MacKillop Family Services General Manager of Heritage and Information Services Jenny Glare was recognised for helping Australians separated from their families and raised in orphanages and children’s homes to access their historical records. Jenny worked with three of the services’ Catholic congregations to create a database of more than 115,000 records available for public access. The pioneering service enables people to learn more about their family and childhood history.
“It’s a great honour to win this award because it shines a light on the lives of people who grew up in out-of-home care, separated from their families,” Jenny says. “It recognises good practice and making a difference by supporting people to access their childhood records without putting obstacles in their way.
“Every time I listen to a person telling their story who is about to embark on this journey, it’s inspiring. Being invited to support them as the interpreter of their records is a privilege I never take for granted.”
Turning the pages together
Every file Jenny opens contains the keys to a past that can be equal parts illuminating and devastating. This is where her innovative ‘supported release’ approach has been invaluable.
“Jenny has had a profound impact on thousands of Australians who grew up in former child institutions,” says MacKillop Family Services’ Dr Robyn Miller, who nominated Jenny for the HESTA award. “She recognised that for some people, the process of reading records of their childhood can be traumatising. Often people are handed files and left to discover what lies inside on their own, without support to deal with what can be very confronting information.
“Jenny supports care-leavers through the entire process of seeking information and helps them understand the complexities of the records. She provides a calm and supportive environment to guide people through the emotional process of unlocking their past.
“Her innovative approach has influenced approaches to records management globally. More importantly, she has provided thousands of former residents with a more complete story of their lives.”
It’s a task of breathtaking scale: not only due to the volume of records requested, but the detective work often involved in bringing them to light.
“Jenny receives about 60 requests for information each month,” Robyn affirms. “When she was first entrusted with the records of our founding congregations, Jenny sorted through and read thousands of old handwritten records, with the support of only one other staff member, decoding names and places that might have been misspelt. It took two and a half years to transfer the entire archive to a computer database.
“She once spent two years tracking a mother who had disappeared after giving birth. Her son had hardly any information about his mother. Jenny eventually found that the woman had died under a different name, but because her son had not subsequently been adopted, his right as a "forgotten child" to search for her death certificate was denied under privacy legislation. Jenny was able to help him discover when and where his birth mother had died.
“At the heart of Jenny’s work have been compassion, social justice and a commitment to support people. Over the years this has included members of the Stolen Generations, Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants.”
A new chapter
Jenny is thrilled to be able to use her $10,000 prize from proud award sponsors ME - the bank for you - to launch a special project in the Heritage Centre documenting the lives of people who have grown up in the homes and orphanages. “The project will provide the opportunity for more people to tell their own stories in their own way,” Jenny says.
“No amount of planning could have foreseen the thousands of people whose lives have been and will be enhanced by gaining access to information about their childhood and family of origin.”