Launch of Research speech by Professor Elizabeth Fernandez

Launch of Research

Long-term Outcomes of Forgotten Australians Study
11.00-13.00 Wednesday, 18 February 2015
John Niland Scientia Building, Gallery 1, UNSW


During the twentieth century many Australian children spent a significant part of their childhoods in orphanages, various types of institutional care, foster care and other forms of care. The LOFA (Long-term Outcomes of Forgotten Australians) Study is a national research project attempting to develop an understanding of the range of experiences in care and after care of these individuals who are known to us collectively as the Forgotten Australians, Child Migrants and members of the Stolen Generations. There is national concern about the trauma and victimisation they endured during their tenure in care. These experiences were not just confined to childhood, there were significant impacts across the life course.

Importantly, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to sexual abuse chaired by Justice McClellan reminds us of the damaging and lifelong impacts of abuse in care. People’s experiences of care and its impact on their life course have also been documented in pivotal Inquiry reports.

  • Australian Parliament’s Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee - 2001
  • Lost Innocents: Righting the Record- Report on Child Migration - 2001
  • HREOC Bringing them Home Report – National Inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their families - 1997

There have also been national apologies to the Forgotten Australians, Child Migrants and the Stolen Generations which acknowledged their stolen childhoods in Australian care systems.

Other important pieces of work concerned with growing up in care and its aftermath include biographical accounts of Forgotten Australians and Child Migrants and the survey of CLAN (Care Leavers Australian Network, 2010) are further resources informing the planning of this project.

From these sources of evidence we are aware that they were subject to harsh physical punishment, sexual molestation, psychological abuse, deprivation of food and clothing, educational neglect, abusive work practices and other oppressive and demeaning experiences. Further marginalisation and oppression of these individuals is also reflected in the process by which they left care to transition into the community. As they left care and entered adulthood they brought to this transition from care a history of trauma, maltreatment, disrupted attachments, alienation from their families and communities, impaired physical and mental health and intergenerational effects.

Aims and purposes of study

This study is intended to capture their lived experience in care and their trajectories following care, including their present needs and circumstances.

The study will extend our knowledge of this specialised population in terms of the range and intensity of their needs, the problems and challenges they faced, and continue to confront, their strengths, and the type of service provision and professional input they consider helpful in supporting optimal outcomes and the healing process.

The research will take a broad approach to capture a wide range of outcomes including physical and mental health, education, employment, family relationships, social support, and identify areas for intervention to promote the wellness of these groups.

The research is significant in its theoretical emphasis. We are aware that despite these adversities there are several individuals who went on to have positive achievements in their careers and personal life. The study will explore the moderating or protective factors in the face of stress and trauma, that care leavers have been able to draw on to maintain their resilience and competence in the face of stress, trauma and challenge.

Specifically this study will:

  • Explore patterns of older care leavers’ experiences and life trajectories in care and post care;
  • Identify factors in their past or present experiences that are protective or accentuate risks;
  • Identify their current unmet needs and ways to support them;
  • Analyse ways in which personal strengths and support from professionals, families and friends help them surmount challenges to achieve positive outcomes;
  • Apply learnings to contemporary out of home care and after care to enhance favourable life outcomes and transition services for those in care systems currently.

Research strategy

The LOFA study will use a mixed methods design to gain both broad and in-depth information and to generate comprehensive findings. The LOFA study includes three components:

  • Survey questionnaire (online or paper based, self-completed or facilitated by telephone)
  • Individual interviews (a limited number in different states)
  • Focus groups (across different states)

Data collection will extend over 2015.

Who are we inviting to participate

We invite all Forgotten Australians, child migrants and members of the Stolen Generations who were in care or left care during the period 1930 – 1989.

The study will elicit data on lived experience in care, types of care experienced, schooling, significant events during care, relationships with staff and peers. Focus is also on life after leaving care, life pathways and adult outcomes, after care services they have experienced or not, barriers to access and inclusion, employment, education, health and wellbeing, family relationships and connectedness, housing and service availability and service utilisation experience of leaving care and settling in the community.

Areas of study

  • Experiences in care and challenges confronted: entry to care, types of care, placement movements, schooling, relationships with staff and peers, work practices, contact with family, and significant negative and positive events
  • Experiences of transitioning out of care: access to after care supports and services, service availability, access and barriers, formal and informal support
  • Life outcomes after care – housing, education, work, health, wellbeing, relationships and connectedness, stress, coping, resilience
  • Perceptions of current service needs, and how ‘care’ systems can be improved for children and young people in the future

This important research led by UNSW, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences is being funded by the Australian Research Council and is being conducted in partnership with the University of Chicago, University of York, Alliance for Forgotten Australians, Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies, Catholic Care Broken Bay, Relationships Australia, Micah Projects Inc. and Berry Street Victoria. The research is guided by a Critical Reference Group.

The research team

  • Professor Elizabeth Fernandez Chief Investigator Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences UNSW Australia
  • Dr Jung-Sook Lee Chief Investigator Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences UNSW Australia
  • Professor Mark Courtney Chief Investigator University of Chicago
  • Professor Mike Stein Chief Investigator University of York
  • Dr Wendy Foote Partner Investigator Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies Inc.
  • Dr Rebecca Gray Partner Investigator Relationships Australia
  • Dr Stephen Mondy, Deirdre Cheers Partner Investigators CatholicCare Broken Bay
  • Ms Caroline Carroll, Ms Stella Conroy Partner Investigators Alliance for Forgotten Australians
  • Ms Karyn Walsh Partner Investigator Micah Projects Inc.
  • Mr Julian Pocock, Mr Simon Gardiner Partner Investigators Berry Street Victoria

Projected Outcomes

Through this study, we hope, to provide an independent and multifaceted perspective on the lived experiences and present challenges of forgotten Australians, child migrants and members of the stolen generations. Findings from this research will be used to promote the needs of these populations, to avoid repeating mistakes of the past and provide a knowledge base for developing responsive services for them and identifying areas preventive and rehabilitative intervention. Currently there are 40,000 in care. Indigenous children are disproportionately represented in care – 10 times more than non-Indigenous children. Building knowledge about the life trajectories of care leavers and post care experiences from accounts of Forgotten Australians, Child Migrants and the Stolen Generations will be invaluable in responding to children who are currently in care and will be care leavers in the future.

We hope our findings will provide impetus to Federal and State Governments to redouble their efforts to ameliorate the challenges faced by FA, CM & SG and embrace their collective responsibility for these groups.

On behalf of the research team and partners I express our gratitude to Hon Justice McClellan for his presence today and support of this vital research endeavour. I thank the research participants for their commitment to the research.