History of Australian inquiries reviewing institutions providing care for children

A report on the history of Australian inquiries into institutions providing out-of-home care.

Authors: Shurlee Swain

This report was prepared by Professor Shurlee Swain for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Executive Summary: This paper documents Australian inquiries into institutions providing out-of-home care for children between 1852 and 2013. It identifies three categories of inquiries. The first, dating from 1852 through to the post-war period, was concerned with establishing and refining the child welfare system; the second, dating from the 1860s to the 1990s, convened in response to allegations of abuse. The third, dating from the 1990s to today, focuses on hearing survivor testimony. The paper argues that an inability or unwillingness to recognise abuse, and a tendency to individualise the problem where it could not be ignored, may well have served the interests of the government and non-government institutions that provided child welfare services, but did little to protect the children entrusted to the children’s ‘care’.

This paper focuses on the period 1850 to 1980, looking at investigations which predate the move away from large-scale institutions. The major inquiries, both state and federal, since 1980 are examined in far less detail. The more recent inquiries included in the report are those focusing on the condition of children in out-of-home care, rather than those dealing with protecting children in their own homes or those dealing with sexual abuse in other institutional or community settings. Inquiries into the sexual abuse of children in boarding schools and immigration detention centres, while raising similar issues to those in relation to out-of-home care, are not included in this paper.

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