The urgent need for intergenerational healing for Stolen Generations survivors

Devils Marbles at sunset. Northern Territory, Australia
  • Published Date: 05 July 2021

Stolen Generations survivors have had their trauma acknowledged and apologies have been made. Despite this, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continue to be overrepresented in out-of-home care, causing additional trauma for these families and communities.

As part of ANZSOG’s support for the Analysis & Policy Observatory’s First Peoples & Public Policy Collection, we are running a series of articles highlighting items from the collection with relevance to contemporary policy issues. Carissa Lee Godwin, Editor of the Collection, looks at Make Healing Happen, the latest report from The Healing Foundation.

The Healing Foundation is an organisation that provides a platform for the voices and experiences of Stolen Generations survivors. Their latest report provides in-depth insight into the experiences of Stolen Generations survivors and the extent and complexity of their contemporary needs as they grow older. It presents demographic data about where Stolen Generations survivors and their families live and considers the impact of forced removal on their descendants.

To inform this report, the Healing Foundation commissioned two pieces of research. Qualitative analysis was conducted of publications that documented the contemporary experiences of Stolen Generations survivors since 2007 (comprising the second part of this report). This was complemented by statistical analyses by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) of Stolen Generations survivors and their families. Although it is possible to estimate current numbers of Stolen Generations survivors, Make Healing Happen confirms that the exact numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children forcibly removed from their families will never be known.

Key findings

In 2018-19 there were an estimated 33,600 Stolen Generations survivors nationally, with about one-in-five of all living Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples born before 1972 having been removed from their families. In Western Australia, a third of the surviving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population born before 1972 were removed as children. Nationally, more than one third of adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are descended from the Stolen Generations. Make Healing Happen also found the following.

  1. To date there has been no systematic, nation-wide response to the needs and rights of Stolen Generations survivors and their descendants. There is a need for national leadership to address the needs of survivors and their descendants.
  2. Stolen Generations survivors have various complex needs and carry a legacy of social and economic disadvantage. Despite survivors having significant health and wellbeing needs, they often lack access to appropriate services, including those addressing their needs as they age. 
  3. Reparations for stolen wages are inextricably linked to those for the Stolen Generations and have been explored through a variety of means such as class actions and State-led reparations schemes. 

Key recommendations

As Stolen Generations survivors have requested, and the Bringing them Home report states, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must be able to exercise self-determination in relation to policies and decisions that affect them. This means working in active collaboration when services and policies are being determined. The report also identified the need for reparations for Stolen Generations survivors as urgent and crucial in all the reviewed documents that discussed the issue. 

The report identifies three urgent action areas:

  1. Reparations to be made for Stolen Generations survivors and their families through the establishment of a national scheme.
  2. Delivering services such as aged care, disability, health and housing, in ways that meet the needs of Stolen Generations survivors.
  3. The need for culturally-safe ways of healing intergenerational trauma, and the prevention of further harm for survivors, their families and their communities.

Benefits

Healing is fundamental to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples reaching their full personal, cultural, social, educational and economic potential, as well as restoring wellbeing, culture, strength of spirit, and family connections. Effective ways to support healing include facilitating reconnections with respective cultures, restoring safe and enduring relationships, and supporting communities to create and lead change in a self-determined way. The Healing Foundation has found that practices such as Yarning Circles have been beneficial to Stolen Generations survivors.

The report also calls attention to urgent matters such as Stolen Generations survivors aged 50 and over requiring additional support in health and aged care services. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need to consistently be involved in the development of policies and decisions that affect them and their communities.

However, it can’t be ignored that the best way for Stolen Generations survivors, and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families to heal, is to learn from the past and keep their children safe with family. Importantly, the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care and juvenile detention needs to be addressed, avoiding further trauma for generations to come.