Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240 - 259)



240 Mr Haynes?
(Mr Haynes) Turning to the first question on monitoring procedures I think it is best to divide it into before the war and after the war as far as I can gather from my reading. Before the war the Fairbridge Society was very much responsible for the selection, the screening processes and the consent arrangements which I have mentioned previously for children who were sent to farm schools. At the farm schools each individual had a termly report, as you would get from schools now, which were held on their records and as far as I am aware these were made known to the children at the time. If you read the biographies of children now from Fairbridge they refer to these reports and how they read them through. At the same time, there were regular and frequent visits from London to each of the farm schools to do an evaluation on the progress and to report back to the committees. After the war there was more autonomy in the farm schools in Australia, as far as the running practice was concerned. The Fairbridge Society in the UK became the collection agency, the holding agency and the forward sending agency. We did make the point in the late 1960s that as far as we were concerned, that is Fairbridge UK, that this system of child migration should stop because the local sending authorities did not believe it was prudent to continue. This was in effect overruled by the Australian Government who asked us to continue the process as far as records were concerned—and the letters are there—as far as single parents and family groups were concerned, which we agreed to do. Turning to sexual and physical abuse, we have got cases in the records of a case of neglect, it was called, and physical abuse in 1938 in a farm school called Molong. These complaints were received in London, investigated and the staff were dismissed immediately. Molong then became semi-autonomous from 1948 although accepted funds from London. Apart from that, we have no cases of complaint or abuse on record as far as Fairbridge is concerned, other than—and I hate to go back to it—the context of disciplines relevant at that time against what was happening in this country as well.
(Mrs McGrogan) Canon Fisher has commented on the monitoring aspect which would relate to the children we were working with. I can again only comment on the contact I would have with the former child migrants. They quote a few instances of specific abuse but did describe the conditions in the institutions as being very austere and all the child rearing measures would be very austere. Discipline was extreme, control was extreme and many of them certainly would have felt as a result of all that they had been affected in later life. I think that would be very widespread. Again, bordering on physical abuse were some examples of specific instance. There has been quite a lot of talk about the lack of attention to questions about their background. They would have been given information that would really cut dead any further questioning, that was fairly common. Again, maybe I can comment very quickly at this point because I think it is important, that we are aware of the contribution made last week by former child migrants and the heart rendering information that came out of that. As an agency perhaps to be seen as related to the sending agencies, that sort of information I have sat through myself and cried bitterly with the migrants. I am trying to equate the lack of trust issue in relation to that. I think for some of these migrants that trust begins to build up when they can confront people like ourselves and we can try and work with them if they choose. There are others who do not choose to do that. I think we are open to all the issues that have been addressed here today and rest very uncomfortably with them.241 Ms Abrahams?
(Ms Abrahams) Monitoring: before the war with the Canadian scheme we employed an official in our reception centre in Hamilton, Ontario, supposedly to supervise the welfare of the children and to provide them in their workplaces. To be honest there must have been an awful lot for one person to do and I think there must be legitimate doubts about how active that supervision could really have been. There may also have been inspection reports but I am not aware of them, that does not mean they did not happen. I have not looked for them in our archives. After the war, as I have said, two of our sisters actually travelled with a boat load of children that went in 1950 and they remained out there, in Australia, for three years. My understanding is that they attached themselves to two particular Methodist children's homes and used those as bases from which to firstly supervise children there and to move out and see people elsewhere. The reason we pulled out so quickly from the scheme was because they were concerned that the child care conditions that they found in those Australian children's homes were not what they had been led to expect. They stayed and tried to make a difference, whether they made the impact we would have liked I am not sure.242 Major Oakley?
(Major Oakley) My evidence is slightly different from my colleague in that we are not moving children from children's homes here to children's homes there. We developed what is called a farm learners scheme which was to help people supposedly 14 upwards to 19 from this country to Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Since I made my submission I have obtained a copy of the agreement between international headquarters and Australia as to what was to happen and this contains great detail as to how the young men should be handled. The youngest should be 15, someone must travel with them from England to Australia.243 The youngest should be 15?
(Major Oakley) Yes, the youngest should be 15. Someone should travel with them. They needed vetting. They needed their parents' consent and then under the ªwelfare ªit says that the new settlement league was responsible to the Government for the welfare of the youth. This is signed 1929, so this was a principal of operation from then. They were responsible for the welfare of the lads and its travelling representative visited the lads in country districts, forwarded reports to the immigration department, communicated to the parents in England regarding their son's progress. There must be some understanding between the employer and employees and relating to the various country/townsfolk to look after the lads in that district. The league kept a regular correspondence with parents and also with the lads. In addition to the travel representative the league commended lads to church. It said that if for any reason a lad had to leave his situation he would be allowed to stay in the immigration hostel, allowed to return, and then back to the farm training centre until they could find a new replacement. That was the agreement. I cannot comment because I have had no comments adverse or otherwise as to whether that was kept. That was the principle on which the migrant immigration scheme was operated.

