New guide to help the 'forgotten Australians' and former child migrants access NSW care records

By Stephen Easton

July 9, 2019

Girls at Melbourne Orphanage, Brighton. Image: State Library of Victoria

People who spent time in institutional or foster care as children are entitled to access the relevant historical records, and a new guide from the New South Wales Information and Privacy Commission aims to make the process quicker and easier.

The new access guideline is designed to help people successfully apply for such records to be released by explaining what they should include in their application. It should also “aid public interest decision making by agencies” by making it easier for them to approve the release, the commission said.

The guide was particularly made for people who were in foster care, children’s homes and government or privately run orphanages “in the previous century” as well as people who arrived as child migrants, but applies equally to more recent records.

Elizabeth Tydd

NSW information commissioner Elizabeth Tydd said in a statement:

“Strong moves have been taken in Australia in recent years to ensure that former care leavers have effective access to the historical records relating to their time in institutional care.

“Improved access, underpinned by clearer guidance, is widely supported within Australian governments and the community. This objective accords with the importance we place on transparency in government and the human services sector.

“The principal focus of this guideline is upon access to historical out-of-home care records.

“These are records relating to children or young people who were in some form of State care in the past, for example, they were wards of the State. However, the same considerations apply to access to contemporary records relating to children in out-of-home care.

“The Guideline is directed to the public interest considerations that support access being granted to institutional care records as fully and efficiently as possible.”

The IPC said on one estimate there were records held by government and non-government organisations of about half a million people who grew up in orphanages and similar institutions during the 20th century.

“Their experience – and their plight – was recognised in the Australian Government’s National Apology to Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants in 2009, in the Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2017 … and in numerous other Parliamentary, government and non-government studies and programs,” the commission’s statement noted.

In the NSW government, a lot of files are held by the Department of Communities and Justice, the office of the state Trustee and Guardian, the police and the Department of Education.

The IPC said these records might reveal all sorts of important information from a range of interesting sources including new personal details and health information, as well as facts about the organisations, arrangements, other people and professionals involved in their time in care.

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