Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Stolen Generations survivors of institutional child sexual abuse have specific needs for accessible, culturally safe, trauma-aware and healing-informed services. These services are supposed to be provided under the National Redress Scheme but many survivors report that to date this has not occurred.
The Joint Select Committee on Implementation of the National Redress Scheme is inquiring into the implementation of the scheme and is currently accepting submissions to inform the Second Interim Report.
Below Fiona Petersen, CEO, The Healing Foundation, outlines the evidence she provided to the Committee which highlights where the National Redress Scheme is failing to meet the needs of Stolen Generation survivors.
Fiona Petersen writes:
If you are truly sorry, you don’t do it again. Redress has to give us the opportunity to take control and make our own choices.”
These are the words of Uncle Michael Welsh. He is a Stolen Generations survivor of the Kinchela Boys Home and a member of the Stolen Generations Reference Group.
He is a wise and inspiring man who has shared his story to help others learn.
His voice led The Healing Foundation’s written submission to the Joint Select Committee on Implementation of the National Redress Scheme.
On behalf of The Healing Foundation and survivors, I provided evidence to the Joint Select Committee today.
We believe that the voices and experience of survivors need to be the touchstone we keep returning to when reviewing implementation of the National Redress Scheme.
The breakdown of family and social structures caused by removal and abuse decimated communities.
It deeply impacted Stolen Generations survivors. They did not know where to go to seek support for anything. They no longer belonged to a community. They held no memories of belonging to one – and were not able to draw on the strengths of a community to help them.
There have also been ongoing health and social effects for the Stolen Generations and their families. They have significantly poorer physical health and over double the rates of mental illness and alcohol abuse compared to that suffered by those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were not removed.
These impacts were quantified for the first time in 2018 in an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report commissioned by The Healing Foundation.
The Healing Foundation works with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Redress Support Services by providing workforce and cultural support, which is trauma-aware and healing-informed.
National Redress Scheme falls short
Together, we have developed a deep understanding of survivors’ needs and the impact of the National Redress Scheme implementation on them.
Sadly, the Scheme, to date, has not fully met the expectations of Uncle Michael’s words.
Feedback from survivors and Support Services suggests that the implementation of the Scheme has been effective in creating referral pathways, generally promoting the Scheme, acknowledging trauma, and making support and counselling more available to survivors.
But the feedback also points to areas where the Scheme is not fulfilling the expectations set by the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Unfortunately, our experience is that not all aspects of the Redress process are survivor-focused, accessible, culturally safe, or meet the needs of particularly vulnerable survivors.
The National Redress Scheme is a fundamental part of the healing journey for survivors.
Actively addressing trauma
However, unless trauma is actively addressed at every point of contact in the Redress response, there is a significant risk that survivors of institutional abuse will not be allowed to heal.
Recommendation 4 on Redress Elements and Principles by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse specified that:
- Redress should be survivor focused.
- There should be a ‘no wrong door’ approach for survivors in gaining access to redress.
- All redress should be offered, assessed, and provided with appropriate regard to what is known about the nature and impact of child sexual abuse – and institutional sexual abuse in particular – and to the cultural needs of survivors.
- All redress should be offered, assessed, and provided with appropriate regard to the needs of particularly vulnerable survivors.
To ensure that redress reduces re-traumatisation and is delivered in a trauma-aware and healing-informed way, The Healing Foundation and Redress Support Services recommend:
- that all aspects of the redress response are reviewed against the Royal Commission’s Recommendation 4 on Redress Elements and Principles;
- building workforce capacity to ensure all aspects of the redress response (both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and mainstream services) help recognise and address trauma, and contribute to healing; and
- additional resources to ensure tailored culturally safe responses to address complex needs.
We welcomed the Joint Select Committee’s interim recommendations to expand the provision of culturally sensitive services; to increase access to counselling, including financial counselling; to remove caps or limits on counselling and psychological care for survivors; and to improve the timeliness of payments.
A key weakness
But a key weakness in the Redress Scheme’s administration is the response that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survivors receive when engaging with some formal agencies.
Survivors report discrimination and alienation in their contact with both staff and application processes, which can contribute to trauma and create a barrier to accessing redress.
All organisations that regularly work with survivors must have the workforce capability to work effectively with people and communities impacted by trauma.
Many people do not recognise that trauma played a role in their own lives and behaviours – and developing this understanding can be transformative.
Where workforce training enables workers to better understand the impact of trauma and grief on the communities where they work, their confidence to recognise and address trauma increases, which, in turn, better positions service providers to assist in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healing.
Struggling to meet demand
COVID-19 and mainstream responses are putting a significant proportion of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population at greater risk.
Organisations supporting Stolen Generations survivors are resilient and resourceful, but they are struggling to meet demand.
Providers tell us that they are dealing with traumatised people daily – they are presenting with redress issues, homelessness, protection of grandchildren, and institutional sexual and other abuse disclosures. This situation is putting their staff at risk as well.
As a result, communities urgently need help to manage trauma, and the capacity of Stolen Generations organisations and mainstream services to support those most at risk needs to be boosted.
Our evidence indicates that specific trauma-aware responses must be available, along with system navigators, to be effective.
A further area for improvement in implementation of the Scheme is the transparency and timeliness of the application process. Survivors feel that for redress to contribute to healing, it must give them the opportunity to take control and make their own choices.
Particular attention must be given to ensuring support is available for applicants who have been rejected – and making review processes accessible.
Unfortunately, the current processes do not meet this expectation.
Disturbingly, Stolen Generations survivors have reported that private law firms have been proactively contacting them to promote their services in a predatory manner.
Unfortunately, many survivors are unaware there are other alternatives available to them.
The Scheme must do better with education and information to serve the needs of survivors.
Fiona Petersen is CEO of The Healing Foundation