No redress for abused foster children

Black and white image of three children

Did you know that state governments are refusing to compensate children who were abused in foster homes?

Did you know that the National Redress Scheme for victims of institutional child sex abuse has shut the door on people abused in state government approved foster homes?

Why are foster children treated differently to children abused in institutional children’s homes?

Did you know that in New South Wales, for example, the government compensates you if you were sexually abused in Parramatta Girls’ Training School, Hay Institute for Girls, Daruk Boys’ Home, Berry Training Farm, Mittagong Training Farm, and the like? But state wards who were placed with foster parents and beaten and molested for years are left empty-handed? This is because of a case in England that has never been tested in an Australian court.

Let’s take a quick look at what life was like for many state wards placed with foster parents from 1950 to 1980. This is included for the benefit of anyone who assumed that foster children all had a wonderful time growing up with a real family.

Many state wards were separated from their brothers and sisters

Most foster parents did not want to take more than one child at a time, so many children were split up and never saw their siblings again. The forced separation was Child Welfare’s idea; the experts at the time thought that children of inept parents would have a much better chance of morphing into good children if they made a clean break from their old lives. Instead, wards experienced deep emotional pain from the start.

For some, this was the worst part.

Children who were fostered out from the age of four or five naturally had strong attachments to their siblings and did not fit into their foster families.

They wanted to see their family again.

That didn’t happen.

Foster parents were not properly screened

In most cases, foster parents were approved by the Child Welfare Department as long as they were married and had a spare bedroom.

The more foster children you took, the more money you received from Child Welfare.

It was common to use foster children to do the housework and maintain the gardens. Some were sent to people who owned commercial farms where the children were put to work as free labour.

Have you seen ‘Anne of Green Gables’? The farmer wanted a boy from the orphanage to help him with the farm as he was getting old and couldn’t afford to pay wages, but the orphanage mistakenly sent a girl. In those days, girls looked after the children and boys did physical labour.

It was one grade away from slavery.

The world had a different view of children in those days

Australian society was changing and slowly questioning the culture we inherited from our British roots.

Do these attitudes sound familiar…

    • “Children should be seen and not heard.” Children were expected to sit at the dinner table, eat and not speak. Anything a child wanted to say was not important anyway.


    • The punishment was often physical in the first instance, especially for boys. “Act now, talk later” was widely practised by parents. It was commonly believed that reasoning with children was a waste of time and a sign of weakness by inexperienced parents.


    • “Hit them hard and hit them often” was the only solution for children who were poorly behaved. “You don’t hit them hard enough” was the advice given to young parents struggling with discipline. Slapping, smacking, hitting, beating, flogging, deprivation and isolation were the ‘big guns’ of strict parenting. Strict parents produced the best-behaved children, it was thought.


    • Children believed what they were told, so children who were flogged frequently accepted without question that they were ‘bad’. Many adults still believe they deserved their floggings. Some even think it made them into better people and they approve of corporal punishment for this reason. They wish it was still legal to go down the backyard, break a switch off the willow tree and use it to whip the grandkids around the back of the legs.


    • Children were just ‘little adults’. There was no well-developed concept of a child needing guidance and understanding as he or she slowly matured into adulthood. Therefore disobedience was regarded as wilful, sinful and malicious. This explains why minors were executed for crimes in England until 1838. Children under 14 were still being publicly hanged in the 1700s. Attitudes started to change slowly from the turn of the twentieth century. In NSW they stopped charging children with the criminal offences of neglect, exposure to moral danger and being uncontrollable in the 1980s. The process then became known as ‘Children’s Care and Protection proceedings’. Sounds much better, doesn’t it?


It’s important to realise that state wards were viewed much differently from any natural children of the foster parents. Let’s examine some of the attitudes toward foster children at the time…

    • Natural children were the privileged ones; they had a real mother and father. They belonged. They were the legal heirs and they were the permanent children of the household.


    • State wards came from bad homes with bad parents. They had no ‘training’ in polite society. They were unintelligent little liars. You had to be very strict with them. They weren’t expected to finish school. There might be some hope the boys could learn a trade at the most. The girls could hope to get married early.


    • Foster children were expected to be grateful. Society regarded people who took in foster children as the salt of the earth citizens. So state wards were expected to never forget how kind and selfless their foster parents were. They had saved them from life in a horrible Children’s Home. The best way to repay them was to be on their best behaviour at all times.


    • Many state wards were told their parents didn’t want them and that’s why they were “given away” or removed – they had to think themselves lucky that anyone at all would want to take them.


    • Wards lived life constantly under threat of being returned to the Children’s Home. That was a very effective method as no one wanted to go back to the home where you slept in big dorms, were bullied by older children and didn’t have enough to eat. Nearly every state ward had been in a home at some stage; they knew what it was like. State wards had no permanent status in a foster home.


    • Foster parents could be cruel; telling wards they ‘came from the gutter’, no one wanted them, they were ‘ungrateful creatures’ and making threats of calling the Welfare officer to come and collect them.


    • Some foster parents took cruelty to another level. Men and older sons with sexual perversions saw the chance to abuse state wards and get away with it. This was possible because nobody believed state wards and they wouldn’t usually speak up as they didn’t want to go back to the home. There were no witnesses. It might be a perfect crime. They didn’t realise that one day there would be a Royal Commission and victims would have the courage, at last, to come forward.


    • Foster placements could last for many years, so if you were being abused, you were trapped and there was no way out. If you ran away you would be captured, charged and committed to an institution. That wasn’t a satisfactory option. Long term problematic placements had long term effects on the emotions. Most victims abused in homes were there for less than 12 months – I was in foster care for 13 years. This was longer than 99% of all my institutional abuse clients.


Although it was accepted that children in foster care should consider themselves “lucky”, the reality for many wards of the state was the stream of abuse and neglect

This points to the fundamental issue for so many children that suffered sexual abuse at the hands of their carers – They were treated as an underclass; worthless, stupid and not important. They could not escape their abusers, no matter where they went.

Whether they were in state-run institutions or foster homes, the fact that they were isolated, marginalised, neglected and abused remains the same.

Does the experience of a child abused in a state-approved foster home not warrant compensation, just as a child in an institutional children’s home surely does?

It is time for state governments to rethink the National Redress Scheme and take swift action to acknowledge the abuse of state wards in foster homes.

Fill in the register and go onto Peter’s List. I will contact you when there is something happening. I won’t rest till we achieve justice.

Get the justice you deserve with Kelso Lawyers. We want to hear your story. Call (02) 4907 4200 or complete the online form before you accept payment from the National Redress Scheme. 

Image source: Pexels

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