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I would like to tell you about a University student who was given access to 100’000,s of thousands of state ward files.Kate Gaffney was granted access to these files as she was doing a thesis on institutionalisation.Kate Gaffney‘s thesis mainly pertained to Winlaton Girls Reformitory and why would’nt it seeing as Kate Gaffney‘s mother was supervisor of Winlaton.Nepotism at it’s best.Forgotten Australian’s have consistantly been told that no records or files are available as they got lost in the passage of time.I emailed DHS complaints to vent my disgust and they informed me that the privacy act was changed in the year 2000 and as kate gaffney‘s request was granted in the late nineties there was nothing they or anyone can do about it.I have copies of that thesis and also electronic correspondance with KateGaffney stating who give her permission and actually acknowledging being granted permission.You could imagine the angst this has caused to 500’000 former statewards.We have a Royal Commission currently underway yet this privacy issue has been swept under the carpet. I would have thought that service providers such as CLAN would relish the opportunity to advocate for former state wards but, alas, they sit quiet, just as they did with the children who were used as guinea pigs for experimental vaccines, just as they have with the thousands of unmarked graves, some mass graves, that lay across this vast wasteland of deprivation and just as they have with their bully boy tactics should any Forgotten Australian dare question their “Motives”! Clan have also been as quiet as a church mouse, no pun intended, by refusing to mention the pack rape of a 14 year old indigenous girl whilst on an escorted excursion from John Oxley Youth Detention Center, otherwise known as “The Heiner Affair”. http://www.gwb.com.au/gwb/news/goss/ The key figure in that cover up, Bob Atkinson, is a commissioner on the current Royal Commission Into Child Sex Abuse yet Leonie Sheedy and her lapdog, Frank Golding, sit silent! The following is Kate Gaffneys letter of reply to my complaint.
Thanks for your email. I have been receiving rather inflamatory emails from people whom I suspect have not read the thesis so I do appreciate you asking on their behalf
Technically, I had access to all state ward records held by the Public Records Office of Victoria on behalf of DHS as do other researchers working in the field under similar conditions. Obviously I did not access or read all the records. I accessed a random sample of files for each decade to try to shed light on the kinds of children and young people coming into care and how they were processed through the system. Reference in my thesis to ‘tens of thousands’ of files would have been an effort to portray the scale of state wardship in Victoria at a time when little was understood about how widespread it was.
In order to undertake my research I had to meet the ethics requirements of Monash University AND the legal and ethics requirements of DHS who ‘owned’ the files. Believe me, that is not an easy process. It took over 12 months to receive permission from Monash University alone. Until permission was received, no access was given. To do this I had to make strong arguments that firstly, my research could make a valuable contribution to understandings of history, in this case welfare history. With this in mind I have endeavoured to ensure my work has been of benefit to former state wards by sending a copy of my thesis to the Senate Inquiry into Abuse of Children in Out-of-Home Care in 2003. I also used my thesis as the basis for my oral evidence to the inquiry at the Melbourne hearings in November 2003. I have provided copies of my thesis to several law firms representing state wards suing the state government for abuse and neglect. I have also provided pro-bono advice and assistance to several law firms suing the state on behalf of former state wards. I would not have been able to assist former wards in this way had I not completed my thesis using ward files because I would not have had insight into the details of how children were treated. While I no longer research in the area, I have advocated in the media (namely The Age and ABC Radio) for recognition of former state wards including the provision of an apology. I do this with a sense of debt to those who files I accessed and to all whose lives were so arbitrarily turned upside down by welfare bureaucracy.
Secondly in order to receive approval to access state ward files I had to undertake that the identities of those people whose files I accessed would be protected and records would be deidentified. This meant using pseudonyms throughout the research process not just in the final thesis. What I mean by that is that in my own notes I used pseudonyms not the real names so even I do not know the real names of those whose files I accessed. The process of research involved working under the supervision of a DHS archivist who carefully controlled which records I could access. I was not allowed to photocopy any documents or remove the records from the Archives office.It was also a Monash university requirement that I destroy all records pertaining to my research within five years of the completion of my degree.
I am truly sorry that hearing of my research has caused trauma for former state wards although I can honestly understand how it might appear to be a further violation by people in positions of authority, me included. DHS did not lightly give access to records. Access by researchers is an absolute privilege given only to those who undertake to protect the identities of those whose records are accessed. I could not, in all conscience, have sat before the Senate Inquiry had my research been in any way unethical or against the interests of former state wards. Professionally I could not hold my head up if I acted unethically let alone, as some correspondents have alleged, illegally while conducting the research. My Great Grandmother was a ward of the state in Victoria so I have some (albeit limited) understanding through that of the life-long impact of state wardship and institutionalisation. I also think it is deeply unjust that former wards have difficulty accessing their own files and that they must pay a fee to receive their files.
I know that there is nothing I can say to remove the sense of violation because former state wards do not know that I accessed their records under strict legal conditions and with their own interests at heart. They might also think it was a matter of me voyeuristically flipping through files looking for juicy stories. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those files are heartbreaking and I would never want to read such files again despite how impoortant it is that the truth be told about former welfare practices. I am not the only researcher who has ever been granted access to state ward files but those who do have access do not read the files lightly or for any other purpose other than enhancing understandoings of this hidden tragedy.
I doubt this explanation will satisfy you or other former state wards because the harm done by institutionalisation is so deep. I do, however, hope that is has offered some insight into my motivations, how strictly controlled access is and the confidential nature of the research.
Please accept my apology for any upset caused.
Below is DHS response to my complaint.
Note no mention of the Nepotism!