About Bringing Them Home

Bringing them Home was the name given to the final report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families conducted by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (now called the Australian Human Rights Commission).

The National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families was established by the Attorney General in 1995. Over two years, the National Inquiry took oral and written testimony from over five hundred Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia, as well as from Indigenous organisations, foster parents, State and Territory Government representatives, church representatives, other non-government agencies, former mission and government employees and individual members of the community. The 689 page final report, tabled in Parliament on 27 May 1997, includes many of these personal testimonies as well as 54 recommendations to support healing and reconciliation for the Stolen Generations, their families and the Australian public more broadly.

A Landmark Report

The calling of the National Inquiry, and the release of the Bringing them Home report, raised the awareness of the Australian public of the historical policies of forced removal, as well as the ongoing impacts. The response of many Australians was shock and horror. While the government was slow to respond to the report, the public was not. As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Dodson said a few weeks after the report was released:

In the last weeks we have seen a most extraordinary turn of events. Day after day and now week after week the newspapers and airwaves have been jammed with talk about our families and children. Day after day the letters pages a filled with the reactions of ordinary Australians, horrified at the truths they never knew. Never before have so many Australians turned their attention to our families. Never before has Australia really known or cared about our children. Children taken from the arms of their mothers. Taken from their cultures.[1]

For many of the people removed from their families as children, the National Inquiry provided the first chance to tell their stories, and have their pain publically acknowledged. In particular, many spoke of the significance of having their stories heard by an official government body. For many people, the act of telling their stories was an important step in their healing journey.

A Lasting Impact

The present plight, in terms of health, employment, education, living conditions and self-esteem, of so many Aborigines must be acknowledged as largely flowing from what happened in the past. The dispossession, the destruction of hunting fields and the devastation of lives were all related. The new diseases, the alcohol and the new pressures of living were all introduced. True acknowledgment cannot stop short of recognition of the extent to which present disadvantage flows from past injustice and oppression ... Sir William Deane, Governor-General of Australia in his submission to the National Inquiry)[2]

Though it has been twenty years since the report was published, Bringing them Home remains significant today. Many of the report's recommendations have not yet been implemented, members of the Stolen Generations and their families continue to be affected by the trauma caused by forced removal and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are still removed from their families at a very high rate.

The traumatic experiences of being forcibly removed from their families, remain with many members of the Stolen Generations: "Most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been affected by the Stolen Generations. The resulting trauma has been passed down to children and grandchildren, contributing to many of the issues faced in Indigenous communities, including family violence, substance abuse and self harm.[3]" These lasting impacts were well documented by the National Inquiry, as were the affects on parenting: "Most forcibly removed children were denied the experience of being parented or at least cared for by a person to whom they were attached. This is the very experience people rely on to become effective and successful parents themselves.[4]"

These lasting impacts affect future generations as well. "Trauma can be transferred from the first generation of survivors that have experienced (or witnessed) it directly in the past to the second and further generations of descendants of the survivors."[5] This is referred to as intergenerational trauma and is particularly well-documented in post-war communities. However, the National Inquiry found that intergenerational trauma clearly affects the Stolen Generations as well: "The Inquiry received evidence that unresolved grief and trauma are also inherited by subsequent generations. Parents 'convey anxiety and distress' to their children.[6]"

The Current Situation

Despite concerted efforts to reduce the number of Indigenous children in out-of-home care over the past 20 years, the likelihood of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children being removed from their families has increased since Bringing them Home was released. In 1997, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children accounted for 20 percent of children living in out-of-home care. Twenty years later, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that Indigenous children make up 35 percent of children living in out-of-home care.[7] Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are also 10 times more likely to be placed in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children.[8] Though every state and territory has adopted the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle (a key recommendation of the report), in 2016 only 66 percent of Indigenous children were placed in out-of-home care in accordance with the principle.[9]

While there are undoubtedly circumstances where children need to be removed from their families, greater efforts are required to empower and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to break free from the cycle that brings them into contact with child protection authorities in the first place. This includes learning more about the intergenerational impact of past policies of removal on our children.

Moving Forward: Bringing Them Home 20 Years On

Bringing Them Home report cover

In May 2017, on the 20th anniversary of the Bringing them Home report, the Healing Foundation released 'Bringing Them Home 20 years on: an action plan for healing'. This report sets out a plan to help reduce the impact of trauma, with a focus on four key priorities:

  • Conduct a comprehensive needs analysis to inform the delivery of more effective services for Stolen Generations members
  • Establish a national scheme for reparations to ensure equal access to financial redress and culturally appropriate healing services,
  • Co-ordinate compulsory training around Stolen Generations trauma so that the organisations working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are better equipped to provide effective and appropriate services.
  • Initiate a comprehensive study of intergenerational trauma and how to tackle it.
  1. ^ Michael Dodson, 'An Indigenous home for Indigenous Children' (Speech delivered at the SNAICC National Conference, Townsville, June 1997).
  2. ^ Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Bringing them Home: National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families (1997) 3.
  3. ^ Healing Foundation, Bringing them Home 20 Years On (2017) 4.
  4. ^ Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Bringing them Home: National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families (1997) 222.
  5. ^ Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and Australian Institute of Family Studies, 'Trauma-informed services and trauma-specific care for Indigenous Australian children' Resource sheet no. 21 (July 2013) 5.
  6. ^ Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Bringing them Home: National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families (1997) 228.
  7. ^ Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 'Child protection Australia 2014-15' Child Welfare Series No. 63 (2016) 48, 53. 
  8. ^ Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 'Child protection Australia 2015-2016' Child Welfare Series No. 66 (2017) 51-52.
  9. ^ Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 'Child protection Australia 2015-2016' Child Welfare Series No. 66 (2017) 53.