A new network is bringing prominent academics and researchers together to conduct new studies into the abuse of children in some Australian orphanages and children’s homes between the years of 1910 and 1974.

The Australian Institutional Care Survivors Research Network (ICSRN) has been established to gather knowledge and raise awareness of the ongoing suffering of the ‘Forgotten Australians,’ an estimated 500,000 children who suffered often extreme cruelty while in care institutions.

Southern Cross University (SCU) senior lecturer in the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Tweed Gold Coast campus, Dr Richard Hil, said that the abuse of the mainly non-Indigenous children in institutional care during this time period was systematic and widespread.

In a recent article in the journal Children Australia, Dr Hil, along with Joanna Penglase, of the Care Leavers Australia Network, and SCU social science honours student Gregory Smith, point to a range of abuses experienced by children, including slavery.

“The Senate Inquiry report of 2004 showed that child slavery was widespread in Australian care institutions up until the mid 1970s,” said Dr Hil.

“Instead of receiving love, care, affection and a decent education, these children were forced to spend long hours engaged in hard manual labour such as laundry work, farming and domestic duties to supplement the running of the institutions.

“Such work was undertaken in breach of existing welfare legislation and meant that the children were severely educationally disadvantaged as a result of the absence of schooling.”

Institutional care survivor, Southern Cross University honours student and ICSRN member Gregory Smith, said that the suffering experienced by the ‘Forgotten Australians’ in care institutions affected them for the rest of their lives.

“Now adults, many of these people are suffering social isolation, relationship and parenting problems,” said Mr Smith.

“The incidence of mental and other health disorders, unemployment and addictions is far higher in this group than in the general population, and support is needed to prevent this from becoming an ongoing social issue.”

Dr Hil hopes that he and fellow ICSRN members from Monash University, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, the Historical Abuse Network and the Care Leavers Australia Network, among others, will be able to raise awareness of the plight of care survivors by promoting more research and collaboration.

“We will be working towards gathering a body of information which will motivate governments to acknowledge the suffering of the ‘Forgotten Australians’ and will increase public awareness of this issue,” said Dr Hil.

“By failing to fully acknowledge the past, governments simply perpetuate the abuse that former care residents have long experienced at the hands of the state.”