Government and privately conducted charitable institutions for the care of neglected and destitute children had existed practically from the commencement of the colony. Each of these institutions was conducted by an honorary committee appointed by the Government. These homes were financed partly by private subscriptions, but substantially from public funds which also exercised financial control.(1)
Concerns about high infant mortality amongst destitute children and the adverse psychological effect of large residential care institutions precipitated the Royal Commission of Public Charities conducted in 1873. In its report the Commission advocated the use of a 'boarding-out' system for orphans and destitute children, and the appointment of an officer to administer the boarding-out of children. (2)
In 1879, a Boarding-out Society of ladies was established in Sydney by Mrs Marian Jefferis, who had been one of the founders of a similar society in Adelaide.(3). Other members included Lady Marian Allen and Mrs Mary Ischam Garran.(4) The Parkes Government granted £200 to the Society in 1879 and £400 in 1880.(5) The Society made arrangements for the boarding-out of destitute children with suitable families until the Government passed the State Children Relief Act of 1881 (44 Vic. No. 24, 1881).
The State Children Relief Act which came into force on 5 April, 1881 authorised the appointment by the Governor of The State Children’s Relief Board which was to comprise nine members including a President to be subject to the Colonial Secretary. Its task was to
. direct the removal of certain children;
. issue licences to approved persons to receive destitute children;
. arrange for these children to be apprenticed to approved persons.
The Board also was "to approve of persons applying to adopt State children and to arrange the terms of such adoption - and to direct the restoration of any child to his parent or guardian on such terms as they may think proper." (6) Children under the control of the Boarding-out Society and all the business vested in that body were legally transferred to the State Children’s Relief Board by order of the Colonial Secretary on 7 July, 1881.(7)
On 19 April, 1881 eight members of the Board were appointed. (8) The President was Arthur Renwick (9) who remained President of the Board until 1902 while serving as Secretary of Mines (1881-83) and Minister of Public Instruction (1886-87). (10) The other Board members were Joseph George Long Innes, the Minister for Justice (1880-1881) and John Rendell Street, Lady Allen, Mrs Mary Ischam Garran, and Mrs Marian Jefferis, Mrs Mary Elizabeth Windeyer, and Miss Mary Stuart. Lady Jennings was appointed to the Board on 30 September, 1881 (11).
In 1896, an Act to amend an Act to establish a system of Boarding-out Children (assented to on 10 September, 1896) extended the Board's powers by permitting it to approve allowances to widows and deserted wives so that they could support their own children at home rather than have them boarded-out to other families.(12)
The State Children Relief Act (Act No. 61, 1901), assented to on 19 December, 1901 consolidated the two previous acts.
Under the Children's Protection Act, 1902 ( Act No. 47, 1902) the Board was given more authority regarding adoption of State children under three years of age, and it was to monitor and inspect lying-in homes and the care and custody of babies born there. The Act gave courts the power to commit to the Board's control those children considered by a court to be endangered or without proper guardianship.
The Infant Protection Act of 1904 ( Act No. 27, 1904) required the Board to inspect and to report upon establishments applying to care for two or more children under seven years of age. Licenses were issued by the Minister if the premises were found satisfactory.
The Neglected Children and Juvenile Offenders Act of 1905 ( Act No.16, 1905) established shelters, industrial schools and reformatories for destitute and wayward children and constituted children's courts. It also authorised institutionalised children to be placed in the Board's care to enable boarding-out if appropriate, and gave the Board authority to request the Minister move a child between institutions.
The State Children's Relief Board was dissolved by the Child Welfare Act of 1923 ( Act No.21, 1923) which commenced on 15 December, 1923, (13) The Board's powers and authorities were vested in the Minister of Public Instruction.(14)
(1) Gandevia, B Tears Often Shed pp. 102-112
(2) The Royal Commission of Public Charities, 2nd Report in NSW V&P 1873-74 vol. 6 pp. 437, 458-459
(3) Australian Dictionary of Biography vol. 4 1851-1890 p.475
(4) ADB vol. 3 1851-1890 p. 233
(5) ADB vol. 3 1851-1890 p. 25
(6) State Children Relief Act, 1881 (44 Vic. Act No. 24 ) s. 4
(7) State Children’s Relief Department Report for Year ended 5 April, 1882 in NSW V & P 1882, vol.2 p. 1103
(8) State Children Relief Department Report for year ended 5 April 1882, p. 16 in NSW V& P vol. 2 p. 1118
(9) ADB vol 6 1851-1890 p.20
(10) State Children Relief Board Report of the President for year ended 5 April 1910 in NSW PP 2nd session 1910 vol. 1 p. 305
(11) NSW Parliamentary Record vol. 5 1996 pp.
(12) State Children Relief Act (60 Vic, Act No. 9, 1896)
(13) NSW Government Gazette 1923 vol. 4 p. 5696
(14) Child Welfare Act ( Act No. 21, 1923) s. 4
Report of the Royal Commission (Mr. G. Mason Allard) respecting Administration of Acts relating to State Children. (Being the Fifth Sectional Report on Public Service) in the Parliamentary Papers, Second Session 1924, Vol. 4, pp. 451-502.