Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
19 Jun 2012
In June last year the Federal Government gave a $3 million grant to the eight-member team from ACU and the University of Melbourne to develop the web resource as the first phase of the commitment the Government made at the 2009 National Apology to the 500,000-plus Forgotten Australians, child migrants and members of the Stolen Generation, many of whom suffered terrible abuse and neglect throughout the twentieth century while in out-of-home care.
The idea of a Find & Connect national web resource was not only to provide an archival database to help those children who had been taken from their parents as youngsters discover their personal and family histories and hopefully be reunited with their parents, siblings or extended families, but to put them in touch with professional counselling support services.
Despite most of the members of the two universities involved in the project having worked as historians and child welfare over a number of years, the Find & Connect web resource initiative was ambitious. But by November last year, the website and a wide range of resources and archival data was up and running and online.
"We thought it might take three years to get traction but hoped as word spread this would gradually change," admits Dr Cathy Humphreys, Professor of Social Work at the University of Melbourne who is a member of the Find & Connect project.
However in the first six months on-line, 57,522 have visited the website. There have also been 378,875 page views and visitors but these are expected to double by the end of the year.
"This is way beyond our expectations," says Dr Humphreys who describes everyone on the team as "very excited by the response."
"We have a form people can fill in that can steer us into other directions. At the moment we have lots of bits and pieces but it is those using the site that are helping us pull it all together. Someone may suggest we look further in a certain direction or give us a useful entry we didn't know about, that leads to other key records and historical details," she says.
Increased awareness about the Forgotten Children and UK child migrants has also helped, she says and cites 2010 British film, "Oranges and Sunshine" about the Nottingham social worker, Margaret Humphrey who exposed the UK's shocking policy of child migration in the 1980s.
From 1938 onwards, children some of whom were just three years old, were taken from their mothers and fathers, often without the parent's consent or even knowledge, and shipped half a world away to Australia. Reasons for this practice which saw children from 3 to 14 brought up far from their families and homeland in often brutal abusive institutions where they were used as cheap farm and domestic labour were largely based on the pre-World War II idea of filling a sparsely- populated Australia with "good white British stock."
It was the same with the Forgotten Children, Professor Humphreys says of the hundreds of thousands of youngsters forced into bleak grim institutional care in orphanages, foster care or as wards of the state throughout the previous century, and who like the British Child Migrants grew up with no idea of who they were and with no knowledge of their families, and often no idea of what it was like to be loved.
"Many of their stories are heartbreaking and tragic and we need to be able to help them debrief by talking over what happened to them, what they saw and what they experienced," says Professor Humphreys says.
Although there have been several organisations established to help Child Migrants and the Forgotten Children, including the Child Migrant Trust founded by social worker, Margaret Humphreys' in 1987, she says federal funding has enabled each state to bring all the different resources and elements, build on what support services are already available to create even better services.
The technology has been developed by Gavin McCarthy at eScholarship Research Centre at the University of Melbourne and leads the world in heritage record management and archival data bases.
"I have been to overseas conferences recently in the UK and the US where everyone has been very impressed as the technology isn't yet available internationally," Professor Humphreys explains.
The technology enables Find & Connect to be easily expanded and updated and is simple for visitors to the site to navigate whether they are hunting for birth records, old photographs or archives from orphanages run by the State as well as Anglican, Catholic and other Church institutions.
Each week the website and its resources continues to grow. But already the impact of Find & Connect has been profound and has managed to reunite some former Child Migrants or Forgotten Children with their families and siblings, as well as with one another.
The Find and Connect website is at http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/
SHARED FROM ARCHDIOCESE OF SYDNEY