Document Type


Publication details

Smith, Gregory P 2015, 'Nobody's children: an exploration into a sense of belonging of adults who experienced institutional out-of-home care as children', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright GP Smith 2015


In 2004 a Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee published a report that described the harsh conditions of institutional out-of-home care up to 1974, experienced by an estimated 500,000 Australian children, also known as ‘Forgotten Australians’. Because of issues of abuse and neglect, the Commonwealth Government identified this cohort on November 16, 2009 as a vulnerable group with ‘special needs’ in their senior years. A review of the literature exposed significant gaps in what is known about the Forgotten Australians. One of these gaps is a lack of discussion on a sense of belonging and its effects in later life. The aim of this study was to explore how individuals who lived in institutional out-of-home child care in Australia before 1974 experienced, during adult years, a sense of belonging in relationships with significant others, and in relation to community and a sense of self.

Using hermeneutical phenomenology, this research was designed to explore participants’ narrated experiences by drawing on theoretical and methodological approaches that facilitate the expression of subjective experiences. Research methods included semi-structured interviews conducted with 21 participants in all states and territories of Australia between January 2012 and April 2012. Key findings included experiences of stigma and shame as well as not feeling part of, or belonging to communities or societal groups. For many, a sense of not belonging has impacted on how they see themselves in relation to community and others in later life. Several participants spoke of having stable places to live; however they also spoke of feelings of discomfort and of being disconnected from the communities in which they resided.

The conclusion of this research was that most participants belonged to one of two distinct orientations. In the first group, members continued to have challenges with how they viewed themselves and connected to community. The second group contained those who have overcome the negative view of their sense of self; even though they continued to have challenges connecting to community. Finally, there was one outlier who never felt that his experiences in institutional care affected the way he viewed himself or how he connected to community. The findings highlight the need for further research so that services and education programs can be developed to assist Forgotten Australians integrating into social networks as they age.