We launched the Find & Connect web resource in November 2011. There is a back-story to the development of this website, and telling it is a good way to reflect on where we’ve come from, how much we’ve learned along the way and where we’re going.

The vital importance of records to people who experienced institutional ‘care’ as children has long been known. This importance has been stressed in a number of reports from national inquiries, since the release of ‘Bringing them home‘ in 1997, which was followed by the Senate reports from the Inquiry into Child Migration (2001) and the Inquiry into children in Institutional Care (2004). These inquiries also raised awareness about the significant barriers that people faced when trying to locate and access records about their childhood in institutions.

Inspired by the recommendations in the ‘Forgotten Australians’ report, an interdisciplinary group of researchers from the University of Melbourne and Australian Catholic University applied for a Linkage grant from the Australian Research Council, to investigate the role played by archiving and recordkeeping practices in the construction of identity for people who experienced out of home ‘care’ as children. The ‘Who Am I? making records meaningful’ project commenced in 2008, with the academics working in partnership with 15 Victorian organisations, and in consultation with consumer support and advocacy groups.

Who Am I? was a three-year project, with four interrelated strands of research into:

  • historical records – the major outcome of this research was the Pathways website, which was the model for the Find & Connect web resource
  • archiving policies and practices – this strand developed a Self Assessment tool for record-holding organisations and organised a series of workshops and roundtables
  • current practices – the team worked with Community Services Organisations providing out-of-home care in Victoria to identify recordkeeping issues affecting young people today and to develop strategies to ensure that current recording practice takes into account the long-term identity needs of children and young people in care
  • the experiences of accessing records – through workshops, interviews and focus groups, this strand explored people’s experiences of searching for their records and accessing their files. Special attention was paid to the impact of this experience on their sense of themselves.

The research outputs from all strands of the Who Am I? project are available from the website of the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare Inc..

Throughout the three years of the Who Am I? project (2008-2010), national awareness of the issues facing Care Leavers increased, thanks largely to the tireless advocacy of groups like CLAN, the Alliance for Forgotten Australians and the Child Migrants Trust. This period saw the establishment of a Redress scheme in Western Australia, and the launch of the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children inquiry. In 2008, the Australian government commenced another Senate inquiry into the implementation of the recommendations from the Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians reports – national apologies to the Stolen Generations and to Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants were issued in 2008 and 2009.

Following the apology to Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants in November 2009, the Australian government provided funding for a suite of initiatives to assist Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants, under the umbrella of ‘Find and Connect’. The report from a Scoping Study was released in September 2010, following widespread consultation with individuals and organisations all around Australia. The recommended model for delivery of the national Find and Connect services included the establishment of a support service in every state and territory, as well as the development of a national website to help people locate and access records relating to the past provision of institutional ‘care’ in Australia.

The Scoping Study recommended that the Victorian Pathways website developed by the Who Am I? project team be the prototype for the new national website. In 2011, the Australian government contracted the eScholarship Research Centre at the University of Melbourne to produce the new national website, working with a team of state-based historians employed by Australian Catholic University. Our About page has more details about the web resource team.

The learnings from the Who Am I? project were invaluable in the process of taking the Pathways website about Victoria and ‘going national’. We aimed to launch a ‘Version 1.0’ of Find & Connect as early into the project as possible, and then work together with stakeholders to improve and expand the information over the course of the three-year project.

We launched the Find & Connect website in November 2011, having collated information from existing guides like Signposts (WA) and Connecting Kin (NSW) and creating a database for each jurisdiction in Australia. From this period, our team of state-based historians worked with the web resource team to develop and improve the information on Find & Connect. The feedback emails that we received from the public were a key part of the content development process, and helped the historians to discover and document many ‘new’ children’s Homes that weren’t previously included in existing guides to records.

When it launched in November 2011, the website comprised around 6,000 entries. By the end of June 2014 the Find & Connect web resource had grown to comprise over 16,000 entries and tens of thousands of relationships interconnecting them all. The website has entries about organisations (including orphanages), significant events, glossary terms, legislation, people, places; and, related publications, photos and information about records and the links between them.

Now that we are in the second phase of the Find & Connect web resource project, the content development process has slowed down significantly. But the landscape continues to evolve rapidly and there is a constant need to keep the information on the website up-to-date and accurate. The existence of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has resulted in a significant rise in public awareness of and interest in the history of institutional ‘care’ in Australia. Support and advocacy organisations can rely on the information in the Find & Connect web resource to assist people seeking access to their records and more information about their childhoods. As the Royal Commission’s public hearings continue around the country, more information and resources are becoming available to the public. For example, Case Study no 30 and the recent Public Hearings that took place in Melbourne led to a number of significant documents relating to the history of children’s institutions in Victoria to be published on the Royal Commission’s website as exhibits. The Find & Connect web resource is examining these documents and adding to and updating the information on our website as necessary, and creating links from our website to key resources that shed new light on the history of ‘care’ in Victoria.

You can keep in touch with what’s new on the Find & Connect web resource by following this blog and our Twitter feed. The web resource team will continue to work with our stakeholders to improve the information on Find & Connect. We are also kept busy providing input about the vital significance of archives and records to important consultations taking place. We made a submission to the Royal Commission’s consultations about Redress (the final report for which is due to be released soon) and we are currently preparing a submission about the proposed Victorian redress scheme for institutional child abuse.

So, that’s a quick genealogy of Find & Connect web resource background – we hope this information about our roots and our background helps people understand a bit more about who we are.