A new report has painted a startlingly grim picture of the long-term impacts of growing up in care, with the majority of participants saying they had experienced abuse and maltreatment as wards.
A staggering 96.7 percent of the 700 people took part in the UNSW Long‐term Outcomes of Forgotten Australians (LOFA) study, experienced some type of maltreatment while in care, while 41 percent experienced all forms of maltreatment, including physical, sexual, emotional and verbal abuse, as well as bullying, public humiliation, exposure to excessive cold, inadequate food and using food as a punishment.
The report -- "No Child Should Grow Up Like This: Identifying Long Term Outcomes of Forgotten Australians, Child Migrants and the Stolen Generations" -- explored the positive and in-care and after-care experiences of adults who had spent their childhoods in institutions and foster care during the period 1930 to 1989.
"Individuals in this study were violated in many and different ways -- sexual abuse was one of those violations," study leader and UNSW Professor of Social Work, Elizabeth Fernandez, said in a statement.
Extremes of physical abuse, emotional torture and humiliation, criminal neglect and oppressive and exploitative child labour practices were further major 'wrongs' they endured that have had lifelong impacts.Elizabeth Fernandez
A high proportion also experienced psychological distress and mental illnesses.
The study showed 70.2 percent of respondents reported having mental illnesses requiring on-going treatment at some time, while many have suffered periods of drug and alcohol abuse, which often contributed to relationship breakdown.
Overall, 83 percent of study participants were not satisfied with their care experience and 17 percent were satisfied with their care experience to some degree.
David Hill @UNSW on children in care: if you emotionally and physically maim a child, you will end up with a permanently damaged adult.— UNSW News (@UNSWnews) December 12, 2016
Many in the audience @UNSW have strong memories of having no toys or having toys taken from them while they were growing up in care.— UNSW News (@UNSWnews) December 12, 2016
The report found that while in care respondents had little or no contact with parents, siblings or extended family and were often isolated from the outside world, received little education, endured relentless labour each day and had no opportunities for friendships or fun.
Aboriginal children were forbidden to speak their first language. There was no training in the life skills needed to cope in the world once they left care.
A history of childhood trauma and a lack of positive role models makes parenting a challenge
Many reported positive effects, including strong desire to be a good parent (72.1 percent), strong commitment to keeping the family together (68 percent) and strong attachment to their children (58.3 percent).
But many participants spent their lives living in poverty once they were outside care. Those able to sustain long-term work found unstable, unskilled employment, meaning low incomes in their adult lives -- 87.6 percent had annual incomes below $60,000.
Few participants have independent financial resources to draw on in their retirement, with most retirees and even many younger participants of the study living on government support.
A source of anxiety for older participants in the study is anticipation of placement in aged care facilities – such a prospect represents return to the vulnerability and disempowerment they experienced as children in care institutions,Elizabeth Fernandez
"Non-institutional home-based aged care services must be prioritised to meet the aging needs of these older care leavers," Fernandez said.
There are currently more than 40,000 Australian children in care.
According to The Australian Institute for Health and Welfare, there were 15,455 indigenous children in out of home care in the 2014-15 financial year.
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