I’m not much of a film goer but I was keen to see the film Oranges and Sunshine, having followed the publicity in recent years about the plight of children sent by various child care organisations to Commonwealth countries after the Second World War until the late 1960s.I felt some connection with this, as early in my child care career in the mid-1960s I saw children in the care of the voluntary organisation which I worked for, assembled for their emigration to Australia. Just as a child in the film was told, I imagined these children were going to a life of “oranges and sunshine”. I can only hope that the children I saw, and their families, did not suffer the deception, hardship and abuse that the film succinctly portrays.
This film is not glamorised, sentimental or, I believe, an exaggerated account of the experiences of 130,000 children in the care of the British child care system who migrated to Australia. The film is a sobering account of how in the 1980s Margaret Humphreys, through her every-day work as a social worker in Nottingham, uncovered the hidden truth about the way these children were lied to about their family circumstances and how family members still in Britain struggled to find out what had happened to their children and siblings.
Margaret Humphreys virtually single-handedly fought the governments of Britain and Australia and the child care organisations to uncover the truth. Using her social work skills, knowledge and ethics, listening and believing the appalling stories she heard, she set about righting this wrong at huge emotional cost to herself and her family. Through focusing on the stories of a few cases the film reveals the distressing long-term impact on the children’s lives, the frustrations of their parents and siblings here in Britain and the emotional upheavals of reunification.
At the end of the film the cinema went totally silent and people left slowly and quietly. This is a powerful, thought-provoking film about child care practice that occurred during the working life of many of us. Although the practice ended in the 1960s, many lessons can still be learnt from the film which are applicable to today’s social workers.