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2.2 Learning from Others

 

The project design also reflected literature searches and an active drive to learn from the experience and practice of others: The Heritage Lottery Fund database was scoured, and projects identified which had used oral history to explore related areas, themes, and issues; an automated daily web-search was carried out over 18 months on an array of search terms, which turned up two HLF-funded projects not then in the HLF database, as well as a number of other relevant projects around the world.

 

The project director followed up these leads, emailing projects and acquiring publications. Although some projects didn't respond to contact, those that did proved encouraging and helpful. A later example was the Birmingham Archive's Children's Homes Oral History Project, another HLF-funded project, whose geographical proximity and overlapping of concern made it and "Therapeutic Living" effectively sister projects, as discussed later (see 4.0.8).

 

One of those HLF-supported projects not thrown up by the HLF database search was "Kibble: A Lasting Legacy", based in the Kibble Education and Care Centre, in Paisley, Scotland. "A Lasting Legacy" was one of the few projects discovered in the international search which focused specifically on disturbed/delinquent children and young people, as well as on the people and the place working with them; and discussions with the project director, Elaine Harris - who remained in contact and presented a paper at the "Therapeutic Living" project conference - consistently illuminated helpful and fruitful convergences of philosophy, practice, insight, and experience.

 

An unexpected resource was "Thoughtful reflections for future directions: The Los Angeles County child care oral history", a 1996 study, and the only one of its kind turned up by the literature and web searches which had been commissioned by a government agency in advance of, and to provide a foundation for, changes in government policy relating to the welfare of children. The oral history was limited to adults who had directly contributed to the work with children and young people in Southern California during the 20th century, and it didn't involve the children or their families, but it was nevertheless an interesting and relevant piece of work. The Chair of the project's Steering Committee, Kathleen Malaske-Samu, was generous in her communications on the effect of the study and of the consequent policy changes, and future changes then on the horizon.

 

The greatest single influence to emerge from the literature search was the National Library of Australia's "Bringing Them Home" oral history project, a mandated outcome of the Australian federal government's 1997 "Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families". The report concerned Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were removed from their families as a matter of state and social policy from the 1860s to as late as the 1960s and in some instances into the early 1970s, and who were placed in orphanages, residential schools, and non-aboriginal foster families in an attempt to bring them into mainstream white culture: disconnecting them radically from their original heritage in an attempt to provide them with another regarded by a dominant culture as more acceptable. The oral history project focused on the former children, but took a whole phenomenon approach, recording and incorporating the memories and experiences of a wide range of others, from families of origin to foster families, to teachers, nurses, police, and others involved in removing and/or working with the children. It was a comprehensive, trenchant, human and rigorous project, well beyond the scope but with strong resonances in the "Therapeutic Living" proposal. The "Bringing Them Home" Project Manager, Doreen Mellor, was very approachable and immensely generous with information and insight into every aspect of the project, practical and philosophical; and generously agreed to join the "Therapeutic Living" Assessment, Training and Advisory Panel in the role of Peer Advisor. The "Bringing Them Home" project itself was found through an Internet search, its depth and richness showing itself in the project book, ordered from the National Library of Australia, "Many voices: reflections on experiences of Indigenous child separation", edited by Doreen Mellor and Anna Haebich and published in 2002. Further depth came in the rich and steady stream of communications with Doreen Mellor.