Mr Austin
244 We have received several allegations and evidence about forged documents, including birth records, details of family status, age, etc, which were done for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it was designed to give the child a fresh start, sometimes we are told the age was changed so that the child fitted in with a particular age requirement of a shipment. Whatever the reason I would like to know whether your agencies were involved in any way in the falsification of the documentation and, if so, what steps you have taken to rectify or indeed to find those child migrants who have been issued with false documents and were transported by deception?
(Mr Singleton) We have no evidence of falsification of documents. What may bear on this is that there was a practice in the wider Barnardo's, not just restricted to the child migrant programme, that children arrived known by a different name from the birth certificate that accompanied them. There was for many years a policy then of reverting the child's name, as it were, to what was on his original birth certificate.

245 Can you explain why that was the case?
(Mr Singleton) It is sometimes difficult to know what happened between the child being born and a relative asking Barnardo's to receive the child into care. I would not say it was large numbers but my contemporary colleagues working day to day with this say there is quite clear evidence that there was a policy in operation of reintroducing children, as it were, to their original name when for some reason that had been changed. Before I move on, many of these children, of course, went nowhere near the local authority. They were not in care under Section 1 of the 148 Act. These were children whose relationship with Barnardo's was by dint of a voluntary agreement between the carer, parent, or parents, and I think that may bear a little bit on the question a little while ago about the lack of reporting mechanism back to the local authority. The local authority probably did not know.246 You understand why I asked that question.
(Mr Singleton) I do.247 There was a very clear framework in 1948 which applied to those in the state system.
(Mr Singleton) Yes.
(Canon Fisher) I have no evidence of any deliberate falsification of records being sent from England. I was aware when I visited Australia, and to my amazement I visited a Mr John Priestly who was head of the Department of Community Development in Perth, and he showed me two filing cabinets full of original birth certificates, some of which related to people who had been searching for the certificates for up to 18 years. I was puzzled as to why so many records in the Government's possession had not been more widely known or had not been made known to our Child Migrant Office in Perth. There are records around but people are not aware of them. We have done our best to publicise all the things we have found. There are records still in some of the establishments. I visited a school where a man had been looking for his home address for many, many years and I asked if they had his record of admission, which they had, and on it clearly was his home address in Ireland. I am not sure whether the information is being withheld or whether it is not being made known that there is the information available and people are not quite sure where to go. Certainly we are promoting within the Australian agencies an awareness of where to look for that. We have a leaflet to that effect.248 Does anybody else want to respond?
(Mr Lovell) Yes. Again, I have no evidence of falsification of documents, in fact I have not read all case files but those case files one has looked at—bearing in mind there were reports coming back from Canada—the names on those reports tied up with the names that the child was using and details about the child before they were emigrated. That would indicate that details had not been falsified or changed. Like my two colleagues I have no evidence of falsification of documentation.

Audrey Wise
249 We have been told that the attitude of sending agencies to requests for help and information from former child migrants has been one of indifference and evasion and that in many ways this continues to be the case. I would like you to comment on that but I would like also to link that with some comments. This is again from Barnardo's evidence, I am not picking on you, in fact I commend you for bringing these things out in your evidence. One of your paragraphs says: "Social workers therefore have to make an assessment of whether the person requesting information is able to cope with the impact the information may have upon them or their families." In the next paragraph: "The records themselves in keeping with general practice in earlier times were never intended to be seen by the individual and the language may be judgmental, insensitive or discriminatory. The social worker therefore needs to prepare people for possible distress and to be able to explain the historical context in which the records were written." I want to link that with the question about your attitude to supplying information. To what extent is it true it is met with indifference? To what extent perhaps is it that the agency thinks it would not be good for the people to have the information, as is implied in those paragraphs?
(Mr Singleton) I have brought along a leaflet that we give to everybody who returns to Barnardo's asking for information about their background where some of the points that Audrey Wise has referred to are set out. That may indicate some of the flavour, and I can pass those around, Chairman, if that would be helpful. I need to say that the overwhelming volume of information that is in any one child migrant's personal records is available to them. Third party information which was given under a commitment of confidentiality, maybe from the police, maybe from the NSPCC, cannot be released unless the third party gives consent, and we seek to do that. The amount of information that is actually withheld on the basis of: "This could do harm and damage to the individual" frankly is minute. But we have put that forward because the restriction is there, we consider that we continue to have a duty of care and that is an attempt to describe what that duty of care is. I have invited the Committee to come and experience the work, you have not been able to find the time for that, I repeat that offer. The work is carried out by nine qualified and trained social workers, backed up by researchers who are absolutely committed to a policy of openness, to understanding that people will approach Barnardo's with very mixed feelings. David Lovell's point a little earlier about squaring the circle with them is very, very strong. When we come to look on to alternatives, I would like to explore with you some of the distinctive features which only the sending agency can bring on. Our people when they return to Barnardo's get a warm welcome, they are looked after. They are treated as adults. I have listed already the range of services that is provided in terms of tracing relatives, in terms of organising reunions, in terms of members of staff being around when those reunions and those gatherings do not work out with the rather fairy tale, perhaps happy ending, which perhaps one or two people coming to that situation obviously hope for. Time is a concern, I will pause at that point and perhaps I can pass these round.250 Just on Barnardo's, since January 1995, people have been able to see their original records.
(Mr Singleton) Yes.251 January 1995 at least is an extremely recent time, what was wrong with letting them see their records in 1990 or earlier?
(Mr Singleton) Okay.

