History of institutions providing out-of-home residential care for children

Prepared by Professor Shurlee Swain

Australian Catholic University

October 2014

ISBN 978-1-925118-62-9

Executive summary

This paper explains the many different types of institutions offering out-of-home care for children in Australia from 1788 until the deinstitutionalisation movement of the 1980s. It documents the move from generic to specialist children’s institutions, the mix between government and non-government provision – which differed both between institutions and the jurisdictions in which they were based – and the differences between provisions for Indigenous and non-Indigenous children. The paper concludes that the complexity of child welfare provision weakened lines of responsibility, creating a space in which children were both powerless and at risk as they navigated their way into adulthood. Placed where beds were available, moved when institutional efficiency demanded, cut off from kin whom authorities judged as neglectful, they were all too often left with no-one to whom they could turn for care and support.

Scope and sources

This paper seeks to describe and categorise the types of institutions providing out-of-home ‘care’ for children and young people in what could broadly be described as the child welfare sector in Australia from colonisation.1 Although many of the organisations continue to have a profile in the field today, the paper is historical, drawing on the resources of the Find & Connect web resource2, which focuses on the period before 1980. As a result, its coverage is very comprehensive in relation to the large institutions of the past but less so in relation to the varieties of ‘care’ that replaced them in the 21st century. It also makes no attempt to address the issue of boarding-out or foster care, forms of ‘care’ which dominated most of the statutory and some of the voluntary provision from the 1870s through to the 1930s, with foster care returning to this status from the 1970s on. Appendix 1 provides the list of institutions included in this overview.3

The Find & Connect web resource was funded by FaHCSIA (now the Department of Social Services) as part of the Government’s response to the Senate’s Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians inquiries.4 Its primary goal is to map the landscape of ‘care’ during the period 1920–89. However, given that the institutions operating during this period have histories which extend both before and beyond this period, the project team has set out to develop a more comprehensive resource extending back to European colonisation and tracing developments in the sector after 1980. As the resource is in a constant state of development, there is no claim that this mapping is complete, but three years in, the team is confident that most of the places at which ‘care’ was provided are now included. The knowledge that the state-based historians have accumulated in constructing the web resource has contributed greatly to this paper.

The statistics drawn upon in this report and the accompanying Appendix derive from Find & Connect as it stood at the end of November 2013. The categorisation involved collapsing some of the complexity apparent in the web resource. While Find & Connect documents the changes in function and identity of places that have provided out-of-home care, this paper categorises them according to their original purpose for simplicity. Where the same organisation ran a continuous service, even if from changing locations, the institution has been counted only once in the Appendix. Many cases followed a similar trajectory, which is traced in the following analysis. However, where the same building was used for different purposes or by different organisations, each change of identity has generated a separate entry. The figures, then, are not absolutes, and indeed would be slightly different if calculated by a different researcher at a different time. However, they are certainly indicative of both the variety of provision between states and of change over time.