Children who were not orphans were often taken into State “care” because of a difficult home situation of one kind or another. The State out-sourced its responsibility to the churches in most cases. The churches ran the “Homes” as profit-making ventures. Very many, in the tens of thousands, were subject to sexual, physical, and psychological abuse while they were residents of the Homes.
Several specific enquiries, such as the Forde enquiry in Queensland and the Senate’s “Forgotten Australians” enquiry, established the magnitude of the abuse. Eventually, both Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull gave an emotional bi-partisan apology to the former residents of children’s Homes. However, compensation has not been forthcoming in general and where there has been some, it has been pitifully inadequate. This will be addressed in later posts.
What is important here is that there were very identifiable reasons for the grossly disproportionate numbers of abuse cases in the Homes in relation to the general population.
Every danger sign possible was ignored by the State governments responsible for placing State Wards in the control of the churches. There was no oversight of them. The author once met a social worker who had been part of a strike over the inaccessibility of one of the Homes I was in, during the 1960s. There was usually not even a governing board. Staff at these institutions were literally subject to no scrutiny.
The second danger point was that they were located in isolated settings. Most were in rural or semi-rural settings and termed “farms”. For the general public it really was a matter of out of sight, out of mind.
The residents of these Homes also had little or no contact with the wider community. In most cases, schooling was carried out within the walls of the institution by church people. The inmates were usually confined to the premises at all times, including weekends.
No formal qualifications were required for staff so there was no professional oversight mechanism in place.
The final and critical factor was the extraordinary power distance between inmates and those responsible for them. On rare occasions, a child would run away or attempt to tell an “outside” adult about abuses. In all cases which have come to the attention of this author, retribution back at the Home was extremely violent. Many, further, were subject to other punishment such as going without food or being locked in a room with no light for days on end. Residents were totally at the mercy of their so-called “carers”.
After over 20 years of activism by many people, a few of the abusers have been dealt with by the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, because of the great length of time it has taken victims to mature enough to cope with their feelings, and the time it has taken to raise public awareness, many perpetrators have escaped justice through old age and death.
When the royal commission finally gets around to holding hearings, the Children’s Homes issue will probably dominate the agenda, and so it should. After all, it forms the perfect case of precisely what not to do.
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)