252 There was a legal change.
(Mr Singleton) There were legal changes. If I could draw the Committee's attention to page six of our evidence, you will seen then the number of Canadian and Australian inquiries we deal with and have dealt with each year going back to 1985. The difference between pre-1995 and post 1995 is that in pre-1995 a selection of the actual original records was made to show people. People were given the full story but it was a matter of whether, in fact, quite frankly it comes back to our insurance issues that we turned up, whether we could open the full file to them. We decided, at some risk, in 1995, that they would be able to physically sit down, turn the pages and go through the file. There is also a practical logistic point prior to the war when all the information was in ledgers so there was a difficulty about them seeing their own records as distinct from other people. The 1995 change was about seeing the original documentation, it was not about access to the information.253 Mr Lovell?
(Mr Lovell) Yes, Chairman. I think we need to separate the two things. Last week, if you remember, Margaret Humphreys was critical of some sending agencies for sending papers and documents to former child migrants without any intermediary because of the impact that might have on them, I think she was right to do that. I think we must not confuse that consideration with that meaning that in some way we are refusing to let people have access to records, I think that is a very important point. In the Children's Society, if people contact us, first of all the first standard is they will get a response within seven days at the most and the second point is that we operate an open records policy. What an open records policy means is that the subject of that record has a right to come into the agency and to look at that record. Clearly there is an issue, we have to make a judgment about what is in that record and the circumstances of the inquirer, about whether or not there does need to be some counselling first. I think not to make that consideration would be irresponsible but, subject to that, an open records policy means that the subject of that record has a right to come into the agency and to see what is in their record, subject, as Roger has said, to the issue about third party information. If there is confidential third party information then obviously that is a consideration where, as Roger says, only with the permission of the third party would we disclose. But the Children's Society certainly reject any suggestion that we are anything other than totally open about access to records.254 How long have you had that policy?
(Mr Lovell) An open records policy in the Children's Society goes back at least a decade.
(Canon Fisher) Our various children's societies across the country all have their own policy and procedures but largely today they would have an open records policy, subject to the reservations that my colleagues have already made. In a number of those agencies that will be fairly recent, within the last five or six years, again following—I know there is not a comparison but in practice there is—post-adoption processes of availability of information to people to whom the information belongs. Our experience is that sometimes the expectations of a person looking at their file is that there is going to be a massive amount of information when, in fact, there is often very little. Sometimes that little bit of information can be written in quite judgmental terms that would not be acceptable today. So it is our practice always to monitor the giving of information so that an explanation can be given with it hands-on with the person enquiring. That is why, if the enquiry originates within England, a personal visit is made to the person making the enquiry. If the enquiry is from Australia, then we would deal through a third party there who would have counselling experience to enable the information to be handled in a properly sensitive way, with some explanation of the historical detail rather than simply a long listing of it. Out of the 1,150 approximately—there is a little question mark over the exact number of children we were responsible for sending—we have had primary enquiries from 343 over the years, which is a large proportion, over 25 per cent. Of those, only about 30 of those enquiries have come through the Child Migrants' Trust. So what I am suggesting is that 90 per cent. of the enquirers were happy to come to the sending agency and not go through any other.
(Ms Abrahams) We operate a policy of open access, too. We think it is important that any former child migrant has full access to their records but within the context of counselling interviews. So if somebody resident in Australia still today, for example, should contact us, what we would do would be just as the practice which has just been explained. We would link up with a local professional social worker so that they were able to go through the file with the person concerned.255 I have no objection to the idea of support but that is different from making a judgment about whether the person can cope.
(Ms Abrahams) We do not do that.
(Mrs McGrogan) Just picking up your point that some sending agencies were less than interested in the enquiries, certainly in Northern Ireland some of the sending agencies or institutions even today, when they look at the records they are very slim and hence their response could be deemed to be less than satisfactory. They do not have the facilities and services to handle the enquiries in a more proactive way; in other words, some of the information available could be pursued and further information got. That is a reasonable claim but it is more to do with the way the institutions are run today. We as an agency working alongside them try to encourage those referrals to be redirected, the information to be redirected that we can work on. Whatever information there is is always available.
—Audrey Wise: The father of Mr David Lorente, who has been mentioned already by one of the witnesses and who is the representative of Home Children Canada, appeared before the Committee on 20 May. Mr Lorente's father was a child migrant. Mr Lorente told the Committee: "I did not have any records of my father, his were burnt." Then we have Alan Gill who in his work has quoted the widow of a Fairbridge School principal, who in 1989 apparently said on camera: "When the school was husband got instructions from the Council in London to destroy all the records of the children who had been through his hands. This he did because he was given the orders. We never knew why they did that. They must have had a reason." That was published in Orphans of the Empire. Would anyone like to comment on that?
—Chairman: It is Mr Haynes really. This is specific to Fairbridge.

