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STANDING COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY AFFAIRS
30/03/2009
Implementation of the recommendations of the Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians reports

CHAIR —I welcome Ms Clare from the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare. Information on parliamentary privilege and protection of witnesses is available to you. If you would like to make a presentation, then we will go to questions. And thank you. We have just had handed to us the report that was mentioned in some of the submissions we have received already, It’s not too late to care.

Ms Clare —Thank you. I might just clarify my engagement, but let me say first my thanks for the invitation to appear today. My centre takes very seriously our commitment to advocate for recognition and services for older care leavers and feels passionate about the need for that recognition and those services. This engages me at two levels with my professional work. I am a member of the Alliance for Forgotten Australians and have been since the beginning, and I sit on the advisory ring of that group and in that capacity provide a link from the project that you have just heard—the ‘Who am I?’ project—to the national group and, also, the people who are part of that project are members of my organisation.

My organisation in Victoria is the state-wide peak body for members who provide family support services and welfare services. We began in 1912, so we have a long history, and we include members that you will be well aware of, such as Anglicare, Berry Street Victoria, MacKillop Family Services and Child and Family Services Ballarat. Many of the organisations in Victoria that you will be interested in hearing from are our members, including the 12 people who are part of the ‘Who am I?’ project.

As part of our responsibilities to older care leavers, we convene a state-wide reference group to try to see what we can do both in Victoria and at the national level in advocacy and services. That group has been meeting since about the time of the initial inquiry and it includes VANISH and CLAN, our member organisations and the Department of Human Services, who I see are not presenting, but they are part of that group. We have lobbied and you will have heard or may know that we have had a Victorian apology and we now have $7 million dedicated to a new service. We are expecting the tender for that to be out any time and are hoping that will become recurrent funding, but we do not have any legal redress scheme in Victoria; to our shame.

As part of the work of that sector-wide group, we have received funding from the Collie Trust, which we greatly appreciate, and we undertook this piece of work, It’s not too late to care, which is a report on research into life outcomes for people brought up in institutional care in Victoria. Seventy-seven courageous people gave us of their histories in the survey that we did for that report and we are using that to formulate our work as we go forward.

The significant findings of the research will not be unknown to you but it is interesting to have them confirmed: that the long-term impacts of their early life in institutional care is evident in many critical domains of care leavers’ lives, such as health, education, income, employment and personal relationships. That is on page 2 of the report. On a comparative basis, the experiences of care leavers were significantly lower than the general population.

I will not go through all of those because you have them there, but in terms of need for health, mental health, dental and physical services, and income support, the needs are demonstrated as being very high, as is the need for ongoing psychological support. A fifth of our caregivers lived alone and around a third indicated that they had to rely on themselves when they were in distress.

We made five recommendations from that work. Bearing in mind that we work with the Alliance for Forgotten Australians and are fully supportive of all the recommendations coming out of that report, these were our recommendations for Victoria. I have roughly matched them to the recommendations, which might be helpful to you.

The first one that came out of that was the establishment of a Victorian health card that identifies care leavers as a special community group and allows them priority access to and fee concessions for physical, mental and dental health services, which matches a little to recommendation 33. It was very clear from the 77 people who responded that their needs in these areas were very high and were not being met. So the normal health requirements for living a good life were not being easily met and there was not access to or sufficient money always for what was needed or for the ongoing support, and that was particularly so in areas of counselling.

The second recommendation—and these recommendations were not necessarily prioritised—was a review of the Home and Community Care service guidelines to facilitate easy access to these services for care leavers; trialling of innovative programs in partnership with care leavers and the federal government aimed at meeting the aged-care needs of care leavers in alternative home based settings.

One of the things that came up repeatedly was, as care leavers were ageing, what was going to be provided for them in their older years and the real fear of what reinstitutionalisation might do, even in a caring aged-care setting, if the people involved have no understanding of what it means to have spent significant periods of your youth in an institution. That is an area where we would very much like to see some work at a national and a state level to ensure that there is understanding and perhaps special provision for care leavers, many of whom are now at the age or soon to approach the age where they will not be able to care for themselves. The fear and the need that surrounds that was brought home to us time and time again.

