Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence


DOCUMENT 2

Former Catholic Child Migrants from the UK to Australia

SOME BACKGROUND INFORMATIONFrom 1938 to 1963 Catholic agencies in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland co-operated with the British and Australian governments in nominating children for migration to Australia. The total number of children sent under the scheme was approximately 3,000 of whom about 1,250 came from Catholic children's homes and agencies. Two thirds of these went to Western Australia; the remaining third were spread thinly over the other States.We now recognise that the experience of being sent to a country at the other side of the world, away from familiar faces and environments, with no knowledge of their birth families and without any possibility of access to them, had a profoundly adverse effect on many of these migrants. Many are still suffering from a lack of identity and even those who objectively did better by going to Australia still have a need to find out about their birth origins and to understand them.CCWC has a central record for many, but not all, of the Catholic child migrants to Australia. Most children were sent either by the diocesan child care agencies or by religious orders, such as the Sisters of Nazareth. A few individual children were sent at the request of their families. Some were recruited by Australian institutions in direct contract with Catholic children's homes in England; some of these children became known to CCWC later. The Catholic agencies in the UK have always provided an information service for former child migrants but the whole subject has been given a much higher public profile in recent years, and the result of this is that more former child migrants are coming forward to seek help of information. We endeavour to work both with individuals and with organisations advocating on their behalf, to share as sensitively and responsibly as possible what information is available. Our practice is guided by standards of good social work practice and pastoral care.Making contact with family in the UK has normally been the main priority for most former migrants and we assist with this in whatever way we can. If the migrant was in the care of one of the diocesan children's societies here, that agency works with both its own records and others to try to discover living family for the migrant, or, if this proves impossible, as much information about the background as possible. If she/he came straight to Australia from a children's home or orphanage run by one of the religious orders here (normally the Sisters of Nazareth) or if we cannot identify him/her as having been in the care of a diocesan agency, then CCWC undertakes the search.[1] Many former migrants have by now successfully found their mother of other family and have visited them. However, for others it will simply prove impossible to find any family at all, and this can be very difficult for them to accept. Perhaps even harder are the cases where a mother or family members are found, who turn out to be unwilling to open up any contact with the former migrant, or where the kinship is not even acknowledged, and there is therefore a need to be prepared for profound disappointments.In all enquiries from former child migrants we co-operate as fully as possible over records, locating family, requests for counselling, hospitality and general support, as part of an ongoing aftercare service.


1   This service is made possible by financial assistance from the Sisters of Nazareth and from the Christian Brothers in Western Australia.

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