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Without action, Sorry Day falls short of its potential as a catalyst for change

On the 25th anniversary of the Bringing Them Home report, chair of The Healing Foundation Board Professor Steve Larkin calls for aged care that is trauma-informed and enables healing for the Stolen Generations survivors.


Steve Larkin writes:

Today marks the 25th year since the Bringing Them Home report was tabled in Federal Parliament. The result of a national inquiry that investigated the forced removal of First Nations children from their families, the report was the first publicly documented account of the experiences of Stolen Generations survivors and the devastating effects of forced removals.

In doing so, the report marked a pivotal moment in the healing journey of Stolen Generations survivors and their families.

Twenty-five years on, the report continues to guide the work of countless survivors, families, advocates, and organisations. However, many of the implementation of the report’s numerous recommendations remain outstanding. Bringing Them Home was followed by other pivotal inquiries calling for action in key areas for Stolen Generations survivors, including The Healing Foundation’s own Bringing Them Home: 20 years on and Make Healing Happen reports.

Commemorative events, like Sorry Day or the Anniversary of the National Apology, are an important reminder not only of what has been achieved to date, but also of what remains to be done. Without meaningful action, the commemoration of Sorry Day falls short of its potential to be a catalyst for change.

In 2022, all survivors become eligible to access aged care support programs. Accordingly The Healing Foundation advocates the need for holistic, safe, trauma aware, healing informed aged care for Stolen Generations survivors.

Professor Steve Larkin. Photo supplied by The Healing Foundation.

The impacts of forced removal

At the time the Bringing Them Home report was released, the staunch efforts of early Stolen Generations leaders had tirelessly campaigned to establish a sense of urgency to address the complex, overlapping needs of survivors.

Twenty-five years later, survivors have yet to see an effective policy response to support this. Survivors are growing older, and live with disabilities, poor physical and mental health, and ongoing trauma. Many have passed on.

Recently, The Healing Foundation commissioned the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) to undertake a needs analysis of Stolen Generations survivors and their descendants. A key finding from this analysis was that survivors and descendants carry even higher levels of disadvantage compared to other First Nations peoples, who themselves experience higher levels of disadvantage in comparison to non-Indigenous peoples.

Compounding these stressors, 20 percent of Stolen Generations survivors reported having experienced homelessness in the previous decade and 42 per cent reported having been homeless at some point in their life.

Compared to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of the same age, Stolen Generations survivors are more likely to be living with higher levels of ill-health and other stressors. Survivors are 1.7 times as likely to have experienced discrimination, 1.4 times as likely to have a disability, and 1.3 times as likely to have been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

Compared with the non-Indigenous population, Stolen Generations survivors are more than four-and-a-half times as likely to have kidney disease, more than three times as likely to have diabetes, and seven times as likely to have heart, stroke, or vascular disease.

The AIHW data was able to show that these differences in health outcomes are the consequence of removal and the ongoing impacts of trauma.

It is therefore essential that any provision of aged care for Stolen Generations survivors is based on an understanding of trauma and its impacts, to ensure culturally appropriate care, and minimise the risk of retraumatising survivors.

We now have a unique opportunity with current reforms in the aged care sector to both reset and design care systems that specifically respond to the complex health, cultural, and healing needs of Stolen Generations survivors. As stated by Chair of The Healing Foundation Stolen Generations Reference Group Ian Hamm:

Given the spasmodic response to date in addressing the needs of the Stolen Generations, whose life journey has, by any measure, been a difficult one based on the trauma of childhood removal, it is only proper that we do not make the journey into ageing unnecessarily painful or burdensome.”

Trauma aware, healing informed aged care

Aged care that offers holistic social and cultural support is essential to enable Stolen Generations survivors to age with dignity and a quality of life.

For trauma survivors, things that happen in their daily lives can trigger distressing memories or reactions. Dealing with large bureaucracies like the aged care system can remind survivors of the complete lack of control they felt as children when they were taken from their families.

Input from survivors should inform the development of safe, culturally appropriate aged care. A genuine commitment to healing by governments and the aged care sector must prioritise healing and ensure no further harm is done.

Healing is a journey, a process, and a way forward that allows communities, families, and individuals to come to terms with their trauma and move beyond it. It is about knowing and understanding the truth – looking back in order to move forward.

Healing is about restoring the wellbeing, strength of spirit, family connections, and lore that has made Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures the oldest living cultures on earth.

It’s time to act

This year, as we pause to reflect on Sorry Day, we must remember the cost of inaction.

To not act is essentially a choice to leave hurt and harm unaddressed, and therefore allowing these impacts and the burden of disadvantage on survivors to remain. Many Stolen Generations survivors are elderly and passing away with their health issues unresolved or any sense of hope that their children or grandchildren will know a life without trauma.

Trauma is a human experience. It can be managed well and even overcome. The Healing Foundation has shown what is possible when commitment is followed by action. In collaboration with Stolen Generations survivors and peak healthcare bodies, the Foundation has developed a series of fact sheets to assist health workers to provide safe healthcare to Stolen Generations survivors.

The need for trauma-aware and healing-informed support strategies are well evidenced and way overdue. Any further delay to action inevitably risks consigning future generations of stolen generation descendants to the same vulnerabilities experienced by their parents and grandparents.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart provides a way to build a shared future where true healing happens and trauma cycles end.

Token gestures do not heal. Incremental change is not the best we can hope for. Equity, fairness, and inclusiveness requires big, bold steps to finally create a society that contributes every day to intergenerational healing.

All Australians, especially our leaders, must listen and learn to cultures of place, here across this nation of many nations telling all, that we have always known how to keep Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples safe and well. Hear the voices, make things right again, own the truth.

What we choose to do now will determine if that cycle continues or is disrupted once and for all.


See Croakey’s archive of articles on trauma and health

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