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Legislation State Children Act 1907
State of Western Australia
- Reference No
- 031 of 1907 (7 Edw. VII No. 31)
Please note that this page reproduces the original language used in the historical sources drawn upon to compile this entry. This language includes offensive and derogatory terms which are today considered unacceptable. We apologise for any offence caused by this language.
The State Children Act came into effect in Western Australia in 1907. It repealed the Industrial Schools Act 1874 (and related Amendment Acts of 1877 and 1822) and the Industrial and Reformatory Schools Act 1893. Its stated purpose was 'to make better provision for the Protection, Control, Maintenance, and Reformation of Neglected and Destitute Children, and for other purposes'. The Act set up the State Children Department and mechanisms to regulate the institutions and people that 'cared' for or punished children. The Act also established the Children's Court of WA and regulated the employment of children and young people.
The State Children Act was very wide-ranging in its scope. It covered:
- The powers and operations of the State Children Department
- Instititutions for the 'care' of children, including which institutions would be subsidised by the government
- The powers and operations of the Children's Courts, including the treatment of children which the Court found to be 'neglected' or 'uncontrollable' or who were 'habitual truants', and penalties for adults who harmed children
- The financial maintenance which should be paid by relatives of children in 'care' or in need
- The 'committal' of children to the 'care' of the state or to an institution or to a private person such as a licensed foster mother
- Licensing people to employ children
- Registration of 'lying-in' (or maternity) homes and foster mothers
- Matters that would be penalised and the form of penalty, including whipping a child
The State Children Act contains some provisions that a reader today would find astonishing. But in 1907, it was seen to be very modern and progressive. The State Librarian, JS Battye wrote in 1911 that the State Children Act was based on South Australian legislation and that it was 'doubtful whether any better pattern could have been selected.' The Western Mail said in 1908 that the Act was based on 'months of deliberation and study' with 'a very genuine desire on behalf of the Government to enter into the perplexing difficulties and dangers which surround child life, and more particularly unwanted, and therefore unprotected, child life.'
The extent of danger to which children were exposed had been brought to public attention in the Alice Mitchell baby farming case in early 1907 and this no doubt acted as a spur to reforms that were already in the pipeline.
The values of the day were firmly entrenched in the Act, as Battye described:
It aims at providing for the waifs and strays who may properly be called the children of the State. Wherever possible it fastens responsibility on the parents, and does not sunder those natural ties. It cares for juvenile offenders, and seeks to prevent, so far as possible, the development of criminal inclinations in them. Those children who do wrong are charged in a separate Court from which all but those actually engaged in the case are excluded, and thus the demoralising effects of a public exhibition are avoided. page 504
The State Children Act built a system of out of home care around two approaches: institutional care and boarding-out. In doing this, it retained the role that had been played by private (religious) institutions since the 1860s and moved beyond the inadequate safeguards of the Infant Life Protection provisions in the Health Act 1898 which had covered children placed in private homes. The Western Mail outlines the 1908 view of this dual-system:
The fact has to be faced in dealing with unwanted and State children, that no system yet evolved is perfect, and the the two now known as tho institutional and the boarding-out system are both necessary to the well-being of children in their different spheres of activity. Both are responsible for failures as well as successes. Those people who have come into contact with any child that has suffered by being in an institution will naturally place more reliance in the system of boarding-out. while those who have known of cases of atrocious cruelty that have happened to a boarded-out child will lean favourably towards the institution where inspection is easier of attainment. Both systems must be judged.without prejudice.
Clearly, inspection and regulation were important. An aspect of the Act which gained public approval was the appointment of voluntary inspectors. A consequence of the Mitchell baby-farming case had been the conviction of two Health Department inspectors, who failed to prevent or indeed inquire into multiple infant deaths. According to the Western Mail, the 'one danger that threatens paid inspection is that it can so easily become mechanical, whereas in the case of the work voluntarily performed for love it is lifted into an altogether different and often higher plane.' Certainly there was a belief at the time that voluntary inspectors had made a large contribution to the success of the South Australian legislation upon which the State Children Act was based.
1874 Industrial Schools Act 1874
1877 Industrial Schools Act 1874 Amendment Act 1877
1882 Industrial Schools Act Amendment Act 1882
1893 Industrial and Reformatory Schools Act 1893
1907 State Children Act 1907
1919 State Children Act Amendment Act 1919
1927 State Children Act Amendment Act 1927
1942 Child Welfare Act Amendment Act 1941
1947 Child Welfare Act 1947
1952 Child Welfare Act Amendment Act 1952
- Battye, JS, The Cyclopedia of Western Australia (1912), Hesperian Press, Victoria Park, 1985. p.504. Details
- 'Colonial Secretary's Department', in JS Battye (ed.), The Cyclopedia of Western Australia (1912), vol. 1, Hesperian Press, Victoria Park, 1985, pp. 502-507. Details
- Worral, Jennifer, 'Baby Farming', in Gregory, Jenny and Jan Gothard [editors] (eds), Historical Encyclopedia of Western Australia, University of Western Australia Press, Crawley, W.A., 2009, p. 118. Details
- State Children Act 1907 (WA), State Law Publisher of Western Australia, 1907. Also available at http://www.slp.wa.gov.au/legislation/statutes.nsf/main_mrtitle_9527_homepage.html. Details
- State of Western Australia, Health Act 1911, State Law Publisher of Western Australia, 16 February 1911. Also available at http://www.slp.wa.gov.au/legislation/statutes.nsf/main_mrtitle_9400_homepage.html. Details
- 'Labour of Love', The West Australian, 23 January 1941, p. 9, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article47304456. Details
- 'Care of the Children', Western Mail, 25 January 1908, p. 39, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article37573895. Details
- State Children's Department, State of Western Australia (1917-1927) Agency Detail (State Records Office), Archive Collection of Western Australia, with State Records Office of Western Australia, State Records Office of Western Australia, 2012, http://aeon.sro.wa.gov.au/Investigator/Details/Agency_Detail.asp?Id=37. Details
- To Remove and Protect: Aboriginal Lives Under Control [website], 2010, http://www.aiatsis.gov.au/collections/exhibitions/remove/index.html. Details
- AustLII [website], 2011, http://www.austlii.edu.au. Details
- State Law Publisher: Official Publisher of Western Australian Legislation and Statutory Information, 1997, http://www.slp.wa.gov.au. Details
- State Children Act 1907 (WA)
- 031 of 1907 (7 Edw. VII No. 31)
- State Law Publisher of Western Australia
Sources used to compile this entry: 'Care of the Children', Western Mail, 25 January 1908, p. 39, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article37573895; To Remove and Protect: Aboriginal Lives Under Control [website], 2010, http://www.aiatsis.gov.au/collections/exhibitions/remove/index.html; Battye, JS, The Cyclopedia of Western Australia (1912), Hesperian Press, Victoria Park, 1985. p.504.; Worral, Jennifer, 'Baby Farming', in Gregory, Jenny and Jan Gothard [editors] (eds), Historical Encyclopedia of Western Australia, University of Western Australia Press, Crawley, W.A., 2009, p. 118.
Prepared by: Debra Rosser
Created: 28 June 2011, Last modified: 30 January 2013