The Children of the State Act, also known as the Children's Charter, established the Children of the State Department.
The name, 'Children of the State Department', was an attempt to remove the stigma of neglect from wards of state. It also reinforced the idea that the State was responsible for neglected children.
The Secretary of the Department was the guardian of all wards of state. He decided whether to place them in a receiving home, the boarding out system, in a training school, a voluntarily run children's home, or with an employer as an apprentice. The work of the Department included correspondence with children, especially older ones, their parents, foster parents, and employers. The Department also carried out inspections of the homes where wards of state lived. Its officials maintained a separate file for each child that contained correspondence, inspectors' reports, and other information about his or her life. In 2013, the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office holds these files.
The Children of the State Act broadened the definition of neglect, enabling the Department to deal with more children. Unlike the Neglected Children's Department, its officers were able to remove children who were destitute, found to be uncontrollable by a children's court, did not attend school or lived in a home where they suffered abuse. The Department also took over the babies of single mothers living in foster homes supervised by the Police Department, although they did not become wards of state. According to Naomi Parry, widening the definition of neglect immediately led to more committals.
'In 1914 there were 387 children in the Department's custody, of whom 48 per cent were boarded out. The introduction of the Children's Charter resulted in an immediate surge in committals, from 77 in 1914 to 134 in 1918. In 1919-1920 the Department committed 173 children, a record number that boosted the children in its care to 517, excluding the 100 infant life cases now supervised by the Department. Boarding-out rates also rose. In 1920, 55 per cent of state children were boarded out, 31 per cent were institutionalised and just 14 per cent were apprenticed - proportions that remained static until 1928, by which time there were 669 children in care. Boys continued to outnumber girls, with 1.2 boys for every girl in institutions and 1.15 to one in foster homes. '
The increased workload, better funding, and the employment of an extra inspecting nurse to supervise the foster homes of the illegitimate babies gave an immediate boost to the Department's status. In 1923-4, the Charitable Grants Department, which had also been located within the Chief Secretary's Department, became a Department in its own right, taking with it the Children of the State Department. This further improved its importance.
John Daley, formerly a Chief Clerk, became the new Secretary. In 1922, he was forced to resign apparently for grossly mismanaging Departmental funds. Charles Seager, the son of Frederick Seager, the second Secretary of the Neglected Children's Department, succeeded him. In 1923-4, he became the Administrator of Charitable Grants and the Secretary of the Children of the State Departments. Seager later became Director of the Social Services Department, retiring in 1941.
The Children of the State Act included a clause enabling the State to take over children who had been deserted. The Department used this clause against parents who had left children in institutions voluntarily but been unable to pay their maintenance. It also used it to speed up the removal of children whose parents had not been able to attend their hearing in the children's court.
In 1920, the Mental Deficiency Act passed. It provided for children (and adults) diagnosed with an intellectual disability to be supervised by a Mental Deficiency Board which had powers to place them with a guardian or in an institution. The framers of the Act intended it to supplement the Children of the State Act. State wards were tested for intellectual disability and this became another way to justify the Department's control over them. Even so, its officials often disagreed with and ignored the Board's advice about individual children. Caroline Evans and Naomi Parry wrote:
'To a pragmatic department, experienced in the management of its wards, the new ideas were often a nuisance and at times foolishly idealistic. In addition, officers had doubts about the board's usefulness to state wards.'
In 1935, the Social Services Department, which replaced the Charitable Grants Department, absorbed the Children of the State Department.
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20 July 2023
Cite this: http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/tas/TE00016
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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