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Forgotten Australians are terrified of entering aged care

The aged care sector will soon have an influx of traumatised Forgotten Australians, people that experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children, entering the system, who are often terrified of accessing aged care services due to their childhood experiences.

There are more than 500,000 Australia who endured poor living conditions as an institutionalised child and will be looking at entering aged care services in their older age. [Source: Shutterstock]
There are more than 500,000 Australia who endured poor living conditions as an institutionalised child and will be looking at entering aged care services in their older age. [Source: Shutterstock]

To combat the fear from the next generation of aged care recipients, South Australia’s Flinders University and Helping Hands Aged Care, Adelaide, are actively making efforts to make the transition into aged care for Forgotten Australian easier through a research study and helpful guide.

Forgotten Australians, also known as Care Leavers, are people who were in an orphanage or other institution while a child up until 1989 and experienced either horrendous physical or sexual abuse, or bad care practices.

There are more than 500,000 Australia who endured poor living conditions as an institutionalised child and still struggle with these experiences everyday life.

Former Minister for Aged Care and Seniors Australians, Mr Ken Wyatt’s, provided $500,000 of funding to South Australian not-for-profit organisation, Helping Hand Aged Care, to develop their guide, Real Care The Second Time Around.

To accompany the work from Helping Hand, Flinders University has begun research into the needs of Forgotten Australians to create tangible recommendations for aged care facilities.

Flinders University’s College of Medicine and Public Health recently acquired a $50,000 Strategic Research Grant from the Australian Association of Gerontology and the Flinders Foundation, to explore the health impacts, needs, preferences, barriers and experiences of the Forgotten Australians moving into aged care or accessing aged care services.

Monica Cations, Flinders University Research fellow and Chief Investigator of the Forgotten Australians study, will be leading the study with the findings and recommendations to be released next year in March/April.

Forgotten Australians from South Australia will be interviewed to create these recommendations for aged care facilities to implement.

Ms Cations says, “Aged care is really terrifying for people that were raised in these types of environments. The concept of being reinstitutionalised is terrifying for a lot of people. We need to understand and explore what are the other options.

“Because a lot of aspects of general aged care can be really unsafe for people who have experienced traumatic childhoods or institutionalisation as children. But we don’t know a lot about what exactly needs to change to meet their needs.

“I really want those recommendations to be informed by Australians and their families. So often we make decisions not actually based on what people are telling us and what their needs are. My hope is that Forgotten Australians will see the recommendations and see that it reflects, to some extent at least, their experiences and their preferences.”

The response for the study was very positive and Ms Cation says the research team was overwhelmed by the amount of Forgotten Australians wanting to participate.

A lot of current aged care structures don’t cater to the special needs of Forgotten Australians who have childhood trauma, and this study together with the Helping Hand guide targets how to best provide care and service to Forgotten Australians.

Helping Hands believes the funding they have received from the Government will allow for communication and understanding between aged care providers and Forgotten Australians.

Helping Hand Project Manager Diana O’Neil says the Forgotten Australians showing interest in the project revealed a strong desire for recognition.

“Every individual has their own story but there are certainly some common themes among experiences of Forgotten Australians in areas of trust, aversion to authority and the fear of loss of control and loss of independence,” Ms O’Neil said.

“We are hopeful this booklet is the first step in a longer conversation that will lead to influencing policy and practices within the aged care sector.”

The guide was released by Helping Hands in February, and recognises choice and control is important but a challenge to Forgotten Australians.

Some of the suggestions in the guide include offering care based on choice, transparency and understanding.

This includes staff understanding ways to reduce the impact of past trauma, demonstrating respect for the rights of Forgotten Australians, and providing person-centred care.

Helping Hands says people who have had their identities “stolen, lost or ignored” need to be accepted for their uniqueness to preserve their sense of identity.

The research team also includes Forgotten Australians, like expert advisor and national board member for the Alliance for Forgotten Australians, Allison Smyth.

Ms Smyth says, “The research is vital to us because, having been abandoned as children to live in an institution with strangers, facing institutional care once again as aged people is terrifying.”

“My hope is that this project will identify the commonality of emotions experienced by Forgotten Australians and develop new models of care and education for a caring, trustworthy workforce, to allow us to maintain equilibrium.”

The team at Flinders University will work with Helping Hand to research and roll out training, tools and programs related to specific care for Forgotten Australians.

Visit the current Helping Hand guide, Real Care The Second Time Around, here.

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