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

A report on the history of Australian institutions providing out-of-home care for children.

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 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 since colonisation. 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 development of institutional ‘care’ for children needs to be understood within the context of the broader provision for the poor in colonial Australia. Each of the Australian colonies faced the challenge of devising an alternative method of dealing with settlers who were unable to provide for themselves or their families. The paper concludes that the complexity of child welfare provision weakened lines of responsibility, creating a space where 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.

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