We are very proud to announce that we are the recipients of the Society of American Archivists Philip M. Hamer and Elizabeth Hamer Kegan Award, and the only successful project outside of the US and Canada to win this prestigious prize.
This award is for organisations that have increased public awareness of a specific body of documents through compilation, transcription, exhibition, or public presentation.
Find & Connect details Australia’s history of out-of-home care, compiling histories of institutions (including orphanages, children’s homes and other institutions providing out-of-home care) with photographs and archival records that assist those who grew up in care to develop a better understanding of their childhood experiences. We collaborated closely with many who grew up in institutions to develop the site. It is because of them that it is the innovative, successful project it is now.
The work of Find & Connect is unprecedented in bringing information regarding all records relating to Care Leavers together in the one place. For many records listed, this marks the first time they have been publicly listed and accessible. Many smaller record-holding organisations (for example, church archives) do not have online catalogues or, in some cases, web presences of any kind. Larger organisations may not provide information about the records they hold in a way that is accessible to those they are most important to. Thus, Find & Connect increases public awareness both of Care Leaver records and specific records and archives that are otherwise not easily accessible.
The overall purpose of the Find & Connect project is to connect Care Leavers with records of their childhood, allowing them to build a sense of identity, to get a better understanding of what happened to them in ‘care’, access and develop support networks; to learn about their families and in some cases, reunite and reconnect with family members. The site also plays an advocacy role for Care Leavers in accessing their records– for example, by providing funding and training on best practice records access, by giving Care Leavers a voice that is front and centre to all decision-making processes, and providing record-holding organisations with information about how to compassionately provide access to the records they have.
For many Care Leavers, the search for the records and information – that can help build their identity and even reconnect with family – is complicated, and traumatic. Find & Connect is an accessible, supportive environment for them to find information about institutions and records of interest and importance, how to access those records, and links to support services that provide free counseling and assistance in accessing records.
We have worked closely with people who spent their childhood in “care” to ensure that the site reflects their needs and wants in trying to access records about themselves; but most importantly the site reflects their experience of a childhood in “care”. The time and effort put into the site by Care Leavers ensures their voice – so absent from many of the records themselves – is foremost in the information provided the records’ creation, and their content.
Supportive information, including about what to expect when accessing records about yourself for the first time; how to start family tracing; specific factsheets for particular groups (for example, Former Child Migrants); how to search for records of a parent or grandparent who grew up in ‘care’; and people’s rights and information about applying for access to records are also provided. Information for organisations who hold records is also on the site, particularly around compassionately providing access to the records they have in their custody.
Additionally, as a public knowledge space, Find & Connect has a broad public educative role about the history of out-of-home care in Australia, with a focus on the 20th century. With over 340,000 visits to the site in 2017 alone, it is clear that the site has reach and impact. While the majority of our audience is from Australia, there is also an international audience, with people from the United States being the highest users of Find & Connect outside of Australia.
The impact and benefit of Find & Connect can also be seen through international interest in the site and how it was developed, as countries outside Australia look to develop similar resources. Find & Connect staff have met with representatives from New Zealand, Denmark and Scotland interested in establishing a “Find & Connect” for their jurisdictions.
Find & Connect is unique in that the records we detail are of huge sensitivity and great importance to people living today. In the course of our work, the team is grappling with challenges posed by issues including historical justice, vicarious trauma, archives and human rights, and restorative justice. All Care Leavers were impacted due to their childhood experiences of growing up in out-of-home care and their loss of connection to family and culture. In many cases, Care Leavers experience ongoing trauma due to the abuse they suffered while in care. The records that are the basis of the Find & Connect project can further this, or they can start a pathway towards healing.
We will be accepting the Award at the Society of American Archivists Conference in Washington DC in August, where we will also hold a panel about the Find and Connect program.