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Make Healing Happen: It’s time to act on growing toll for Stolen Generations

Introduction by Croakey: By next year every member of the Stolen Generations will be aged over 50 and many still suffer trauma and poor health as a result of their removal – as do their families dealing with intergenerational trauma.

The Healing Foundation today released a landmark report, Make Healing Happen, calling for a national approach to intergenerational healing to Close the Gap for the ageing Stolen Generations survivors.

The report reveals the ‘gap within the gap’, with Stolen Generations survivors and their descendants having higher levels of disadvantage than the already-disadvantaged wider population of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Healing Foundation CEO Fiona Conforth writes in this article below that a radical rethink in key policy areas such as aged care, health, mental health, disability, welfare, social justice and housing for Stolen Generations survivors and their descendants is urgently needed.


Fiona Cornforth writes:

At the National Press Club in Canberra today, The Healing Foundation made a compelling case for ending cycles of trauma experiences with the launch of our Make Healing Happen report.

We made a case for intergenerational healing.

As First Nations peoples, we know that our cultures, such as our connections to country and our deep family ties, made us strong over millennia and continue to be our strength.

When children were systematically taken from family and community over many decades, these connections were severed for a time, and for many never restored.

Stolen Generations survivors have endured a lifetime of trauma, grief, and loss.

We know a significant burden of poorer health, wellbeing, social, and economic outcomes, is experienced by this proportion of our peoples as a result.

This cohort of our population are growing older, and many live with disabilities and complex health problems, with mostly systemic barriers to accessing services.

Stolen Generations are worried about the future of their families – still.

It’s been 24 years since the Bringing Them Home report laid out the wrongs that needed to be made right and a clear road map for addressing impacts.

Since that time a whole new generation has joined us, but we are yet to see any significant national approach to healing for Stolen Generations and their families.

We’ve seen underfunded Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations undertake the heavy lifting for support services. But there has been very little expectation put on the broader and better-funded service sectors to understand the extent of trauma experiences, across generations, and to contribute to healing.

Many stolen children have already passed on to the Dreaming without reparations for the harm they experienced, and for the effects on their descendants.

We must not delay justice for Stolen Generations for the time that another generation joins us. We must not wait a moment longer.

Make healing happen

Those still with us are ageing. By next year, all will be aged over 50. We know with certainty now that unless we address the impact of trauma carried across generations, efforts to close gaps will be compromised.

We will not achieve our national aspirations for Closing the Gap without addressing the barrier of trauma experiences for a significant number of our population.

Our new report, Make Healing Happen, provides in-depth insight into the experiences of Stolen Generations survivors and the extent and complexity of their needs now, and as they grow older.

It considers the impact of forced removal on Stolen Generations descendants, drawing on analysis undertaken by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Fiona Cornforth with Harry William (left), co-chair of the Healing Foundation’s Youth Reference Group and a Stolen Generations descendant, and Ian Hamm, chair of the Stolen Generations Reference Group and a Stolen Generations survivor. Photo: The Healing Foundation

A key, but unsurprising finding from these analyses is that Stolen Generations survivors and their descendants carry higher levels of disadvantage across life outcomes, compared to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who are already carrying disadvantage in comparison to non-First Nations peoples.

There is a ‘gap within the gap’ for each outcome.

The AIHW has now published the extent to which this ‘extra’ gap stems from removal, and removal alone.

Growing numbers and toll

Stolen Generations survivors have multiple complex and overlapping needs which are largely unmet.

They lack access to appropriate services, including to address their needs as they age, and are less likely to access services that they are entitled to.

Their health and wellbeing are significantly worse than that of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of a similar age who were not removed.

Compared to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of the same age, Stolen Generations survivors aged 50 are 1.8 times as likely to not own a home, and 1.5 times as likely to have government payments as their main source of income.

Compared to the general non-First Nations population, these figures are 4.1 times and 2.2 times, respectively.

Stolen Generations survivors aged 50 and over are over 4.5 times as likely to have kidney disease when compared to the general non-First Nations population, more than three times as likely to have diabetes; and 2.7 times as likely to have heart, stroke, or vascular disease.

The AIHW estimates that in 2018–19 there were an estimated 33,600 Stolen Generations survivors. This is a huge increase of the previous AIHW estimate of 17,150.

By 2022, all will be aged at least 50, and eligible for aged care.

Nationally, more than one-third (36 per cent) of adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are descended from older generations who were removed – great  grandparents, grandparents, parents, aunties, and uncles.

There are more than 142,000 descendants nationally, with the number growing over time.

In some jurisdictions – Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and the ACT – between 40 per cent and 60 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are descended from Stolen Generations survivors.

This is a significant percentage of our populations across Australia.

We know descendants of Stolen Generations survivors also experience significantly poorer wellbeing when compared to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Radical rethink needed

Adverse experiences in childhood can have lifelong effects. Intergenerational trauma is real. And the evidence is clear – removal is the origin of trauma for too many of our peoples.

Yet it is simply not considered or accounted for in policy, in funding decisions, or service delivery.

All this new data – and the lived experiences – signal the need for a radical rethink and reform in key policy areas such as aged care, health, mental health, disability, welfare, social justice, and housing for Stolen Generations survivors and their descendants.

The leadership shown by survivors shows us that there are practical, achievable and affordable recommendations that fall out of the evidence for us as a nation to make a real and lasting difference to the lives of Stolen Generations survivors and their descendants, finally.

We recommend that there be redress for Stolen Generations survivors and their descendants.

All Australian governments, in collaboration with Stolen Generations survivors, must co-design a universal, safe, culturally appropriate, and trauma-aware and healing-informed redress scheme for living and deceased Stolen Generations survivors and their descendants.

All governments must establish a funding stream for investing in healing.

To meet the complex needs of Stolen Generations survivors, all governments must resource programs and policies across Australia that are co-designed with Stolen Generations survivors to holistically address their specific needs, with priority placed on aged care, disability, health, and housing.

Trauma-aware and healing-informed approaches must be embedded in all aspects of systems that engage with, and impact on, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

When programs and services, sectors and workforces are trauma-aware and healing-informed, Stolen Generations survivors are better able to live their lives from a place of strength, and design their own success, as they freely choose.

To end intergenerational trauma and prevent new harm, all governments must resource and implement a national intergenerational healing strategy for addressing intergenerational trauma.

The strategy should include investments in:

  • truth telling, self-determination, healing through culture, systems reform, and improvements at policy, program, and workforce levels
  • community-led services and programs
  • capacity building for communities and other stakeholders to recognise and address trauma
  • collective and family healing
  • continued reform in access to records by Stolen Generations survivors and descendants, and
  • consolidation, application and building of a healing evidence base.

To achieve sustainable and robust monitoring and accountability a national accountability framework to monitor and report progress towards achieving better outcomes for Stolen Generations survivors and their descendants must be resourced. This would include reporting to parliament.

The report we proudly released today is the culmination of years of work – listening to and heeding the voices of Stolen Generations survivors.

There is an urgent need to heal past wrongs – for the wellbeing of those who were stolen, their descendants who have had their cultural authority and legacy compromised through what happened to their parents and grandparents.

Healing is needed for our communities who continue to hurt, and for Australia as a nation.

Healing will restore dignity for those who have suffered and ease a burden they had no say in having to carry.

All Australians working together are needed to make healing happen. It’s time to act.

Fiona Cornforth is CEO of The Healing Foundation.


See Croakey’s archive of stories about the Stolen Generations.

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