For many children, being in 'care' meant being separated not only from parents, but also from their brothers and sisters. In the 1960s, it was reported that over 60 per cent of children in care had been separated from their siblings, and up to one third were unable to see each other after separation. Being separated from siblings caused emotional distress for children. The reasons for siblings being separated in placements were largely organisational. Many institutions only accommodated children of one sex, and even those with girls and boys kept the sexes separate as much as possible. Some institutions only took children of a particular age, such as toddlers' homes, children's homes or babies' homes. Also, siblings can be separated due to a lack of vacancies with a particular 'care' provider.
In 1963, Tierney reported that in 60 per cent of cases in Victoria, siblings were separated and placed in two or more institutions. Up to one third of children in care were unable to see each other after separation.
Many adults searching for their records about their time in 'care' as children wish to find and reconnect with siblings from whom they were separated.
The reasons for siblings being separated in placements were largely organisational. Many institutions only accommodated children of one sex, and even those with girls and boys kept the sexes separate as much as possible (for example, with girls and boys in separate dormitories). Some siblings became separated because institutions only took children of a particular age, such as toddlers' homes, children's homes or babies' homes. Siblings could become separated due to a lack of vacancies with a particular 'care' provider.
In the 1870s, the Inspector of Charities acknowledged the emotional impact of children being separated from siblings. Barnard writes that the Inspector felt that it was hardest on the younger boys in all-male orphanages, 'without the maternal care of the Sisters or even female siblings. Though they seemed happy, he felt it was a shame that they were growing up without "female influence and oversight". "Big boys are but rough companions for infants", he commented'.
The emotional distress of being separated from siblings had long been acknowledged by many 'care' providers. From the middle of the twentieth century, greater efforts were made to keep siblings together. For example, the Andrew Kerr Memorial Home was renovated in the mid 1950s, creating extra room so that siblings could be accommodated. Other institutions that were formerly for one sex changed their admission policies and their names - becoming known as homes 'for children' or homes 'for boys and girls'.
Family separation was also impeded by the poor recordkeeping practices of the government and institutions. Tierney found that few institutions had any knowledge of a child's parents' circumstances after the child came into 'care'. The state government child welfare department did not keep detailed records about a child's family, leading to 'information gaps', which in turn could lead to siblings losing contact with each other.
In the 1960s and 1970s, staff at St Augustine's and St Catherine's homes took the initiative and followed up the case histories of children in their 'care'. In many cases this resulted in the re-establishment of contact between children and their families. Sometimes, after the family's circumstances had been assessed, the child was 'released' back into the family home.
The Forgotten Australians report remarked that separating siblings was a common practice. Often little effort was made to keep children informed about the whereabouts of siblings, with the result that siblings 'drifted apart'. Sometimes, siblings were not even told that they were related. One submission to the inquiry expresses the pain of being separated from family members:
Our entire family was ripped apart and we can never get back together. They split me away from my 1-week old brother and we never knew each other until we were old. I had cousins in St Aidans and the nuns never told me. I never knew my family. How can you get back together when you don't know each other?
Sources used to compile this entry: 'Submission no 264', in Inquiry Into Institutional Care: Submissions received as at 17/03/05, Commonwealth of Australia, 18 October 2003, http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completed_inquiries/2004-07/inst_care/submissions/sublist; Barnard, Jill; Twigg, Karen, Holding on to Hope: a history of the founding agencies of MacKillop Family Services 1854-1997, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2004; Barnard, Jill, '"A Secure Safeguard of the Children's Morals": Catholic Child Welfare in Nineteenth-Century Victoria', in Provenance, September 2005, https://www.prov.vic.gov.au/explore-collection/provenance-journal/provenance-2005/secure-safeguard-childrens-morals; Senate Community Affairs References Committee Secretariat, Parliament of Australia, Forgotten Australians: A report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children, Commonwealth of Australia, 2004, http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completed_inquiries/2004-07/inst_care/report/index; Tierney, Leonard, Children Who Need Help, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1963.
Prepared by: Cate O'Neill
Created: 2 October 2009, Last modified: 20 February 2015