in the ACT, and lists of supports and services.

Open Place (
Open Place is a support and advocacy service that co-ordinates and provides direct assistance to address the needs of people who grew up in Victorian orphanages and homes during the last century.

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