Audrey Wise
256 It is Mr Haynes really but Mr Lorente is general.
(Mr Haynes) May I catch up on three questions or would you rather I answered this specifically? I have been standing on the question of money —

257 This specific one. It is impossible for us to ask each of you to answer every question. We cannot do that. Could you answer this specific one because it does relate specifically to Fairbridge?
(Mr Haynes) In the case of the burnt records, we have one case in Adelaide where the manager on the closure of the school, not with instruction from Fairbridge UK nor, indeed, from Fairbridge Australia, of his own volition burnt documents. Apart from that, as far as Fairbridge practice is concerned, young people's birth certificates, copies of which were obtained in England and copies of which were sent to the Fairbridge farm schools, have always been, together with their personal files, available to them. We freely admit that our failure in this is providing counsel support that is required in that process when information is disclosed and that need is a significant point for the future that needs to be addressed and systems built in to make it work. The rules that govern personal files and access to them have been drawn up in conjunction with the Old Fairbridgian Associations, taking their wish into account as to what procedures and policies they would want. I also draw the Committee's attention to the adoption law and confidentiality aspects of it which were pertinent up to 1975, which have some bearing upon the whole business of disclosure and put a point in history, if you like, in statute terms as to how disclosure was handled. Personal files cannot be released under Fairbridge procedures to any other person than the former migrant themselves unless they agree to it. In the case of relatives searching family background and the migrant has died, only genealogical and medical information can be released for a period of ten years after the date of death. After that files may be released. The same rules apply in Australia and Canada, where we have extensive old associations. All other matters regarding the administration of Fairbridge are in the public domain and easily accessible and the records are held at the Battye Library, Perth, the Fairbridge Foundation, Sydney, the Archive Department in the University of British Columbia, the Tasmanian State Library and the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom, where it is in the public domain.

