Politics, Community & Society > Queensland Apology to Children in Mental Hospitals

Queensland Apology to Children in Mental Hospitals

By BARBARA LANE
Published: April 11, 2010

On March 24, 2010, at Parliament House in Brisbane, the Queensland Government gave an Apology to former children under state care who were inappropriately placed in adult mental hospitals.

The Queensland Apology was delivered by Deputy Premier and Minister for Health, Paul Lucas, and Minister for Communities, Karen Struthers.

The Apology reads: “To those who as children in the care of the State of Queensland suffered in any way while resident in an adult mental health facility

The Government acknowledges that the apology offered in 1999 following the Forde Inquiry did not extend to those who, while under a care and control or care and protection order of the State, suffered maltreatment or neglect or were inappropriately placed in Queensland adult mental health facilities.

We acknowledge the special vulnerability of children in state care who were treated as inpatients in the adult mental health system and who, through the circumstances of their placements, witnessed or experienced maltreatment or neglect. We acknowledge that for some, such placements led to an incorrect diagnosis of mental illness, which has had a significant impact on their lives. We sincerely apologise to those who, as children, suffered in any way while resident in adult mental health facilities and express deep sorrow and regret for the hurt and distress suffered by those who were victims of abuse.

We recognize the value of formal reconciliation experiences in healing the hurt some have suffered, and undertake to plan these in consultation with those who were harmed in care.

We are committed to doing all we reasonably can to ensure that children in our care are protected from harm as a paramount consideration. Further, we are committed to ongoing review and improvement of our services to children and families.”

It was a simple service held in a marquee in the courtyard of Parliament House, with about twenty-five care leavers attending, some with their children. The recipients asked that it not be a media circus.

Strategic Policy and Planning Officer for the Department of Communities, Robyn Etherington said, “It has been a privilege to be able to attend.”

The high levels of abuse and neglect suffered by children in Australian institutions were exposed by the Forde Inquiry (1999) and later the Australian Senate’s Forgotten Australians Inquiry (2004). According to the Forde Inquiry report, transfers of children to adult psychiatric hospitals constituted “systems abuse”.

Children were sometimes placed in adult psychiatric hospitals for misbehaviour or through misdiagnosis. Already-traumatized children were inappropriately incarcerated in places like Osler House, a maximum security ward of Wolston Park Hospital, which also held prisoners deemed too mentally unstable to be held in adult jails.

There, children like the small-bodied, fifteen-year-old Susan Treweek witnessed and suffered horrific abuse in an ancient asylum building while living in daily fear of shock treatment and abuse by other patients and staff. Eight years later, Sue managed to escape from Wolston Park Hospital and has never needed medication or psychiatric inpatient services since. She now runs her own successful business, which a year ago, due to high demand, amalgamated with Centacare.

Queensland recently offered a redress scheme to former state wards, but only experiences in institutions covered by the Forde Inquiry were allowed to be addressed. The Forde Inquiry did not cover adult mental hospitals as they were not classified as children’s homes.

Some information about the abuse in mental hospitals was accepted from witnesses at the Senate Inquiry into the Forgotten Australians, a national inquiry, but Queensland has not offered survivors this opportunity.

Tears were seen in many eyes at the apology ceremony when a wreath was laid in memory of the many that did not survive long enough to hear the government’s apology.

Sue Treweek lobbied for many years for this apology. Asked “How did you feel about the apology”, she has replied:

“The fight to get to this point was so hard and the personal cost to my family and our lives was huge. On the day, I weighed up whether it was all worth it, and asked myself if, given the time again, I would have fought so hard. The answer is yes…There were silent survivors who could not be there and really would have no concept of what we have achieved, for a variety of reasons. This, I feel, was their day too. And I hope it sends a clear message that society will always have people who fight like we do, to make sure even those who have no voice will be protected from having this happen to them. Just because a disabled person is unable to scream their pain and be heard, or survive and fight for their rights, does not make them less worthy of justice and quality care.”

Sue continued, “I felt a weight lift from me, and a sense of closure…The moral and just thing for our government to do is …to negotiate directly with those of us who survived because we are the only ones who know and can comprehend what we suffered and how this affects our lives. We deserve monetary compensation/ ex gratia payments to show this was not another empty apology without consequence.”

No compensation has yet been offered to survivors

Comments

1. Jessica on June 8, 2011

Well done Queensland for this apology. It's a shame that there are always people left out of these inquiries and I think it can be an important part of the healing process to have abuse acknowledged and a genuine apology given.

That said, what about the children who were not wards of the state that were sent to adult mental institutions? And what about the adults? Does their suffering count? Don't they deserve apology for neglect and abuse in state institutions? Do they even get to speak about it? Wait long enough and they'll all be dead, taking their stories with them.

2. kat on November 28, 2012

Is there any chance or way of getting in contact with susan terweek im looking for answers in this and perhaps she could be of some assistance thankyou

3. Sue Treweek on December 4, 2012

Hi Kat, my email is meterweek@bigpond.com if you would like to contact me.

:) Sue Treweek.

Any Comments?


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