Jenny is helping unlock the secrets of people's pasts

Posted on 09 September 2016 by Luke Meney

Jenny Glare in the Heritage Display she helped create at MacKillop Family Services. Jenny was awarded the prestigious Leadership

This week we were delighted when MacKillop Family Services’ very own Jenny Glare received the prestigious Leadership Award at the Robin Clark Protecting Children Awards 2016.

As Manager of MacKillop’s Heritage and Information Service, Jenny’s pioneering work in the supported release of records to care-leavers has had a profound impact on thousands of Australians who grew up in former child institutions.

The innovative approaches Jenny has developed to allow people to access their records, and the support she and her team provide during the process, have been recognised as international best practice and she is frequently called upon to advise government and non-government agencies all over the world.

Jenny was also instrumental in establishing the Heritage Display at MacKillop Family Services’ South Melbourne site. The Centre has been vital in promoting an improved understanding of the experiences of people who grew up in care in Australia.

Jenny generously agreed to share some insights into the impact of her work and the shifts she has witnessed in attitudes towards the release of records over her stellar career.   

Why is the work of MacKillop’s Heritage and Information Service so important?

The work of our team provides the opportunity to help people who were separated from their families and grew up in care begin to answer the most essential of questions regarding their sense of who they are and where they came from.

We enable people to access their records and, in doing so, understand their childhood, where they lived, who they lived with and who they were connected to. We help them to construct their personal narrative and life story, and the process can lead to a reconnection with long-lost family members.

How has the archiving and release of the records changed throughout your career?

There is much more openness and willingness to share the truth with people, and there is now a recognition of the importance of supporting people through the often highly emotional process of receiving their records. 

There is a greater understanding of childhood trauma and how it can impact people throughout their entire lives. Subsequently, we understand that for some people the records releasing process can be re-traumatising.

Also, technology has improved the quality of the actual records. In the past it was all paper based and we were providing people with black and white photocopies. Nowadays, we can provide people with high-quality, colour digital files.

Why was it important to create the Heritage Display?

The importance of the Heritage Display for MacKillop, the community of Forgotten Australians and Australia as a whole cannot be over-estimated. It provides a window into Australia’s shared social history of caring for children separated from their family of origin. The Heritage Display bears witness to past practices and past trauma, pain and suffering and in doing so it offers learnings and hope for the future. 

The Heritage Display also provides acknowledgment and honours of the lives of the 1000s of children and mothers who lived in the Homes and Orphanages of MacKillop’s founding orders. Now there is recognition that even well intentioned actions can have long lasting consequences that impact can people for the rest of their lives.  

What is your favourite part of your job?

I am one of those lucky people that happens to love almost everything about my job. I still get a flutter in my heart when I walk into the Heritage Display each morning and turn the lights on, and I still get a shiver up my spine when I find a missing record that unlocks a secret for someone we are working with.

Listening to a person telling their story for the first time and knowing that they are about to embark on a journey of discovery is always a source of hope for me. Being invited to share in this personal journey and to be able to support them an as interpreter of the records they find is a privilege that I never take for granted.

What does winning the Robin Clark Leadership Award mean to you?

This award means so much for so many reasons. Fundamentally it recognises good practice, acknowledges the leadership that MacKillop has shown in this highly sensitive area and highlights our willingness to share our knowledge and expertise with others. I hope that it also serves to inspire other organisations to develop their own record release services so that we can continue to acknowledge the experience of and improve the well-being for the Forgotten Australians across the country.

What would you like to see happen in future in terms of acknowledging the past of those in care?

When MacKillop was formed in 1997 and the Heritage and Information Service was established, releasing records to adults who had experienced care as children was in its infancy in Australia. Since then there has been Senate Inquiries into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, child migration, forced adoptions and the Forgotten Australians. This focus on past practices has increased the awareness of how important it is to allow people to access their records. 

Some organizations have moved quickly to improve their practices and facilitate release of records, sadly others are still lagging in their response. This needs to change. Records need to be available for everyone who grew up in care and they should be provided with minimal delay. Governments also need to implement the long standing promise of redress.

The Heritage Display is open to the general public and we encourage you to pay us a visit and learn more about our rich history. To arrange a visit contact us on (03) 9699 9177.