Support for care leavers was in areas such as counselling, literacy, numeracy, dental and mental health, and also through support groups and community service organisations. We support organisations like VANISH and CLAN but are also advocating for greater service provision and, as I alluded to in my opening remarks, Victoria will shortly tender for that service. Obviously we will want to ensure that it does meet the needs of care leavers and that it is a recurrent service, which is what we are anticipating, but we are anxious that what is in the tender is also modified as time goes by, as we see what care leavers need. We also would support that sort of service across the nation, which is far from what is happening currently. There is a service in Brisbane but not comprehensive services across Australia.

Recommendation 4 was about assisting community organisations to catalogue records and to set up supported record access services for care leavers seeking access to their personal records, and the possibility of developing collaborative models of record access should also be explored. As you heard in the submission previous to mine, we have gone quite a long way down that path. Professor Humphreys works in partnership with our centre, and the nature of her chair is focused on our membership, so Professor Humphreys has been able to attract the funds for that very innovative ‘Who am I?’ project. At the moment we are able to comment on it at a national level but we have no national commitment to it. We would certainly support that continuing, not only in Victoria but nationally.

The other recommendation I wanted to bring to your attention was that of setting up a reparation and redress centre in Victoria, following the examples set by some other states in Australia. We have no such scheme here, nor do we have any commitment from our department to do that. Although we work closely on some other areas like the apology, the memorial and the new service, we do not have a commitment to a redress scheme. That is a big omission for our care leavers and it is something that we need support for to take forward. The other things that we have are good, but they are not sufficient, and each care leaver needs to have the opportunity to access support and reparation.

To this point the state-wide committee has worked on this report, on getting the ‘Who am I?’ project set up and on getting the commitment to the service in Victoria, but what we would like now is a redress and reparation scheme for Victoria. It is a bit disappointing that the department is not going to be here to give their opinions, but our belief is that they are not actively pursuing that, although one would expect that, when the new service is set up, part of that might provide support for individual care leavers to make claims through the legal system.

CHAIR —Thank you, Ms Clare. I am sure we have questions, because these issues keep coming up.

Ms Clare —Yes. Another report I can leave with you if you are interested is called Investing for success, which looks at the outcomes for our current care leavers from our institutions, and they are not good. In fact, they are very much a repeat of what we saw with older care leavers.

CHAIR —The ones who live in care now?

Ms Clare —Yes.

CHAIR —Thank you very much. That would be wonderful.

Ms Clare —I guess you did not have time in your very active schedule to read it, but the Age this morning also brings to our notice the situation of our Indigenous colleagues and families, who are in need as older care leavers but their current needs are still very high.

CHAIR —I will read that tonight.

Ms Clare —Yes, I am sure you will. I will leave that one with you, too.

CHAIR —That will be lovely.

Ms Clare —I am happy to answer any other questions you might have.

CHAIR —Thank you very much.

Senator SIEWERT —While I do have a lot of questions around kids who live in care now, I will concentrate on what our terms of reference are. In terms of the $7.5 million that has been committed for care services, the tender is just about to be released. Is that right?

Ms Clare —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —As I understand it from Mr Golding, there has been a lot of consultation around the need for care services and what they will be. Have you seen the tender document? Do you know what services are going to be tendered for?

Ms Clare —Because of probity issues, we have not been able to see the tender document. There was a point where the advisory group needed to disband in order that probity was kept, but we believe that the service model takes account of the consultation to this point. The point I was trying to make was that we need to not be totally locked in by that tender document as the service gets up and care leavers inform us of what they need. It needs to be able to be modified.

Our experience in working with the department would lead us to believe that that collaboration will occur and the state-wide reference group will continue to meet and play an active role in advocating for what that service should look like. My hope would be that that would be a collaborative and evolving design. Getting more money into it will always be a challenge, but I think it would be fair to say that the money that is there will be developed in collaboration with the tenderers who win the bid and with the department and with the state-wide group and, obviously, with consultation, as occurred in developing the model with the care leavers. We will certainly be advocating for that very strongly.

Senator SIEWERT —The $7.5 million is a three-year allocation.

Ms Clare —It is over four years.

Senator SIEWERT —Sorry, four years. In your opinion, is that enough for four years? I will go on to what happens after that in a minute.

