People who experienced childhood abuse in an institutional setting including out-of-home care are passionate about the need to educate professionals in human services, about the past and the impact of childhood abuse on their lives.READ MORE >
Two main issues create this passion. Firstly it is so important that professionals understand the systems and processes that were in place that enabled abuse, neglect and criminal behavior to occur in institutions, foster care, group homes and detention centres, so that it will not happen again.
Secondly in order to provide effective and responsive services to people as adults today, professionals need to understand how the impact of abuse and neglect on people affects the way they receive, negotiate and accept services by professionals.
Lotus Place has available resources and provides support to people with lived experience to be involved in community education including of professional groups.
Impact of institutional care
Many people who experienced childhood abuse in an institutional setting including out-of-home care were experiencing significant grief, loss, and vulnerability arising from the circumstances of having to leave their parents and family. For some this was due to abuse such as physical or sexual abuse by a family member. For others it was because of particular events or circumstances, such as illness or the death of the mother or father. Up until the 1970s, it was often significant poverty that led to children being placed in institutional care, group homes or foster care.
This experience had its own ramifications on each child. However in addition to this, the misuse of power through abuse, neglect and criminal behaviour by those who were entrusted to care for them as children, has another dimension of significant harm. The result is a shattering of the world view of the person, their spiritual and religious beliefs, their ability to trust, and the loss of identity and self.
Many of the now adult survivors of institutional child abuse experience poor quality of life, due to the trauma and deprivation they experienced as children. It has impacted upon their ability to parent their own children, and created generational issues. Many have ongoing physical health issues and mental health issues including complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, poor self-esteem, depression, anger, grief and suicidal ideation. Substance abuse is not uncommon as are ongoing identity issues which come from loss of family. The long term effects of poor education include unemployment, homelessness and other housing problems. Many of those in the criminal justice system are survivors of institutional child abuse. There has been great cost to the individual, their family and society from the institutional care system.
Working with survivors of institutional child abuse
There are certain things that should be kept in mind by professionals working with people who experienced childhood abuse in an institutional setting including out-of-home care:
- Not everyone likes to be referred to as a ‘care leaver’ or Forgotten Australian, so they would need to be asked that question.
- Survivors have not had their personal histories believed by people in the past.
- Trust, particularly in professionals, is identified as a significant and enduring issue. This may also be an issue in terms of note-taking and recording of personal information.
- Prior negative experience of counsellors and other mental health professionals has resulted from professionals’ lack of familiarity with, knowledge and understanding of the experience of survivors of institutional child abuse, and of Australian social and political history.
- Even for an experienced professional, some accounts can be experienced as traumatic and shocking and their own professional supervisors need to have expertise in vicarious trauma.
There is a growing body of resources now available to professionals working with survivors of institutional child abuse. Lotus Place continues to play an active role in developing these resources and further research.
Research and Reports
- Forgotten Australians: Supporting survivors of childhood institutional care in Australia
Alliance of Forgotten Australians website
- Forgotten Australians – Inquiries and Reports
- National Library of Australia Oral History Project
- National Museum of Australia exhibition Inside: Life in Children’s Homes and Institutions
- Forgotten Australians: Life Stories
Alliance for Forgotten Australians
- Redress Schemes
- Lotus Place Resources.
For more information please contact Lotus Place.