What to consider when caring for someone from the Stolen Generations

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NATSIAACC is currently helping form a new definition and framework of culturally safe care to be included in the next Aged Care Act. [Source: NITV]

Key points:

  • Since colonisation, numerous Government laws, policies and practices saw the forced removal of generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families and communities across Australia. This was carried out by Governments, churches and welfare bodies to be raised in institutions, fostered out or adopted by non-Indigenous families, nationally and internationally from 1910-1970.
  • Culturally safe care is described as the “effective nursing practice of a person or family from another culture and is determined by that person or family. Unsafe cultural practice comprises any action which diminishes, demeans or disempowers the cultural identity and wellbeing of an individual”
  • The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ageing and Aged Care Council (NATSIAACC)’s role is to support Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander older people, their families and communities to lead reform and embed culturally safe practices across the ageing and aged care sector

This year, the last group of Stolen Generations survivors, also known as Forgotten Australians or care leavers, became eligible for aged care services but their history of institutionalisation poses a unique set of requirements from aged care providers and carers.

NATSIAACC is currently helping form a new definition and framework of culturally safe care to be included in the next Aged Care Act. Part of that is educating providers and carers about the impacts of the Stolen Generations policies and how they affect the aged care experience for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders and older people. 

Research from aged care provider Helping Hand confirmed care leavers who enter residential aged care facilities can experience uncomfortable feelings and triggers resurfacing from the harsh abuse, degradation and racism they experienced in institutional care as children. With this in mind, as carers, it is important to know how to approach caregiving in these situations. 

NATSIAACC Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and proud Murruwarri woman, Lisa Orcher, has older parents living remotely on Goodooga country and like many, worries about them accessing aged care – having heard and seen the impacts of the treatment her grandfathers experienced at the infamous Kinchela Boys Home in their youth. 

“The Royal Commission into Aged Care’s verdict on care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people showed quote: ‘social and economic disadvantage, a lack of cultural safety and an ongoing impact of colonisation and prolonged discrimination’,” Ms Orcher said at last week’s 2023 Aged & Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA) National Conference in Adelaide. 

Understanding trauma and triggers

The trauma experienced by Stolen Generations Elders and older people continues to affect them, their families and communities to this day – particularly for those with dementia who experience flashbacks.

There is enormous diversity among Stolen Generations survivors and the Aged Care Quality Standards demand client dignity and choice, meaning they have the right to outline what quality and culturally safe care means for them.

During her presentation, Ms Orcher showed this video from NATSIAACC member the Tangentyere Council in Northern Territory which outlines how they tailor aged care services to the needs of their clients. [Source: Vimeo]

“Aboriginal people of the same age will remember hiding in a room under the house or swimming across the river to escape the Government worker who took away their friends or siblings. These are the childhood contexts for some of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander older people needing care,” Ms Orcher said. 

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Lisa Orcher giving a talk in Melbourne. [Source: Facebook]

Triggers are very personal, can occur at any time and even trauma survivors often don’t know what will trigger them.

Common triggers for Stolen Generations survivors include:

  • Clinical settings that look like a dormitory or institution they were placed in as a child
  • A tone of voice, such as a person projecting authority or speaking loudly
  • A look on someone’s face or a gesture
  • Any situation that brings back feelings of the lack of control they experienced when they were taken from their families

Taking care while you care 

There are several things to consider when caring for a Stolen Generations Survivor, particularly the role of their family. 

Ms Ocher stressed the need for flexibility when providing care services to provide culturally safe aged care to this demographic.

“You need to think in terms of a holistic model of care and family is integral to that,” said Ms Ocher.

If you are a carer for someone from the Stolen Generations, consider:

The role of family

Family is at the centre of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. It is vital families are included and are part of the process regarding their loved one’s care. 

When an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander older person has died, “Sorry Business” is an important time of mourning that involves responsibilities and obligations from family members to attend funerals and participate in other cultural events, activities or ceremonies with the community. You may have clients who want to participate in these activities, but there will be family-orientated occurrences that will happen in the event of your client’s passing. It is important you do the best you can to facilitate these requests.

A client’s traumas

No matter how pleasant or friendly a facility may appear, the memory of a survivor’s helplessness in the face of ill-treatment is likely to provoke resistance, terror and claims they are being bullied. 

Children in institutions were generally told that they would not be believed if they spoke about their abuse, so it is important to allow them to disclose information at their own pace. Work with them and their families to educate yourself and other staff on their traumas, include them in the decision-making process and be responsive to their needs. 

Your approach as a carer

As a carer, it is important to stop and think about how Stolen Generations survivors may view you and your actions. 

As previously mentioned, Stolen Generations survivors struggle with authority and can react with anger or fear. It is important to understand that the feeling of helplessness in the face of power is very long-standing and deep so approach clients with respect, support, patience and understanding. It is very important to allow the survivor to keep control, including over the pace of disclosure.

A client may have a lasting fear of physical contact or have gender issues based on what caretakers they had and what was done to them as children. If a client is reacting poorly to you because of your gender, don’t take it personally. Instead, offer the help of a carer of a different gender. 

Inclusion

To provide culturally safe care, it is important to include and consider Stolen Generations survivors and their families in the design of programs aimed at assisting them to respect, reassure and not re-victimise them.

Group work can assist some survivors to combat isolation and the feeling that their own truth is too painful and shameful to reveal. Others, of course, prefer one-to-one interaction with a person they trust, but it is important to consider the individual needs of these clients. 

Because of their neglected education, many survivors still cannot read, write or do basic sums which often evokes feelings of shame that prevent them from seeking treatment or assistance. This is a consideration for not only general care staff but also Lifestyle Coordinators who put together activities that can be engaged with by all. It is important to make information available in other forms outside of print. As the carer, you are in a position to relay this information to your management and ensure the right materials are provided to your clients. 

Looking to the future 

In 2017, the Aged Care Diversity Framework was established to set out the actions we can take to make sure aged care services meet the needs of people from diverse backgrounds, including Stolen Generations survivors. It sees a role for the Australian Government, peak organisations, representative groups, service providers, consumers and carers.

The framework outlines the common reasons why some people cannot access the aged care they need and how we can remove these barriers. 

NATSIAACC is also in the process of setting up a First Nations reference group to better hear the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who receive aged care and would like to share NATSIAACC’s vision and also be able to advocate to the Health and Aged Care Department.

For more information, access the Aged Care Diversity Framework via the Health and Aged Care Department’s website here or the NATSIAACC website here

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  1. Great to see. I also hope they are including all other “stolen generations “ of Australia. Eg the children born out of wedlock that were forcibly taken from their mothers at birth.
    As a woman with indigenous heritage, I would like to believe we are all inclusive, and not being divided by race.

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