Ms Clare —Compared with nothing, it is a good outcome, but it is a modest service. Do you have an outline of what the service covers?

Senator SIEWERT —No.

Ms Clare —It is a new service for people who grew up in care in Victoria who may have suffered harm and abuse. It is for the coordination and provision of assistance to address the needs of forgotten Australians. It will provide a single access point for obtaining advice on accessing available services, including housing, mental health, aged care, counselling, alcohol and drugs, literacy and numeracy, dental and medical services, peer support and support from professionals; search and support services, including locating siblings; developing life skills; and support for families of carers, including counselling and—this last and interesting point—information about claims processes and referrals for assistance with legal claims.

CHAIR —It should be an easy job then. They’re not asking too much!

Ms Clare —No. It is hard to see how the last point will be covered.

Senator SIEWERT —It says it provides advice on those issues.

Ms Clare —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —What I am concerned about is to make sure the services are actually delivered. Is there funding for enhanced services? The recommendations in your report are very much about access to the services—in other words, being able to get those services. Is that what is intended from this fund, or is it purely about advice? You can advise people as much as you like, and it is good to have a one stop shop, but you need to then be able to access those services.

Ms Clare —That is right.

Senator SIEWERT —Is there then a guarantee that you will actually get those counselling services? I know in WA you cannot get them.

Ms Clare —My current experience with children and young people who are in care now would cause me to doubt that that access will be readily available.

Senator SIEWERT —There is exactly the same situation in WA.

Ms Clare —There will be more counselling, I would think, and more advice, but we cannot access that range of services readily and for sufficient time for children and young people who are in care now. So, no, I would not think it would cover those.

Senator SIEWERT —Believe me, in WA it is not just those in care that cannot access those services.

Ms Clare —I do not believe that any agreements have been negotiated with that range of services.

Senator SIEWERT —In other words, of your five recommendations, with No. 4—which is getting access to personal records—there has been significant progress made, but in terms of the others, while the fund that has been set up provides a step, it does not actually mean that they get increased access to these services.

Ms Clare —No. As much as we support the ‘Who am I?’ project—and innovative as it is—it is an archive, so an individual care leaver accessing their individual records through the department or through an organisation will not necessarily get the service they need. I believe that there are often delays in that process, although work is occurring, and that it is not necessarily as broad as it could be, nor is there sufficient ongoing counselling when that process is distressing. I do think we have to remember that the ‘Who am I?’ project is only about archives; it is not about somebody trying to access what they need now. Although the department is working on that, I understand that it is not always as easy, as broad or as supported as it could be.

Senator SIEWERT —Point taken. We have talked about the redress scheme quite a bit already this morning. Your interaction with government, from what you have mentioned, does not seem all that promising in terms of any consideration by government to develop a redress scheme.

Ms Clare —No.

Senator SIEWERT —In your discussions with government, what do they say? Why aren’t they picking it up?

Ms Clare —Far be it for me to speak for government, but one would have to think that they had taken a pathway which says that small recognition and small services will do the job and maybe would mean that one can get by without what they see as an expensive scheme. That is not our position. Our position is that we should have both in more measure. All I can think is that they are trying to avoid that responsibility because it is an expensive one. We would like to see the outcomes from the redress schemes that have operated so that Victoria and other states could have the benefit of then putting in place what is most appropriate and most supportive. That piece of national work would be helpful in putting pressure on states that have only partially met that need or those, like Victoria, that have not met it at all.

Senator SIEWERT —My next question touches on another inquiry that the three of us senators are involved with. You mentioned aged care. All the points that you made are important, but the point about looking at aged care for care leavers in a different light has not been brought up before, and I am particularly interested in that comment because it has not come up during the aged-care inquiry. I think it is a well-made point. If you have been in institutional care, you do not want to go back into institutional care as you age.

Ms Clare —No, because retraumatisation and great fear and distress are very possible.

Senator SIEWERT —Have you had discussions with the state government about that?

Ms Clare —No, only at the reference group. One might say we have had preliminary discussions but we have not had progress.

Senator SIEWERT —Is there a group in Victoria working on that specifically? Do you know if the aged-care sector is looking at that or if it has been taken up with the aged-care sector?