Dr Stoate
258 I would like to try and bring this back to the future, if you like, because I think that is the hinge of this and it really is a matter of trust. A lot of what I have heard today does seem, to be honest, to be complacency and I am not really happy that I have got the answers that I want to some of my questions, because we have heard evidence of good monitoring procedures; we have heard evidence of no falsification of records; we have heard that these former migrants have left the homes with money in their pockets. That simply does not square with the evidence we have been sent, both verbal and written evidence. We have heard of people being sent off on their way with two things, clothes and a penny in their pocket, no payment. I would like to ask the witnesses today, what evidence have they got, what numbers can they give us, of the number of former child migrants, for example, who still have no papers and certainly left care with no papers, the ones who turned to alcoholism and drink, the ones who have got really quite destroyed lives, the ones who have partnership failures, relationship failures and so on, because we are hearing evidence that a number of the old children have done wonderfully well, but the evidence we are getting is that a very significant number are alcoholic, are suffering from severe mental health problems, are destitute in a lot of ways, and certainly there is a high degree of suicides as well. That is not what we are getting. That is not the evidence we are hearing, and if we really are going to bridge this gap of trust to allow the former migrants really to feel that they have been listened to, we have to have some recognition of the fact that these are serious failures and if they are not addressed I do not see how the former migrants, first of all, will get access to the help they need or ever be able to trust anyone to give it to them. All I hear witnesses say is these complacent answers of no falsification. We know there has been falsification of records. We hear evidence of people going off with money. We know they went off with no money, and so on. I would like to know what evidence, what numbers you can actually address to the size of the problem, the alcoholism rate, the suicide rate, the number of former migrants who still do not have any papers? Those are the questions I would like to ask, Chairman.
(Mr Singleton) You put your points robustly and I will reply robustly, that if I have given the impression that I am at all complacent about the whole migration programme, then I have given a wholly wrong impression. It was barbaric; it was dreadful. We look back on it in our organisation with shock and horror. The best we can do is to look back on the records and try to understand some of the motivations that lay behind it. That is the best we can do, and the organisations have not kept records as government departments keep records to understand how policies get developed. They are there actually to do a task. So that is point number one. In relation to the actual statistical data that you are asking for, as far as Barnardo's is concerned, that is impossible for us to obtain from current records. People who were migrated as children have a choice. Do they come back to the organisation or do they not? Our submission lists the hundreds that over the last 12 years have come back, and given time, yes, we could go through those records and we can see what they told us about what their lifestyle was. We could ask them whether, in fact, what was said about the conditions in which they actually left Barnardo's squares with their experience, but we simply do not have that information now. That would be, I think, a fairly large task. What we can tell you is what the policies and the intentions were in so far as the records show them. What we cannot tell you is what happened actually on the ground at the other side of the earth in individual circumstances.
(Mr Lovell) Again I equally robustly echo Roger's point. If we are coming over as complacent then I would like to squash that. I am not complacent, like Roger I sat here last week and listened and I was as shaken as you and as shocked as you about it. I have not come here to defend child migration or what went on. I do not deny that there were cases of abuse. I am not denying those things, I am not complacent about those things. We accept the responsibility for the past in the organisation and the responsibility to look at what we are doing to try to do our best to heal that. I think if there is one issue that you might take up with us, and which I do accept, is how proactive we have been about some of this. I think we are becoming more proactive about it. Like Roger, I do not have statistics to say to you how many of the children we were involved in migrating have those kinds of problems. So the question is, why not and what might we do about it. In the last year a member of staff has gone out to Canada, where the bulk of the children were migrated to, to make contact with former child migrants and networks out there to pick up that valuable information about what has happened to child migrants in adulthood and what are their wishes and to bring that information back and to look at what we might do to proactively develop the kind of services that would be productive. We are not complacent. We need to be proactive. I accept we need to be proactive, not simply to sit in our agencies waiting for the referrals to come in. We need to be asking ourselves, and are asking ourselves, what can we do proactively to go out and meet some of these issues and to find out and explore. We have been doing things like trying not only to rely on our own records and our own archives, but have actually been looking at what records other agencies might hold, not only in this country but abroad, to extend our own data. So I think there is an issue about proactivity in the sending agencies which we are beginning to address but we are not complacent about it and we certainly do not defend some of the undoubted abuses that went on.
(Ms Abrahams) On the same point, I hope it is clear that we take this matter very seriously and I think one of the reasons why it is so important now is that the clock is ticking on and that the people concerned are getting no younger and every day is of great importance. I do not see why we cannot sort this out within a year personally, if there is the political will to do so and if all the relevant agencies get together and really listen to the views of former child migrants.

Ann Keen
259 Could I ask generally now to all of you: are there any obstacles to the creation of a centralised, comprehensive database? Why have no resources been allocated for this project, and what resources would each agency require to develop a database and to make their statistical contribution available?
(Canon Fisher) We have had a database available since 1994, having trawled all the shipping records and any records that we had access to in our agencies, and it is fairly comprehensive. This is where the numbers game again gets exaggerated. I think the Child Migrants' Trust hold about 10,000, the Department of Health refers to possibly 7,000. We can only find 3,000 in the public records, so I think we have trawled very carefully in that. I would hope that we do not sound complacent. We have taken it very seriously since this matter was raised. We were pre-1992 dealing with enquiries as they came on a one-for-one basis and up to that time had had about 30 enquiries. Since then we have set up a child migrant sub-committee of the Catholic Child Welfare Council and developed a database. We have had full co-operation in Australia in providing services there, partly through the Christian Brothers, who have spent £1 2million of what they call the Christian Brothers Ex-Residents' Association, where anybody can go who has been a former resident; Nazareth House Sisters throughout the country have spent £1 4million supporting re-unions back here in England. There is a child migrant centre in Perth funded by the Diocese of Perth and the Christian Brothers jointly, which provides a social worker there to help in counselling with records that we might send over there.

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