AT 55, Peter still struggles to deal with being repeatedly sexually abused by a dormitory supervisor at the Box Hill Boys’ Home as an 11-year-old.
After enduring an adult life of broken marriages and substance abuse, but little counselling, Peter admits he has “hid [the abuse] deep away”.
Along the way, he’s “stumbled” in and out of employment, lived in cars and public housing, and battled depression and social isolation.
“For abuses, it’s more the psychological impact than the actual act that you have to come to terms with,” he says.
“Then people say anyone who’s abused will abuse other children, but that’s not necessarily the case. That’s a terrible burden to live with.”
Melbourne-based agency VANISH provides services, including access to counselling and support groups, for 461 care leavers. Between March last year and March 2008, the agency assisted members with support and information on 5563 occasions.
Senior care leaver worker Caroline, a former care leaver herself, said the State Government funded long-term counselling for care leavers, but the issue needed to be “taken seriously”.
“It’s no good us giving counselling if there is no food in their bellies, no roof over their head.
“The barriers have to be addressed.”
The next stage was to educate the community on the issue. People generally had “no understanding at all” because the “forgotten Australians” had only recently started to assert themselves.
“We didn’t talk about it.
“We did everything to hide it. We were ashamed so we didn’t talk about it,” Caroline said. “It’s been a struggle since the day they were born.”
A spokesman for the Salvation Army, which owned the now-closed Box Hill Boys Home, said claims, enquiries and requests had been received from care leavers.
“We encourage those affected to come forward directly to us.”
In 2006, the Salvation Army made a public apology that it was deeply regretful of incidents of abuse perpetrated by its staff on children in its care from the 1940s to the ’70s.
The same year, the State Government also apologised to all Victorian children who suffered abuse or neglect in institutional care.
Department of Human Services spokesman Cam Ward said the State Government examined all the Senate inquiry recommendations relating to its jurisdiction. Government responses included $7.1 million for a former care leaver service from early 2009 and $30,000 towards a memorial for care leavers.