Ms Clare —I do not think so. As I say, in terms of our advocacy, redress and so on would be the next area.

Senator SIEWERT —Yes, I can understand that. Thank you.

Senator HUMPHRIES —I see that you originally approached 120 care leavers from institutions in Victoria but only got 77 responses. What do you put that down to? Do you think that that in any way skews or distorts the kinds of things that we can say about the physical and mental needs of people who are care leavers?

Ms Clare —I put it down to just the level of research and time and the position that our respondents were in. I am very confident about the findings because they reflect work done by other organisations. Whether it be the work done by CLAN or by MacKillop Family Services, other organisations are coming up with the same needs—in fact, not dissimilar to what has come through in the AFA submission. Although it is quite a small sample, I am certainly confident about the results.

Senator HUMPHRIES —When it comes to an idea like the health card that you mentioned for people who have been care leavers, do you think that there is not an ignorance of these processes necessarily but perhaps a reluctance to identify, in some cases, as a care leaver, and that you might have a large number of people who would choose not to access a facility like that, who might think it was inappropriate or who might have problems accessing the sorts of services that this makes available?

Ms Clare —That is possible. People’s privacy and dignity are very important to them. On the other hand, I have become the proud owner of a seniors card. At the moment it only gets me into the movies. I understand that as I get older it will give me more. But I think our society does use those sorts of cards quite a lot, so I would hope that it would be an acceptable way of getting fast access at a discounted rate. But it is, after all, a mechanism, and if there are better ways of providing that access and that service I think our group would be open to that. Really it is a matter of being able to get the service when you need it at a price you can afford to pay and for as long as you need it.

Senator HUMPHRIES —I am thinking of the psychological problems of having a card saying, ‘I’m a care leaver,’ and putting it in front of a stranger to say, ‘I want access to a service.’ I assume some people would not choose to do that. I wonder whether there are other equivalent services that they would be entitled to access by virtue of being a care leaver which you might be able to make available to them if they chose not to carry a card like that.

Ms Clare —I think that would be excellent.

Senator HUMPHRIES —You say in your executive summary, in the second dot point:

On a comparative basis, the experiences of care leavers in the above domains are significantly lower compared to the general population.

What do you mean by that?

Ms Clare —When you look at the health, education, income, employment and personal relationships in the body of the report, you will see that what might be seen as a desirable, normal outcome was not very often achieved. So it was on measures of wellbeing really. Wellbeing was sufficiently less, not only in the health sense but in the educational sense, which opens so many other doors.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Were you able to gain any impression from the survey of how care leavers had responded to the apology which the Victorian government gave a couple of years ago?

Ms Clare —One always learns with hindsight. I think the apology could have been done in a better way. It could have been more engaging in terms of actual space and accessibility for people to meet and talk. Were a Commonwealth apology to be made—and we hope it will be—I think it could follow the stolen generations model, which was very open and embracing. The Victorian one was a bit too quick for people to really hear and feel and give their experience. It was not enough. People welcomed it, but I think we learned from it.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Thank you very much.

CHAIR —I have lots of questions but only have time for one. A number of submitters have talked about their concern about services provided by organisations that may have been involved in giving care in the past, and that has been a theme that has run through submissions both to this inquiry and to the previous inquiry. Was that raised with the advisory group that was working with government about the setting up of the new funded scheme that Victoria is going to bring in? If so, has there been a response from government about the sensitivity of that and the need, whichever organisation is dealing now with people who have been victims of trouble in the past, to keep that independent of the organisations that were caregivers?

Ms Clare —It was raised and considered, both by the advisory group and in the consultations with care leavers. As I say, it is a government decision on that service and not my own, but my member organisations are committed—and hence the work we undertake in relation to the services and rights of those who have been care leavers—and would only want to participate in such a service to the extent that it is accepted by the care leavers and is a productive service going forward.

In Victoria we work in a very collaborative manner, not only with government but amongst services, and a number of our services are delivered by consortiums. That may be something that will be considered, but no organisation would want to be a part of any service unless it was accepted by the care leavers themselves.

CHAIR —Thank you very much. Thank you for your documentation and the reports you have left with us.

Ms Clare —Thank you. In closing, can I say that we also support the AFA submission.

[12.07 pm]