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All Newsletters : June 2001 : A Welcome Change In Attitude

A Welcome Change In Attitude
A Message from C-BERSS Chairperson Maria Harries

It is sometimes said that it takes two generations to change firmly entrenched attitudes.

Two generations ago, policy makers thought there was nothing wrong or damaging in the practice of uprooting small children from their families and shipping them off to foreign lands and cultures.
Nor, over many decades were they prepared to recognise the long term harm that emotional deprivation, physical hardship and often abuse would wreak in the lives of those children as they grew into adults.
Over the past decade, those attitudes have begun to shift, starting first at the community level with the establishment of support organisations and self help groups, and extending out to encompass more broadly based social institutions and the community as a whole.

In July 1993, the Christian Brothers took the initiative when the Order issued a public apology to all those who suffered abuse while resident at any of their child care institutions. The apology was published in both the West Australian newspaper and in the Weekend Australian. C-BERS started 18 months later in January 1995.

Over the past few years alone, this long-overdue momentum of attitudinal change has gathered pace.

In 1999, the British House of Commons conducted an Inquiry into the Welfare of former British Child Migrants to which the British Government responded with practical measures to help heal the wounds of the past.
In the same year, the Irish Government apologised for the wrongs that were done to children who, in previous generations, lived in institutional care for which it was responsible and committed significant funding for the provision of services and supports.
Late last year, the Australian Senate announced an inquiry into the role and responsibility of Australian Governments in relation to child migration schemes practiced during the 20th Century including consideration of whether a formal apology and compensation may be called for. With hearings in the United Kingdom and around Australia (including Perth) now concluded, the Senate Committee is preparing its report due for release on 30 August 2001. (C-BERS also made a written submission to the Inquiry on behalf of our clients).
Also this year, the Catholic Church issued an apology to former child migrants (a copy of which is included with this newsletter).

For all those who have lived with the consequences of child migration for the past two generations, these developments hold out the promise of a brighter future. The first stage of the healing process has been to validate the harsh reality of the personal experiences many were forced to endure.
The practices of the past were wrong and inhumane and must be recognised as such. Those who developed and implemented child migration schemes must accept responsibility for their part in the damage that ensued. And finally, the consequences of child migration practices must be addressed with practical measures that will support healing. From there we can all move forward.
At the start of the 21st Century, we are closer to achieving these outcomes than ever before.
The change in attitudes which make this possible has been a long time coming. Its progress has been greatly hastened by the courage of former child migrants who have been prepared to share the pain of their private lives publicly and the determination of all those who have campaigned so passionately to right the wrongs of the past.
For those of us who work in this area we thank you all for your courage and your determination.

Maria Harries


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