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The inquiry followed the committee’s investigation into child migrants and a Human Rights Commission report into the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families and placement in institutions. Some care leavers, or the 'forgotten Australians' as the committee called them, reported experiencing similar neglect and abuse, including arbitrary and brutal punishments and a lack of food, medical care or even a basic education.

In response to the committee’s August 2004 report, funding was provided to help care leavers reconnect with family, access counselling and tell their stories. In 2009 Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a national apology and in 2012 the first National Children’s Commissioner was appointed to protect the rights of children in Australia.

Mounting evidence about the treatment of children in institutional care led to the establishment that same year of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The Commission’s 2018 report included recommendations to better protect children against sexual abuse.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Parliament House, 16 November 2009, DPS Auspic

National Apology to the children in institutional care and former child migrants

On 16 November 2009, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd formally apologised on behalf of the nation to child migrants and the 500,000 Australian children placed in out-of-home care. Around 900 people who spent time in institutions and foster care travelled to Parliament House in Canberra to hear the apology. Both the Senate and House of Representatives passed motions in support of the apology. A number of community and religious organisations have issued apologies since the release of the Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians reports.

Four girls polishing the floor at Havilah Little Children’s Home, Wahroonga, NSW

Lack of self-worth

In personal stories provided to the committee, many care leavers spoke about being humiliated and derided by the people responsible for their care. The committee heard that as a result many care leavers continue to lack confidence and have low self-esteem.

‘I feel like I grew up as a worm, as I felt I was beneath everybody.’
Submission 367.

‘I was never shown any love at all you were just a number to them not even a name.’
Submission 198.

‘The emotional abuse I received was demeaning and humiliating, it undermined my confidence and self-worth. The continual taunting of being told that I was nothing and would amount to nothing, that I was stupid and that I would be just like my mother who came from the gutter.’
Submission 111.

Find out more

Audio—Claire Moore, committee member 2002-06, Interview with Anne Monsour in the Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants oral history project, 2012 (Excerpts below)

National Library of Australia TRC 6200/151.
Full interview available at

  • Children in institutional care inquiry: session 2, 00:02:57–00:04:49
  • Significance of the report: session 2, 00:12:23–00:14:42
  • The government apology: session 2, 00:14:43–00:16:26
  • Government response to the recommendations: session 2, 00:36:09–00:37:30
  • Importance of the parliamentary process: session 2, 00:48:31–00:49:18
  • Value of Senate committees: session 2, 01:20:01–01:20:54

Audio—Gary Humphries, Interview with Ann-Marie Jordens in the Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants oral history project, 2012 (Excerpts below)

National Library of Australia, TRC 6200/174.
Full interview available at

  • Children in institutional care inquiry: session 1, 00:25:53-00:28:06
  • Senate committee process: session 1, 00:45:48-00:46:50
  • Recommendations of the committee: session 1, 01:24:23-01:25:25


National Apology to the Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants: apology excerpt

Online exhibition—National Museum of Australia

Audio—National Library of Australia

Publication—National Library of Australia