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What to consider before entering aged care as a care leaver

Entering aged care can be a difficult experience for some older people, particularly for those who have historical trauma from being in foster care or other institutional care settings when they were younger.

Last updated: November 15th 2022
If you are a care leaver, you may be reaching an age where you need to consider moving into a residential aged care facility. [Source: AdobeStock]

If you are a care leaver, you may be reaching an age where you need to consider moving into a residential aged care facility. [Source: AdobeStock]

Key points:

  • Care leavers who enter aged care facilities can experience uncomfortable feelings and triggers due to historical trauma from being in institutional care as a young person
  • Forgotten Australians, Former Child Migrants, and the Stolen Generation are all groups of people who are considered care leavers
  • You should notify a potential aged care provider if you are a care leaver so they can see if they can accommodate your needs. You also have a right to ask questions about your care before moving into a facility

This group of people are called care leavers and have spent time in out-of-home care settings like orphanages, children’s homes, foster care or other institutions in their childhood or youth.

This demographic includes Forgotten Australians, former child migrants, or the Stolen Generation.

If you are a care leaver, you may now be reaching an age where you need to consider moving into a residential aged care facility.

Depending on your past experiences, you may still suffer from mental health challenges and experience feelings of distress and trauma responses from being back in a care facility.

So what should you consider when entering aged care?

Understanding care leavers

Research from South Australian aged care provider, Helping Hand, confirmed care leavers have intense fear directed towards aged care services.

At a young age, care leavers quite often had to deal with feelings of loss, abandonment and grief because of separation from parents and siblings.

They also may have suffered neglect, exploitation, mistreatment and physical and/or sexual abuse from their caregivers.

When searching for a potential aged care provider, you should notify them that you are a care leaver so they ensure the delivery of care does not cause you distress and makes your time in aged care as enjoyable and positive as possible.

Triggering elements of aged care

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can often be a part of your life as a care leaver and you may experience many emotional feelings and triggers when entering aged care.

Operational aspects of a residential aged care facility may cause distress to care leavers.

For example, some care leavers report they feel they are no longer in control of their lives due to inflexible daily schedules and strict sleep schedules and may still fear authority figures, like medical professionals and care staff.

Similarly, the clinical care setting in aged care can also be triggering, right down to the layout of the room, the name of the care home, or even the sound of jingling keys.

Other triggers you may experience include:

  • Anger and shame at difficult-to-find or non-existent identification paperwork
  • Feeling alone, isolated, unwanted and lacking a sense of belonging
  • Fearing not being believed about events or experiences
  • Worrying about staff turnaround and having to repeat your story multiple times to different care providers
  • Denial of cultural traditions and practices
  • Unappealing food or fear of force-feeding
  • Fearing being confined to one room, feeling ‘locked in’
  • Factors reminiscent of dormitory living, including single beds and cupboards
  • Fearing personal items being removed

These triggers should also be relayed to your aged care provider so they can minimise your exposure to these types of events.

What are you entitled to ask?

When looking for a suitable aged care provider, you should ask as many questions as possible to find out what facility will work best for you.

Helping Hand have a resource about what you can ask as a care leaver to clarify elements of care you may be worried about.

It is your right to enquire with a provider about their knowledge of care leavers and how they can accommodate you and your needs.

Some questions to ask providers may include:

  • Do you know who care leavers or Forgotten Australians are?
  • Are staff here trained to support people living with the effects of psychological trauma?
  • Do I have an opportunity to share my story so that you include my likes and dislikes in my care plan?
  • How will you let your staff know my story so that I do not have to tell it again?
  • How will you ensure I have the privacy I need?
  • I am used to eating, showering and going to bed anytime I want. Do you have rules around this?
  • Do your staff have the resources and time to listen and care for me?
  • Can I bring my pet/ therapy companion here?
  • Can I be matched with the support worker of my choice?
  • Can I see my own counsellor / General Practitioner (GP) here?

Asking these questions before entering a facility can give you peace of mind that your historical trauma and needs will be tended to seriously and treated with respect.

Depending on the answers you receive, you may feel like you need to consider another provider or look for someone more inclusive of your care needs.

Supportive resources

The Federal Government also has a new package of resources to help you transition to aged care services and Altura Learning hosts an online course on care leavers in aged care to prepare you for the transition.

The Alliance for Forgotten Australians (AFA) also has a booklet available for providers and organisations to support your needs and The Aged Care Diversity Framework is something providers and carers should be familiar with, which sets out a plan to ensure your needs are met while receiving care.

If you need any other assistance, you can contact My Aged Care on 1800 200 422 to talk about other available supports you may be able to receive as a care leaver accessing aged care.

Are you a care leaver living in aged care? What did you experience when you first entered the facility? Let us know in the comments below.


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