Our History and Objectives
CLAN was founded in July 2000 by two Care Leavers, Leonie Sheedy and Joanna Penglase. Leonie was a state ward in Victoria, who grew up in a Catholic Home. Joanna grew up in NSW, in a non-government Children’s Home that was run as a business under licence from the Child Welfare Department (now DoCS). Our childhoods covered the immediate postwar decades, the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Leonie and Joanna met when Joanna was researching her PhD thesis, which was based on her own Home experience and that of 90 interviewees who grew up in ‘care’ in NSW.
[Pictured, from left to right: Joanna Penglase, Leonie Sheedy and Former CLAN Patron, Senator Andrew Murray, in Sydney in early 2002]
The first public meeting of CLAN was held on 21 October 2000 at the premises of the Exodus Foundation in Ashfield, Sydney. Several hundred people attended that meeting, and over the subsequent years, CLAN has always had around 700-800 members, in all states of Australia.
CLAN is an incorporated, non-profit organisation, funded entirely by membership fees, small grants and donations. CLAN does not have guaranteed ongoing government funding.
The formation of CLAN was the culmination of a long journey for both of us. For some years, we had both been attempting, though in different ways, to raise awareness of issues about our childhood in ‘care’ which we felt to be unacknowledged, and even invisible. In Australia over recent decades, we have become increasingly aware, as a society, of other groups of people who as children had experiences which caused them trauma and suffering and which had severely detrimental effects on their life outcomes. Some examples are adoptees, the Aboriginal stolen generations, and the child migrants sent to Australia from Britain particularly in the postwar years.
Care Leavers — people who as children grew up in Children’s Homes and orphanages or were fostered — have had childhood experiences that were similar, and in many cases identical, to those suffered by these groups. Nevertheless, we seem to have been invisible as a group of citizens entitled to similar recognition, support and assistance to that available to other groups. This is, then, both a social justice issue and also one of discrimination.
In most states of Australia there are some limited after care services for Care Leavers under the age of 25. CLAN is concerned with the thousands of considerably older Care Leavers across Australia who have almost no services at all, and little recognition that they require them.
What are CLAN’s objectives?
- to provide a network through which people from this background throughout Australia can communicate with each other and share their experiences. We know that many people who grew up in 'care' feel isolated and alone, believing the traumas of their childhood years were somehow their own fault.
- to raise public consciousness of our past situation and its effects, so that what happened to us as state wards and Home children becomes as well known as the experiences of the ‘stolen generations’, child migrants and adoptees.
- to lobby governments in every state to provide acknowledgment and support for former state wards and Home children, for example through the appointment, in the Departments currently concerned with children of personnel who have the sole responsibility of looking after the needs of this older group of Care Leavers, and
To have dedicated support services set up which include:
- mediation services to help people locate lost family members and make contact with them;
- search services in all states specifically targeted to former state wards and Home children to help locate family members. Existing services are inadequate and do not acknowledge the needs of this group of people;
- access to education and training for Care Leavers who were prevented by their background from reaching their potential (some Care Leavers from this earlier period left ‘care’ unable even to read and write);
- access to other life skills courses - such as parenting courses. Many of us grew up with no role models and as ‘parentless people’ we have had little idea how to be parents ourselves. Also, as we know from our own experience, having children often raises painful unresolved issues from childhood, particularly around abandonment and neglect;
- dedicated counselling/therapy services to help Care Leavers deal with these past issues.
What we've achieved in the 15 years since we began:
- An office in Sydney
- 8 employees
- Our Senate Inquiry and its report, 'Forgotten Australians'
- The CLAN website, which we are developing as a database of information about all aspects of institutional care.
- Writing workshops to help people tell their story
- A bi-monthly newsletter
- CLAN co-hosted the First National Conference on the Mental Health Aspects of Persons Affected by Family Separation. The 2-day conference was held at Liverpool Hospital in Sydney and brought together members of all affected groups: state wards and Home children, Aboriginal ‘stolen generation’, child migrants, mothers who had lost children to adoption, and adoptees. Professionals and survivors attended the conference from all states of Australia.
- Media coverage of Care Leaver issues through newspaper articles and television programs like the ABC’s 4Corners program in August 2003, The Homies
- A national museum of items and articles from various Australian orphanages, Children’s Homes and other institutions
- Established a national library based on Care Leaver experiences and stories
- Political lobbying for a national redress scheme to achieve justice and redress for all Australian Care Leavers
- Political lobbying which led to the National Apology on 16th November 2009
- State apologies and memorials from Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia, Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland
- 4 surveys into Care Leaver issues
- Socials all over the country
- Publication in the press of Care Leavers’ personal stories
- An ever-expanding library of printed and electronic resources
- An increased awareness of Care Leaver issues - almost unreported when CLAN began.
- Lobbying & the establishment of The Royal Commission Into Institutionalised Child Sexual Abuse.