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Blog 5 – British Journal of Social Work lived experience issue series

28 July 2022

This is part of a series of blogs kindly contributed by the editorial group working on the lived experience edition of the British Journal of Social Work.

Blog five is by Frank Golding

I grew up in out-of-home care in Australia, silent and silenced. I left the system carrying powerful memories and emotional baggage: resentment at being abandoned, shame in not being ‘normal’, perplexity about why my childhood was the way it was.

Given that frame of reference, I am especially impressed by the incisiveness of the many submissions to the special issue of the Journal from other survivors of welfare systems in a number of countries. These submissions cross a broad range of marginalised experience—in mental health, disability, race and gender prejudice, and other forms of discrimination.

Silence is often misinterpreted as compliance with benign authority, but insider research suggests that we have been hearing the sound of powerlessness meeting unrestrained authority. Thousands of adults told the Australian Royal Commission into childhood sexual abuse (2017) that, when they were children, they did not disclose abuse because of shame and embarrassment, having no one to disclose to, fear of not being believed, and fear of retribution. In that context, silence could even be interpreted as a form of agency—a strategy to survive in the face of more brutality.

Many survivors were also silenced by powerful institutions promoting a self-congratulatory narrative wrapped in the language of benevolence. All the case files and other archived documents were written exclusively by officials for other officials. Often writing in haste, without too much regard for accuracy, social workers failed to appreciate that one day children would become adults with a burning need to understand their personal history found in the archives.

We know, however, that these documents can’t be taken at face value, and many Care leavers are exercising a right of reply—talking back to official archived sources. The voices of survivors are beginning to destabilise these deceitful accounts of the past. Using their own recall and the collective memory of their peers, they are constructing a more authentic and emotionally satisfying narrative. The Journal will provide another way for these voices to be heard.

Dr Frank Golding OAM [] is an Honorary Research Fellow at Federation University Australia.

Read blog one by Peter Beresford

Read blog two by Mel Hughes

Read blog three by Omar Mohamed

Read blog four by Lia Levin