The State Children's Relief Board was created with the aim of removing children from large institutions, such as orphanages and asylums, and boarding them out, or fostering them. Foster parents were paid a small fee. Older children could be apprenticed, as domestic servants, for a tiny wage. Boarded out children were supposed to be considered a member of the family and attend school, but they also worked, often quite hard, in the foster family's home. As apprentices, they earned their keep.
The State Children's Relief Board was a committee of well-to-do women, drawn from Sydney's charitable networks, presided over by Dr Arthur Renwick, who was also president of the Benevolent Society and a member of Parliament. Its second president was Dr Charles Mackellar, also an MP.
At first the State Children's Relief Board only had the power to collect children who had already been placed in an orphanage, but it was so successful at doing this that, by 1890, all government-funded orphanages had closed down and the only surviving large institution was the Randwick Asylum for Destitute Children (although some religious orphanages later became very large). The Board did not control reformatories and industrial schools, like Parramatta or the training vessels - these were part of the prison system and were later controlled by the Department of Public Instruction.
Although boarding out was the main goal of the State Children's Relief Board, not all state children were fostered. From 1885 the Board created a series of cottage homes, or small institutions, beginning at Pennant Hills and later moving to Mittagong, to care for children who had special needs, such as illness, mental and physical disabilities, eye conditions or behavioural problems. It seems many Aboriginal children in care were institutionalised, as white families would not foster them.
The Board could also arrange 'adoptions', which had no legal status, but which meant children could be placed permanently and the government did not have to pay for their care. Such adoptions were, however, rare, affecting fewer than five per cent of all state children.
During the life of the State Children's Relief Board, around 60 per cent of children were boarded out, 20 per cent were apprenticed, 15 per cent lived in cottage homes and the rest were 'adopted'. The State Children's Relief Board did not look after reformatories and industrial schools until
In 1896 the State Children's Relief Act was amended so the Board could collect children directly from the police, who had, until then, had to deposit neglected or destitute children with an institution or take them to an adult court. The 1896 amendments also allowed the State Children's Relief Board to pay a half-rate of the boarding out allowance to mothers who were in distress. This meant women, and relatives, could keep their children, if they could satisfy the Board and the Boarding Out Officer that they were respectable.
In 1904 Renwick retired and was replaced by Dr Charles Mackellar, a specialist in infant medicine and care. In 1905 he introduced the Neglected Children and Juvenile Offenders' Act, which replaced the State Children's Relief Acts. The most important part of the new act was the creation of Children's Courts, a probation system, and a system of supervising all homes where infants were kept, including maternity hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages and institutions. Under the new legislation the State Children's Relief Board ran all government depots, and the shelters attached to the Children's Courts, although it was not responsible for reformatories and training schools.
The State Children's Relief Board, which had its own staff, was under the supervision of the Colonial Secretary/Premier until 1906, when it came under the direction of the Minister for Public Instruction.
The Child Welfare Act 1923 amended and consolidated the principal laws relating to the welfare of children in New South Wales. The State Children's Relief Board was dissolved by this Act and its powers were transferred to the Minister for Public Instruction, later known as the Minister for Education. The new Child Welfare Department, which took on all the functions of the State Children's Relief Board and the reformatories and training schools, was the forerunner of the New South Wales Department of Community Services.
08 January 2019
Cite this: https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/nsw/NE00037
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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