Greater care needed for ageing Forgotten Australians

Safer and more inclusive aged care for the more than 500,000 ageing Forgotten Australians – people who were placed in institutional or out-of-home care as children – is the focus of a new Flinders University study offering recommendations for aged care providers.

Having been affected by institutional care in their youth, a generation of ageing Forgotten Australians, which includes 150,000 South Australians, deserve more personalised aged care that will make these vulnerable people feel safer, according to Flinders University’s Dr Monica Cations.

“Thanks to ongoing advocacy from the Forgotten Australians we know that their childhood experiences in orphanages, missions or homes run by Government, charities, religious groups and other organisations, were marked by neglect, abuse and human rights violations,” says Dr Cations, lead author of the collaborative research study.

Returning to institutionalised care facilities later in life can therefore be re-traumatising, which is why Dr Cations led a research team working in partnership with Helping Hand Aged Care and the Alliance for Forgotten Australians, to better understand the expectations and needs of older Forgotten Australians/Care Leavers who may need or wish to access aged care services.

The researchers found that common aged care practices can be insensitive to the needs and preferences of Forgotten Australians, so recommendations in the published study – Safe and Inclusive Aged Care for Forgotten Australians/Care Leavers – include implementing elements of trauma-informed care, such as routine screening for a trauma history and providing choices and flexibility to meet trauma-related needs.

“Repeatedly disclosing details of traumatic experiences can be very distressing,” says Dr Cations. “Therefore, with consent and where appropriate, we should maximise information sharing between services (including hospitals, assessment services, and aged care providers) to reduce the need for repeated disclosure.”

Primary considerations are making certain that all people working in the aged care sector are aware of the common childhood experiences of Forgotten Australians.

Other recommendations include training all aged care staff to use more sensitive, inclusive language, understanding that traumatic reactions can be easily triggered within a care institution.

Such awareness of language includes renaming aged care facilities or units within facilities that have the same names as former orphanages, missions, institutions, or children’s homes.

The research team that developed these evidence-based recommendations for aged care providers, included Allison Smyth as an expert advisor – a Forgotten Australian and national board member for the Alliance for Forgotten Australians.

“The research is vital to us because, having been abandoned as children to live in an institution with strangers, facing institutional care once again as aged people is terrifying,” says Ms Smyth.

“This project identifies the commonality of emotions experienced by Forgotten Australians and develop new models of care and education for a caring, trustworthy workforce, to allow us to maintain equilibrium.”

Dr Cations says the research team conducted in-depth interviews with older Forgotten Australians, their families and friends. “We wanted to understand their experiences and expectations about aged care, and how their experience of institutional care as a child may impact this,” says Dr Cations.

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College of Education, Psychology and Social Work Research