Content warning: Please be aware that this page and the documents linked here may contain information about child sexual abuse, neglect, violence, suicide and other trauma, which may be distressing for readers.

In Victoria, the term ‘Forgotten Australians’ refers to people who spent time as children in institutions, orphanages and other forms of out-of-home ‘care’, prior to 1990, many of whom had physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse perpetrated against them. Forgotten Australians are sometimes also known as Care Leavers or Pre-1990 Care Leavers.

The Alliance for Forgotten Australians (AFA) has produced a booklet ‘Forgotten Australians: Supporting survivors of childhood institutional care in Australia (5th Ed)’ that is designed to inform and assist professionals and others to understand the impact of the trauma experienced by those who spent their childhood in orphanages and institutions.

More information is also available in the Australian Government’s 2004 ‘Forgotten Australians Report’.

We hope that the following extracts, taken from the Forgotten Australians Report and the AFA Booklet, will give a small insight into the lives of Forgotten Australians.

‘Upwards of and possibly more than 500,000 Australians experienced care in an orphanage, Home or other form of out-of-home care during the last century. 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. Others were placed in care through private arrangements usually involving payment to the Home. Irrespective of how children were placed in care, it was not their fault.

It is not just the impact that tragic childhood experiences have had for care leavers. Their children and families have also felt the impact, which can flow through to future generations.

The Committee considers that there has been wide scale unsafe, improper and unlawful care of children, a failure of duty of care, and serious and repeated breaches of statutory obligations.’

Source: Senate Committee Report Forgotten Australians. A Report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children. August 2004.

‘Children experienced:
Separation, abandonment and loss of family; deception; neglect and exploitation; sustained brutality; sexual assault; poor health including denial of dental care; denial of educational opportunity; removal/loss of identity; drug testing; lack of post care support.

Among the lasting effects of institutional care are:
A lack of trust and security; a lack of social skills; risk behaviours; inability to form and maintain loving relationships; inability to parent effectively; Mental Illness.

Children in institutions were generally told that they would not be believed if they spoke about their abuse. Many tried and found this to be true. As adults they still feel reluctant to talk about their experiences to anyone who has no knowledge or understanding of the basic facts about their history.

Forgotten Australians do not expect to be believed and they have tried to put the past behind them.

Forgotten Australians are survivors. Many have great strengths.’

Source: Forgotten Australians: Supporting survivors of childhood institutional care in Australia. Alliance for Forgotten Australians, 2008.