The name, Social Welfare Department, was an attempt to avoid confusion with the Commonwealth Social Services Department.
The Social Welfare Department's Relief Division provided outdoor relief, that is, financial and other assistance, to people without enough income to meet their day to day expenses. It managed the Domestic Assistance and Juvenile Probation Services. In 1961, the Department took over the administration of the Adoption of Children Act from the Registrar-General's Department.
The Department's Child Welfare Division oversaw state wards in foster or receiving Homes and managed West Wind Boys' Home, Weeroona Girls' Training Centre, Wybra Hall, and Ashley Home for Boys. The Division regulated child care and carried-out preventative work with families. It also supervised wards of state in approved children's Homes. It paid the Homes a bed allowance and board rate for each ward as well as contributing to the costs of the other children living in the Home.
In 1961, the Social Welfare Department took over responsibility for adoptions from the Registrar-General's Department. Women child welfare officers approved potential adoptive parents, talked to relinquishing mothers, and found placements for their babies. By the 1970s, many more mothers were able to keep their babies. This meant that the welfare officer's role changed to helping the mother to make the decision and, if she kept the baby, putting her on the single mother's allowance, and maintaining regular contact in order to offer support.
The Department's child welfare officers also had responsibility for investigating the plans made by divorcing parents to look after their children, under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1959.
Honorary child welfare officers supplemented the work of the child welfare officers employed by the Social Welfare Department. (In 1974, the Social Policy Planning Unit began investigating ways of increasing their numbers in order to involve the community more widely in the supervision of children who were wards of state. This did not happen.)
Providing adequate training for child welfare officers had a slow start in Tasmania. In 1963, the Annual Report of the Social Welfare Department said that the absence of a university course in social science made it difficult for the Department to recruit specifically qualified child welfare officers. Instead it employed people qualified as teachers or nurses. There were social welfare courses at the Technical Colleges but they lacked a thoroughgoing education in practical and theoretical social work. Tasmania was the only state in Australia without a degree course in social science.
In 1970, the Department began granting post-graduate scholarships in social administration to be studied at Flinders University. This appears to have provided child welfare officers with much needed training and to have made the workforce more professional. In 1974, the College of Advanced Education in Hobart began offering post-graduate courses in social work so the Department discontinued the arrangement with Flinders University. The Department also offered in-service and on the job training to child welfare officers.
From the mid to late 1970s, the Department adopted policies designed to keep children out of the care of the state. This approach is best summed up by the 'Policy and Objectives' statement published in its 1982 Annual Report which stated:
'In providing residential care for children and young people, the Department's view is that, wherever reasonably possible, this should be supplementary to the care provided by the natural parents, rather than substituting for it.'
This is in contrast to policy at the beginning of the 1970s when the Director of the Department, GC Smith, called for a new Remand and Assessment Centre to accommodate the increasing numbers of children that the 1971 Annual Report described as 'delinquent and disturbed'. Weeroona Girls' Training Centre, Wybra Hall, and Ashley Boys' Home could not cope with the extra numbers or the short term stays that many of these children needed. The 1975 Annual Report reported that progress had been made with the Centre but by 1976 the idea appears to have been dropped.
In 1975, a report by a Sub-Committee of the Tasmanian Branch of the Australian Institute of Welfare Officers recommended that teenage girls described as 'maladjusted' should only be placed in institutions as a last resort, that it was better to support the young woman, her family, and the community to keep the family together.
This too had become the Department's view which explains why it had dropped plans for the Remand and Assessment Centre. According to Dennis Daniels, who became the Director in 1977, placing children in institutions led to 'labelling, segregation and reinforcement of deviant behaviour'. In February 1976, following research by the Social Policy Planning Unit, the Department began a pilot program that supported children in the community rather than sending them to institutions. Daniels' first Annual Report stated that:
'Similar to trends elsewhere in Australia, the numbers of children in institutional care for delinquent and disturbed behaviour has fallen. This can, in part, be attributed to an expansion of community based services, and the philosophy of the Department shared by other responsible authorities, including the Children's Court, that children belong in the community. The community has become generally more tolerant and accepting of this concept and there is a reluctance to remove children permanently from their homes. All other available resources and techniques are called into effect before admitting children to institutional care.'
This also became the approach to working with children who, in the past, would have come into care because of family problems. From the late 1970s onwards, the Department introduced measures which the 1982 Annual Report described as designed 'to increase the general well-being of those in need rather, than simply responding to crisis situations'. The measures included interim orders, which delayed making a child a ward of state and establishing the Homemaker Service, which supported families in crisis. The Department began using the Domestic Service Assistance Scheme to give parents who had problems with their children a respite. The Relief Division, which gave assistance to people in poverty, supported attempts to keep children out of care.
A 1981 Departmental Report entitled 'Caring for residential children and young offenders in the 80s' said that residential institutions should be closed so that Regional Centres could be established. These centres supported families and their children so that they did not have to become wards of state. In 1979, Weeroona was closed and the girls transferred to Wybra Hall so that Lucinda Resource Centre could be set up on its site. Similarly, West Winds Boys' Home closed in 1983 so that a centre could be established in Southern Tasmania. It opened in 1985.
The Department's new preventive approach led to a decline in the number of state wards from 937 in 1972 to 549 in 1982.
The feminist workers at Annie Kenney Young Women's Refuge, established in 1978, did not agree with the Department's emphasis on preserving families. Unlike the Department, the workers did not see troubled teenage girls as 'maladjusted' or in need of rehabilitation. Instead they considered them to be powerless in their dealings with government authorities and their families, who were often the source of their difficulties. The girls needed support to develop their independence. This meant that the workers often opposed attempts to keep the girls and their families together. The attitude of the workers led to disputes with child welfare officers over decisions about particular teenage girls.
Even so, the Department was more broad-minded than in the past. In 1983, in order to reflect this, the government changed its name to the Department of Community Welfare.
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The Find & Connect Support Service can help people who lived in orphanages and children's institutions look for their records.
13 February 2019
Cite this: https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/tas/TE00020
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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