This research aimed to explore life experiences of ‘care’ leavers who have lived in institutions (such as children’s Homes and orphanages) or other forms of out-of-home care as children. Participants in this study were drawn from the larger cohort of those who were in care between 1930 and 1989 and included three sub-cohorts: Forgotten Australians, former Child Migrants and members of the Stolen Generations. The specific aims of this research were to:

  1. Explore patterns of older care leavers’ experiences and life trajectories in care and post care;
  2. Identify their current unmet needs and ways to support them;
  3. Identify factors in their past or present experiences that tend to be protective or accentuate risks;
  4. Assess ways in which support from professionals, families and friends help them to achieve positive outcomes;
  5. Apply learnings to contemporary out-of-home care and after care to enhance favourable life outcomes and transition services.

Study design

The research employed a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methods. It included three components: surveys, interviews, and focus groups. Quantitative surveys were conducted to collect information from a broad sample and qualitative semi-structured interviews and focus groups were conducted to gather in-depth and contextualised information.


The target population of this study was ‘care leavers’ who have lived in child welfare institutions and other substitute care as children during the period of 1930–1989. This included Forgotten Australians, former Child Migrants and members of the Stolen Generations, as well as younger adult Aboriginal persons taken into ‘care’ after 1955.

The research project aimed to recruit ‘hard-to reach’ care survivors as well as ‘self-identified’ participants who were contactable through existing networks. A media campaign and launch was used to publicise the study. Although there were many organisations that support care leavers, it was believed that a considerable proportion were not in contact with these organisations. Therefore, a broad approach was taken including promoting the study in the media and some selected advertising. Major recruitment was also achieved through research partners and their service network (in particular the Find and Connect services in each State and Territory and other specialised services such as Tuart Place in Western Australia), Child Migrant organisations, and national peak bodies such as CLAN (Care Leavers Australia Network) the Alliance for Forgotten Australians, Families Australia and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander national peak bodies were contacted. Also contacted were previous care providers (e.g., NGOs/statutory welfare organisations). In addition, organisations with specific reach into difficult to access populations were used to target potential participants who do not usually identify as having been in care. Finally, a number of administrators, service providers and advocates who work with adult care leavers participated in the study as specialist participants.

Data collection

Ethics approvals were obtained from the Human Research Ethics Committees at the University of New South Wales, Relationships Australia (NSW), and Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council of NSW. The purposes and procedures of the study were clearly explained to all participants and informed consent was obtained prior to their participation. Participants were also informed that they were able to withdraw from the study at any time. Great care was taken to protect privacy and confidentiality. Surveys were completed anonymously online and mail out. The personal information obtained in the course of the study has been handled by UNSW in full compliance with privacy law, UNSW policies, and the conditions of the Ethics committee approval for the study. Participants in interviews and focus groups were assigned pseudonyms. In case of reporting sensitive information, some minor details were modified to protect identities. No identifiable information was included in any reports or manuscripts emanating from this study. Given the small number of participants in some states and territories, all analyses were conducted at the national level to protect confidentiality. All participants in focus groups and interviews were offered a small payment to cover their travel expenses and to acknowledge their time and effort. Participants were given the contact details of researchers and support services in case of experiencing psychological distress derived from the participation in this study. There was no such incident reported to the research team.


Surveys were conducted from December 11, 2014 to March 31, 2016. The survey was delivered in three ways:

  • Online: Participants visited the project website and clicked on a button to access the survey.
  • On paper: The survey was made available through mail out, and included a postage paid return envelope.
  • Over the telephone: The survey could be completed over the phone, by a research staff member administering the survey verbally with a participant.

When participants directly contacted researchers for paper or telephone surveys, they received a long version of the survey. In the case of telephone surveys, a researcher made a telephone call at the time agreed by participants. When participants completed online surveys, at the end of the short form, they were asked whether they would like to continue the long form online or complete it on paper or over the telephone. When participants opted for the completion on paper or over the telephone, they received the long form by mail and, for the telephone completion, a researcher made a telephone call at the time agreed by participants.

Interviews and focus groups

Interviews usually ran for 45 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes; however some went for longer (up to three hours). With the permission of participants, interviews were audio recorded and transcribed. Focus groups usually involved 4–8 people with the optimum number being 5 persons and typically ran for 1.5 hours. Focus groups were mainly mixed groups involving different cohorts of care leavers. Some focus groups included Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal participants and some focus groups involved Aboriginal participants only (where these were organised through an Aboriginal specific service). Typically, a UNSW researcher facilitated the focus groups alone. For groups of Aboriginal care leavers, an Aboriginal co-facilitator attended and co-facilitated. The option was also given to outsource facilitation where culturally appropriate and requested. In total, 20 focus groups were conducted. Focus groups were audio recorded and transcribed with the permission of participants.

What questions were asked?

Participants were asked about:

  • Experiences in care and challenges confronted
  • Experiences of transitioning out of care
  • Life outcomes after care – education, work, health, wellbeing, relationships, social support
  • Perceptions of their current service needs, and how care-systems can be improved for children and young people in the future

How research findings are being shared?

Research highlights were communicated by a range of means in suitably accessible forms to participants in the study and service providers through summaries of research findings, participant and partners’ newsletters, and web pages. To benefit others who might be interested in this research and use findings for advocacy, results were compiled into a detailed research report and an executive summary of key findings of the research report was launched at a public event at the University of New South Wales on 12 December by the Hon Brad Hazzard, Minister for Family and Community Services and for Social Housing, Ms Robynne Quiggin, Deputy Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and Professor Mark Courtney, University of Chicago.